8 Remedies for Dark Spots That Dermatologists Swear By



Not everyone gets them, but for those who do, dark spots on the face, chest, hands, or elsewhere on the body can be seriously frustrating to deal with as they don’t go away on their own and sometimes can’t be covered by the average concealer. So, what are these discolorations, and why do some people have them? According to our experts, for the most part, dark spots on the skin can be attributed to two causes: scarring and hyperpigmentation (technically, scarring is post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation). See, dark spots—aka hyperpigmentation—can be the result of a scar (due to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation) and photo damage (due to sun exposure):

Scars can be divided into two categories: dark marks that are actually a result of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, which appear as dark or pink marks, or, a change in skin texture, resulting in depressed or raised scars,” explains board-certified dermatologic surgeon, Dendy Engelman. The pigmented scars are “caused by an injury in the pigment forming a layer of the epidermis,” while textural scars are “caused by actual tears in the dermis,” she explains. Some people who scar more easily than others may be genetically predisposed (because they have more pigment): “Some people with more pigment are more prone to hyperpigmentation,” Engelman states. “Also, those with more pigment in the skin are more prone to hyperpigmentation and scarring.”

Meet the Expert

Dendy Engelman, MD, FACMS, FAAD, is a board-certified and nationally-acclaimed dermatologic surgeon and sees patients at MDCS: Medical Dermatology & Cosmetic Surgery in Manhattan and Hampton Bays, NY. Engelman is known for her expertise in neurotoxins, injectable fillers, and chemical peels.

how to treat dark spots naturally
 Michela Buttignol/Byrdie
01 of 08

Exfoliate with Papaya

What’s a surefire way to brighten the overall tone of your skin? Rinse away that top layer with a natural exfoliant, like papaya: “Papaya has fruit acids known as alpha-hydroxy acids, which is a chemical exfoliant,” says Engelman. “AHAs are used for dry skin and to anti-age and work to improve skin by removing the top layers of the skin through weakening the lipids that bond them together, thus, removing dull and dead skin cells and revealing healthy skin cells. It is very effective in breaking down skin cells and also increases collagen production because of the removal of dead particles. Papaya specifically will help brighten and give the skin a youthful radiance.”

  • To treat your dark spots with papaya, simply mash ripe papaya in a bowl and apply it as a mask to clean skin.
  • Keep on for 15-20 minutes. Then, when removing the mask, you can also use gentle, circular motions for a bit of added exfoliation to that dead top layer of skin cells.
02 of 08

Use Turmeric to Even Skin Tone

For ages, people in India, parts of Central America, and other subtropical areas have looked to turmeric for its many healing properties, from reducing inflammation to aiding the digestive process. Turmeric’s benefits also extend to the area of skincare, and it’s been shown to inhibit the skin's melanin production, which results in spots due to hyperpigmentation.

  • To fade dark spots with turmeric, make a mask using one part turmeric to one part honey.
  • If you wish, you can enhance the lightening process with a few drops of lemon juice, as long as your skin isn’t too sensitive, and the citrus won’t come into contact with open skin, like recently broken pimples.

Key Ingredients

Turmeric powder is made from the root of Curcuma zedoaria, a form of ginger native to Southeast Asia. Its active ingredient, curcumin, is what gives it that yellow-orange tinge; it's also what makes it such a potent anti-inflammatory. Turmeric is also found to lighten hyperpigmentation.

03 of 08

Soothe Skin and Reduce Spots with Almond Oil

Another skin-strengthening ingredient that’s used both in the kitchen and on the complexion is sweet almond oil, which Engelman likes to use to treat discolorations in the skin. However, the almond oil commonly used to cook isn’t quite the same as that used on the skin, which is often fortified with additional vitamins and minerals. “The presence of Vitamin E and niacin help with hyperpigmentation and improving skin tone,” she says.

Because sweet almond oil is generally viewed as non-comedogenic (meaning it won’t clog your pores) you can add it to your nightly routine as a makeup remover or moisturizer meant to help protect the skin barrier.

  • If using as a makeup remover, apply to dry skin and remove with a washcloth before following with cleanser.
  • If using as a moisturizer, apply a few drops to clean, dry skin and allow it to absorb before continuing with the rest of your routine.
04 of 08

Brighten with Yogurt

Another naturally skin-brightening item you may already have in your home is yogurt, which may work to fade dark spots by exfoliating the skin. Like the chemically exfoliating properties found in papaya, yogurt may break down dead skin cells thanks to lactic acid, which is found naturally in dairy products: “Using yogurt with cow’s milk could be effective in calming the skin since it has lactic acid. Lactic acid is an AHA, which improves discoloration and age spots,” Engelman says. “This acid is gentler on the skin than other chemical exfoliants. Since it is derived from dairy, it helps to correct pH imbalances. It works to improve tone, texture, and reduces redness.”

  • Yogurt can be applied to clean skin alone or mixed with additional ingredients known to improve the skin’s health—like honey—which is antibacterial and great for acne-prone complexions.
  • Adding oatmeal to a yogurt mask will help slough and soothe dry skin, just be sure to rinse this mask away carefully, so as not to tear or irritate the skin.
05 of 08

Reverse Photo Damage with Tomatoes

Rather than slather this ingredient on your face, tomato works best when taken systemically.

  • According to a 2011 study, participants who ingested between around 55 milligrams of tomato paste with olive oil per day saw protection from acute and long-term photo damage brought on by UV rays. Why is tomato paste so effective? Tomatoes are naturally rich in lycopene, which has multiple potential health benefits, including sun protection. Not a fan of tomatoes? Look to other similarly-hued fruits and veggies, like guava, pink grapefruit, watermelon, and red sweet peppers. But don't apply to the skin—this benefit is reaped through diet.
06 of 08

Reduce Scarring with Aloe

For some people, dark spots aren’t the result of hyperpigmentation, but scarring, which can be especially apparent on those with more melanin-rich skin: “Scars are unpredictable, which can make them difficult to treat. The most important thing is to treat right away,” Engelman explains. “The more pliable your skin is, the less chance there is that scars will occur, so adding moisture back into the skin with oils and lotions can reduce the appearance and prevent new ones from forming.” A tried and true ingredient that may be used to improve your skin’s health from the inside, or outside, is aloe.

  • Aloe can be ingested in the form of aloe drinks or applied to the skin as a moisturizer or skin healer by breaking the leaf of an aloe plant and dabbing the sticky substance onto your scar.
  • Don’t have an aloe plant on hand? Aloe vera gel can be applied directly to the face, as can many cleansers or moisturizers that contain aloe, like the Mario Badescu Aloe Lotion ($15), which promises to reduce redness.

Key Ingredients

Aloe vera is a naturally derived ingredient known for its soothing and moisturizing properties. The aloe plant's inner gel mucilage (the part that's used in skincare products) is made up of 99.5 percent water.

07 of 08

Keep Skin Healthy with Vitamin C

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, vitamin C is one of the more effective natural ingredients that you can count on to lighten existing spots and potentially prevent new ones from forming.

  • “For a dark mark scar, look for AHA peels or retinol that will help promote cellular turnover to remove the top layers of the skin,” Engelman suggests. “To fade hyperpigmentation, look for brightening ingredients like hydroquinone, kojic acid, phytic acid, and L-ascorbic acid.” The latter is a mighty skincare ingredient, which is also found naturally in vitamin C-rich foods like oranges and spinach.
  • While some people prefer to lighten dark spots with lemon juice, others find the high acidic content too intense for the skin and opt to ingest their vitamin C, reaping the benefits from within.
  • You can also try niacinamide, arbutin, and bearberry, as well as resorcinol and tranexamic acid.
08 of 08

Know When to Turn to Formulated Products

The DIY routine isn’t for everyone, including some skin care professionals like Engelman, who says homemade remedies allow room for error as they aren’t formulated with the same ratios as formal products. If the natural masks and scrubs aren’t for you, there are a number of products designed with the same ingredients and packaged to last for more than a day or two.

"Products that contain lactic acid, glycolic acid, citric acid, and malic acid—each is a natural, alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) derived from bilberry extract, sugar cane extract, sugar maple extract, and citrus extracts that provides mild exfoliation to help enhance skin texture and reveal healthy new cells," says Engelman.

Key Ingredients

Alpha-hydroxy acids are a group of acid compounds, most often derived from plant-based sources, which work to exfoliate the skin. They come in a variety of types (like glycolic and lactic acid) and differ in size, and subsequently, penetration and potency.

For hyperpigmentation on the skin, Engelman recommends a product that fights harmful free radicals that accumulate over time with exposure to the sun’s UV rays. “Melanin goes into overproduction in the sun to protect our skin from harmful UV/UB rays, causing spots to look darker than your natural skin tone,” she says. “These sunspots accumulate over the years. An antioxidant helps protect skin against free radical assaults by neutralizing oxidative stress that can cause cell damage, like SkinBetter’s Antioxidant Alto Defense Serum.”

And for the skin that’s tackling all of the dark spot issues at once, Engelman points to Skinceuticals Discoloration Defense, which is “clinically proven to improve dark patches, skin discoloration, and acne marks.”

As with any skincare routine, the best way to eliminate dark spots is through prevention, which is easily done by protecting your skin from the sun. If you're out and about during daylight hours, be sure to apply SPF (at least 30, and reapply throughout the day), and consider adding a hat, sunglasses, and even gloves, especially if the sunlight will hit your skin for an extended period of time.

Article Sources
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
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  2. Hollinger JC, Angra K, Halder RM. Are natural ingredients effective in the management of hyperpigmentation? A systematic reviewJ Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2018;11(2):28-37.

  3. Burlando B, Cornara L. Honey in dermatology and skin care: a reviewJ Cosmet Dermatol. 2013;12(4):306-313. doi:10.1111/jocd.12058

  4. Rizwan M, Rodriguez-Blanco I, Harbottle A, Birch-Machin MA, Watson RE, Rhodes LE. Tomato paste rich in lycopene protects against cutaneous photodamage in humans in vivo: a randomized controlled trial. Br J Dermatol. 2011;164(1):154-162. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2133.2010.10057.x

  5. Guo X, Mei N. Aloe vera: a review of toxicity and adverse clinical effectsJ Environ Sci Health C Environ Carcinog Ecotoxicol Rev. 2016;34(2):77-96. doi:10.1080/10590501.2016.1166826

  6. American Academy of Dermatology Association. How to fade dark spots in skin of color.

  7. Tang SC, Yang JH. Dual effects of alpha-hydroxy acids on the skinMolecules. 2018;23(4):863. doi:10.3390/molecules23040863

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