Even writing the word dark spots feels emotionally triggering. I moved to New York three years ago with big dreams, an air mattress, and pocket change. Little did I know that all of the unexpected changes I'd experience in this big city would flip my skin upside down. From inevitable environmental stressors due to the over-polluted air to work stress from my first big-girl job, my skin felt all of it—hard. My once-spotless skin quickly became filled with countless dark spots. At one point, it got uncontrollable.
The real problem was that I didn't know how to take care of them, so I got really good at covering them up. Working in beauty, I was privy to all of the top-notch, full-coverage makeup products that allowed me to fake flawless skin, and I turned to heavy foundations to hide my skin insecurities. Last year, I even wrote about how working in beauty made my skin worse. I was prematurely testing product after product without understanding how certain ingredients reacted on my seriously sensitive skin. But I'm finally coming to terms with the fact that I was hiding behind makeup to feel beautiful.
Fortunately, I work with a smart team of badass women who were there for me every step of the way with product and treatment recommendations for hyperpigmentation. I turned to micro-needling and facials in hopes of lightening my dark spots. I took every opportunity to interview a dermatologist or an esthetician to figure out which products would work for me. And with God's grace, and a whole lot of trial and error, I can confidently say that I've secured a skincare routine for dark spots.
Since I've been using the below products, my dark spots have faded drastically. And here I am, baring it all in these makeup-free photos to prove my progress is real.
Every night, I look forward to walking through this routine slowly, step by step. Each product has a dedicated place in my medicine cabinet and spoils my skin with nourishing ingredients that are far from harsh or irritating. I'm indebted to these heavy hitters, and this is exactly how I use them. (Can you tell that I'll never let them go?)
My Exact Routine
As soon I step into my apartment, I love wiping away the day with these cleansing towelettes. Not even kidding, I immediately grab these. Something about massaging my skin with these hydrating wipes feels so therapeutic. It's my first step for taking away every trace of makeup. They're gentle yet strong enough to remove stubborn mascara. Plus, each wipe is pre-moistened with hydrating ingredients, so they don't dry out my skin.
I was first attracted to this gem from Glossier when I found out it was made with the exact same gentle cleaning agents found in contact solution. On a sensitive-skin scale from one to 10 (10 being the most sensitive), my poor skin would surpass 10 by a long shot. With that being said, I swear by this rose water–filled, gel-based cleanser as the second step in my skincare routine to thoroughly remove my makeup. It also balances my skin's PH levels so my pores feel like they've had a tall glass of water afterward.
At this point, I've thoroughly removed my makeup and I'm getting into the real dark-spot fighting. An esthetician recommended I give Sunday Riley's Slip Clay Cleanser a try a year ago, and I haven't looked back since. Its star-studded lineup of ingredients is the perfect cocktail for dark spots. It's made of French green clay and Moroccan rhassoul clay, which have a long history of diving into your pores like a vacuum and suctioning out all of the excess dirt, debris, and oil. But this doesn't leave my face feeling tight, so I know it's not stripping my skin of its natural oils that are good for me. Plus, it's blended with vitamin C, which has a major brightening effect on dark spots. Afterward, my skin looks supple and radiant.
Every two days, or when my skin feels hungover (since we're being honest here), I reach for this exfoliator for an instant, detoxifying relief. Some exfoliators have a tendency to feel rough, but this one seriously is reminiscent of an at-home spa treatment. I work it onto my face and it sheds dead skin cells and makes the texture of my skin baby-smooth. Its all-natural formula contains grapefruit extracts and vitamin C, which I believe have been true game changers in brightening my dark spots.
Incorporating acid-based products in my routine has been one of the driving forces in fading my dark spots. These powerful pads are loaded with a healthy dose of 5% glycolic acid and 2% salicylic acid. The two work together to even out dark spots, amp up my skin's collagen levels for elasticity, and improve my hyperpigmentation. I use one pad, which takes care of my entire face, every two days—so you really get the bang for your buck when you invest in these.
As you can tell, I'm in love with organic products that won't cause any unnecessary flare-ups. I knew I'd have a special connection to this stuff when I found out the brand was born in my hometown of Portland, Oregon. This refreshing toner feels so soothing to the skin. I spritz it all over my skin and pat it onto my face so that my pores fully absorb this goodness. It's blended with aloe water, antioxidants, and fatty acids, which cloak my skin with hydration.
Next up, I squeeze out a few drops of this gel-based serum on my forehead, both sides of my cheeks, and my chin. It combines B5 gel and hyaluronic acid, which is a heavenly combination for acne-prone skin like mine. I pat this generously onto my skin and wait about 30 seconds before applying anything else so that my pores get to fully enjoy drinking this up.
I have dehydrated skin. So in order for my pores to not thirst for more moisture, I double up on serums. The magic trick I've found for my skin is layering my SkinCeuticals serum with this hyaluronic serum from Dr. Barbara Strum. Hyaluronic acid is the body's natural hydrator, so the more, the merrier. This serum has a potent blend of hyaluronic molecules, which leave my skin feeling extra hydrated and looking plump.
I recently fell in love with Dr. Barbara Sturm's line of skincare products specially made for dark skin tones. If Angela Bassett and Jada Pinkett Smith swear by this line to fade their dark spots, so do I. I mean, its no-bullshit formula of radiance-boosting, active ingredients is the reason my dark spots have faded over time. I have abnormally small pores that don't correspond well to thick, cream-based products. In this case, I carefully scoop out a tiny bit of this and slather it onto my skin.
I've publicly expressed to the world my love for this product, which knows no bounds. Not only does this facial oil leave me with an undeniable glow, but I seriously wake up with supple skin. I like to put it on top of my moisturizer. I'm not sure why; it just feels right. It's made of a simple ingredient list, which is untouched marula (right from the marula fruit), omega-6, and omega-9, making this the perfect, second-to-last step in my skincare routine for dark spots.
Last but certainly not least is my holy-grail dark spot corrector, which was dropped from the heavens above. I also sing this product's praises every chance I get because once I tap a bit right on top of a dark spot, I see a dramatic difference the next morning. Thanks to its hardworking combination of hydroquinone, kojic acid, and retinol, it is my savior when I'm dealing with post-anti-inflammatory dark spots. Or even when a pimple begins to brew, this stuff knocks it right out.
My skincare routine doesn't feel complete without showing love to my lips. Even though this isn't necessarily for my dark spots, it's still an integral part of any nightly regimen. When it's all said and done, I swipe this ointment all over my lips and it traps any dryness that tries to creep in throughout the night. It's the skincare product I've been using the longest in my life, so yeah, I won't be caught without it.
By this time, my skin's ready to hit my silk sheets and knock out. I rest assured knowing my skincare routine is gold because it's given me the complexion I've been working toward for years. There are a lot of claims out there, but consider this testimony the real deal.
Telang PS. Vitamin C in dermatology. Indian Dermatol Online J. 2013;4(2):143-146. doi:10.4103/2229-5178.110593
Desai SR. Hyperpigmentation therapy: a review. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2014;7(8):13-17.
Papakonstantinou E, Roth M, Karakiulakis G. Hyaluronic acid: a key molecule in skin aging. Dermatoendocrinol. 2012;4(3):253-258. doi:10.4161/derm.21923