Come fall, your tan lines may be fading, but another not-as-attractive skin pigment is making its debut: Hello, new sun spots. These pesky brown blemishes, a result of sun damage, are just one type of discoloration that causes dull, uneven skin tone. “Different skin injuries can result in different pigmentary disorders,” says Los Angeles-based dermatologist Shani Francis. “UV radiation can cause sun damage, yielding in sun or age spots, while simple acne or trauma can also result in hyperpigmentation.” Freckles (sun damage), post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (breakouts, rashes or irritation) and melasma (hormones, genetics) are some of the most prominent ones that show up. Fortunately, the best dark spot correctors are designed to target these unwanted marks.
To treat discoloration, you can always start with over-the-counter serums and creams before going in office for more potent and expensive prescriptions or laser procedures. New York-based dermatologist Caroline Chang says tackling the issue with topicals is really a two-step process. The products you use should contain proven active ingredients to “stop pigmentation from forming,” she says. You also need ingredients that remove or lighten any spots that are there: Vitamin C, kojic acid and niacinamide are great pigment blockers. “To fade pigment it’s important to use something that increases cell turnover like skin acids, retinol, glycolic acid, lactic acid or azelaic acid,” says Chang.
In terms of prevention, experts recommend diligent sunscreen application as key to keeping additional hyperpigmentation from forming. Below, we’ve rounded up the best dark spot correctors to help you achieve a brighter, more even complexion.
- Best Dark Spot Corrector Overall: Versed Out Of Sight Dark Spot Gel
- Best Dark Spot Corrector For Dark Skin: Eadem Milk Marvel Dark Spot Serum
- Best Luxury Dark Spot Corrector: SkinMedica 2.0 Lytera Pigment Correcting Serum
- Best Dark Spot Corrector For Melasma: SkinCeuticals Discoloration Defense
- Best Dark Spot Correcting Serum: Omorovicza Even Tone
- Best Drugstore Dark Spot Corrector: Garnier SkinActive Clearly Brighter Dark Spot Corrector
- Best Dark Spot Corrector For Acne-Prone Skin: Paula’s Choice 10% Azelaic Acid Booster
- Best Dark Spot Corrector For Sensitive Skin: The Ordinary Azelaic Acid 10% Suspension Brightening Cream
- Best Vitamin C Dark Spot Corrector: Younique YOU·OLOGY 7-day Vitamin C Treatment
Versed Out Of Sight Dark Spot Gel
Key ingredients: Tranexamic acid, kojic acid, niacinamide, licorice root extract | Skin type: All | Benefits: Fades dark spots, strengthens skins barrier | Cruelty-free: Yes
Our best overall pick really checks all the boxes. It’s made with multiple dark spot fading actives: tranexamic acid (a newer, derm-favorite ingredient that blocks skin cells from interacting with melanin-forming cells), kojic acid (a lightener formed from different types of fungi), licorice root (blocks and fades pigment, has anti-inflammatory benefits), and niacinamide (aka vitamin B3, a powerful skin brightener). Plus, it features a smart design: The pointed applicator lets you target even the tiniest spots. It also has proven results—after an 8-week trial, 85% of users aged 18-70 said the product minimized their dark spots. And it’s better for the environment, since the packaging is made with 51% post consumer recycled plastic. If all of that isn’t enough to make you a believer, there’s the under-$20 price.
Eadem Milk Marvel Dark Spot Serum
Key ingredients: Amber algae, ethyl ascorbic acid, niacinamide, licorice root | Skin type: Skin of color, all | Benefits: Reduces dark spots, brightens skin tone, fights acne | Cruelty-free: Yes
Women of color aren’t just worried about spots forming from the sun, but also from post inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH). With this type, the skin makes extra melanin as a direct reaction to being injured. This could be from a bug bite, acne or even using harsh products. So in addition to wearing sunscreen, it’s important that people with melanin-rich skin use products that aren’t super irritating or too strong, explains Dr. Chang.
Eadem, a brand founded by WOC, understands the need for this balance firsthand and set out to create the perfect formulation. Their mild, milk-like serum combines dark spot blocking amber algae, vitamin C, niacinamide and licorice root to gently fade dark spots while maintaining the skins natural tone.
SkinMedica 2.0 Lytera Pigment Correcting Serum
Key ingredients: Tranexamic acid, phenylethyl resorcinol, niacinamide, tetrapeptide-30, marine extract blend, phytic acid | Skin type: All | Benefits: Corrects hyperpigmentation, improves skin barrier, promotes even looking skin | Cruelty-free: Yes
This non-hydroquinone, retinol-free, fragrance-free and non-comedogenic serum is clinically proven to fight discoloration while remaining gentle enough for the most sensitive skin. An action-packed combination of brighteners including tranexamic acid, niacinamide and marine extracts corrects hyperpigmentation and helps create healthier looking skin. Other bonuses: Lytera can be used alongside in-office treatments, and clinical studies show improvements in as early as two weeks.
SkinCeuticals Discoloration Defense
Key ingredients: Tranexamic acid, kojic acid, niacinamide, HEPES | Skin type: Dry, normal, oily, combination | Benefits: fights discoloration, brightens, and evens skin tone | Cruelty-free: No
Stubborn dark spots like melasma, patches of discoloration often triggered by hormones, can be trickier to tackle. This popular, hydroquinone-free product is clinically proven to reduce hard-to-treat hyperpigmentation with a blend of 3% tranexamic acid (a newer, buzzy active that minimizes discoloration by interfering with melanin production), 1% kojic acid, 5% niacinamide and 5% HEPES (a synthetically derived acid that aids in exfoliation).
Omorovicza Even Tone
Key ingredients: Amber microalgae, mandelic and gluconic acid, niacinamide, Healing Concentrate | Skin type: All | Benefits: Reduces hyperpigmentation, corrects unevenness of tone | Cruelty-free: Yes
This powerful formulation consists of amber microalgae, which targets hyperpigmentation specifically in areas where there’s an overproduction of melanin. This means it doesn’t lighten skin overall, thus maintaining its natural tone. Gentle acids exfoliate to create a smooth texture without irritating the most sensitive skin, and niacinamide tackles older dark spots. The star in this product is the brand’s patented Healing Concentrate, a collagen- and elasticity-boosting and inflammation-reducing elixir made from minerals found in Budapest’s thermal waters. The formula is perfect for all skin types and skin tones. In an 8-week clinical study, all 34 participants, aged 29 to 61, said their skin tone was more even after using the product.
Garnier SkinActive Clearly Brighter Dark Spot Corrector
Key ingredients: Vitamin C and E, pine bark essence, lipo-hydroxyl acid (LHA) | Skin type: All | Benefits: Exfoliates, brightens, reduces fine lines and wrinkles | Cruelty-free: Yes
Vitamin C, which blocks skin cells from forming pigment, is the star ingredient in this affordable option. When paired with vitamin E, the powerful antioxidant, which also helps smooth fine lines and wrinkles, is extra effective in preventing sun damage. Now add in lipo-hydroxyl acid to gently exfoliate and kickstart cell turnover and you’ve got one fierce hyperpigmentation-fighting formula.
Paula’s Choice 10% Azelaic Acid Booster
Key ingredients: Azelaic acid, salicylic acid, licorice root | Skin type: All, acne-prone | Benefits: Prevents breakouts, calms redness and irritation, promotes cellular turnover, fades post-breakout marks| Cruelty-free: Yes
Azelaic acid is the gold standard when it comes to fighting acne. It’s antibacterial to subside current breakouts and has anti-inflammatory properties to calm inflammation, redness and rosacea. It’s also a proven skin brightener that fades hyperpigmentation—perfect for post-acne dark spots. In addition to a potent dose of azelaic acid, Paul’s Choice Booster also contains salicylic acid to exfoliate and unclog pores, and licorice root to brighten and soothe angry skin.
The Ordinary Azelaic Acid 10% Suspension Brightening Cream
Key ingredients: Azelaic acid | Skin type: All | Benefits: Brightens skin tone, improves texture) | Cruelty-free: Yes
In addition to treating acne and rosacea, azelaic acid is a great hyperpigmentation-fighting option for sensitive skin. The gentler acid has a lower irritation potential than other acids, and is an anti-inflammatory that helps calm skin down and reduce redness while brightening skin tone. Bonus: The Ordinary’s Azelaic Acid Suspension 10% has a straightforward dose of the active without any other potentially irritating ingredients.
Younique You·ology 7-Day Vitamin C Treatment
Key ingredients: Vitamin C, niacinamide, squalane, centella asiatica leaf extract, aloe vera juice, lavender oil | Skin type: All | Benefits: Brighter, more hydrated and even-looking skin | Cruelty-free: No
When her patients want to manage dark spots over the counter, Chang recommends a product with vitamin C. Since the powerful antioxidant degrades once it hits the air, look for one packaged in a way that is going to keep the product fresh and potent, she says. Younique’s new You-ology is a highly concentrated 26% vitamin C that comes in innovative little freeze-dried balls to deliver the full potential of the product with every application. Here’s how it works: You mix the bead with an accompanying serum (ideally made with other dark spot fading ingredients such as niacinamide and squalane) to activate it and then apply.
What To Consider When Choosing A Dark Spot Corrector
Before you start using any dark spot corrector, it’s best to do your homework. Here’s how to find the perfect brightening product for your skin.
Don’t waste your time using products that may not really work. If you choose to go with lightening creams over in-office laser treatments, microdermabrasion or chemical peels, look for products that come with clinical studies, says Victor Casale, Co-Founder and Chairman of Pure Culture Beauty.
With these multi-ingredient packed products, it’s important to read the full ingredient list, especially if you have sensitive skin. While most people know hydroquinone as a reliable skin lightener, it can cause irritation and redness. Those with dry or sensitive skin may not be able to handle potent forms of vitamin C, retinol or acids. It’s best to find the actives that best suit your needs and aren’t too harsh by spot testing the product before using.
Fight discoloration with a one-two punch. Use products that contain pigment blockers such as tranexamic acid, vitamin C, kojic acid and niacinamide. “Vitamin C helps suppress the production of melanin in the skin and is a powerful antioxidant,” says Casale. “Niacinamide is a multifunctional active ingredient; it helps stimulate collagen and keratin synthesis. It also acts as a moisturizer and antioxidant that helps to lighten dark spots.” Then, to fade existing pigment you need ingredients that increase cell turnover like retinol, glycolic acid, lactic acid or azelaic acid.
What Causes Dark Spots?
Dark spots or hyperpigmention are a result of injury to the skin and how it recovers. “Any trauma to the skin, whether from excess exposure to the sun, acne, a full blown rash or burn causes inflammation as the body heals itself.” says Casale. “Part of the skin’s natural healing process involves the production of melanin, the pigment that gives our skin and hair their color. After inflamed skin heals, excess melanin is left behind for weeks, months or even many years depending on the severity.”
How Do You Use Dark Spot Correctors?
Always use a dark spot corrector in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations, says Francis. If you have sensitive skin, test the product on a small patch before treating the entire area.
Do Dark Spot Correctors Work On Freckles?
Acids such as hydroxy acids, azaleic acid, retinoids and some in-office procedures can help fade freckles, says Francis. However, some freckles are not actually freckles, but rather sun damage. “True freckles are transient and may fade or even disappear during the winter (or in times of minimal sun exposure),” she says. “Sun damage is permanent.”
What’s The Best Way To Prevent Dark Spots From Appearing?
While regularly using spot correctors with the right combination of ingredients helps create a more even skin tone, the key to radiant skin is to prevent dark spots from forming in the first place. One surefire way to do this is by diligently using sunscreen. “We know that when UV light hits the skin, it signals certain pathways that tells your melanocytes (melanin-forming cells) to make pigment,” says Chang. “Sunscreen is a great first step to block that pathway from being signaled and reduce the chance of pigment formation.”
Dark spots are one of the most common concerns among consumers in this day and age. From sun damage, post-acne inflammation, and age-related discoloration, people everywhere are seeking out dark spot correctors in hopes of a brighter, more even complexion.
We have put together a definitive list of the best dark spot correctors available in 2023. With this data gathered from industry leaders in skincare and reviews from across the web, consumers can be confident they will find the right fit for their specific dark spot needs.
The Garnier SkinActive Clearly Brighter Dark Spot Corrector is a well-known favorite among many consumers. This product provides a concentrated dose of Vitamin C and other active ingredients to help reduce the appearance of dark spots. It’s also oil free and free of artificial fragrances. Plus, it has an SPF 28 rating to help protect your skin from further UV damage.
The La Roche-Posay Pigmentclar Serum is another reliable choice. This serum helps lighten and even out the skin to make dark spots less visible. With its unique blend of actives, it soothes irritation and fights the signs of sun damage. It even helps reduce the production of melanin that causes dark spots in the first place.
The Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% serum by The Ordinary also works to even out skin tone. This formula combines two of the most powerful spot-fighting actives, niacinamide and zinc, to help clear dark spots over time. It even enhances skin barrier function to help keep the skin protected and healthy.
The Clinique Even Better Clinical Dark Spot Corrector is also an ideal choice for those looking for a targeted solution. This product provides a potent dose of ingredients to help reduce dark spots and diminish uneven pigmentation. The formula also has hydrating and antioxidant properties that help to protect the skin from further damage.
Finally, the RoC Retinol Correction Max Tone Restoring Treatment is a powerful choice for those seeking serious results. This treatment works to reduce the appearance of dark spots while simultaneously improving the texture of the skin. It even helps to rebuild and restore collagen and elastin to give your skin a firmer, more youthful appearance.
Whichever dark spot corrector you choose, you can trust that you’re getting a quality product that will provide superior results. In the end, the best dark spot corrector is the one that best suits your specific skin needs.