I’ve Tried Dozens of Dark Spot Correctors—These Are the 9 Best to Erase Hyperpigmentation
As you've gotten older, you've probably noticed more dark spots cropping up on your face, neck, and hands. Whether it's subtle sun freckles or the dark marks that acne leaves behind, it's important for you to understand what causes this mysterious pigment.
"In the lowest layer of our skin, we all have melanin-producing cells called melanocytes," explains Caroline Robinson, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and CEO of Tone Dermatology in Chicago. "The melanin is carried around the skin in structures called melanosomes and is transferred to our skin cells (keratinocytes). The type of melanin and the size and distribution of melanosomes determines skin color." She notes that excess pigment production—hyperpigmentation of any kind, whether it's dark spots, redness, or anything else—occurs any time inflammation occurs on the skin. This inflammation has any number of causes, including acne, eczema, trauma, allergic reactions, and sunburns.
"Inflammation tells the body's melanocytes to produce more melanin, leading to darker spots on our skin," she says. "Inflammation can also cause melanin-producing cells to send more melanin to our skin cells. If the inflammation is significant enough to damage the deepest layers of skin, it can trigger our pigment cells to spill melanin into the surrounding skin and tissue. This last type of pigment, called dermal melanosis, is particularly resistant to treatment." According to Dr. Robinson, the primary cause of widespread discoloration is chronic sun exposure, which can directly activate our skim cells to produce more pigment.
What ingredients help combat dark spots?
"Topical antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E, coenzyme Q10, green tea, alpha-lipoid acid, and flavonoids are great additions to any skincare routine after the age of 30, but they are particularly useful for skin discoloration," says Dr. Robinson. "Vitamin C, specifically, is a potent antioxidant that can help to block tyrosinase (the key enzyme in excess pigment production) and therefore has a correcting and brightening effect."
She also recommends active botanicals like kojic acid, azelaic acid, mulberry extract, or licorice, all of which block tyrosinase as well. Dr. Robinson says that tranexamic acid is a unique ingredient when compared to other brightening compounds, because it has a one-two punch: it prevents the brown spots and calms redness.
You should also keep an eye out for niacinamide, a star active derived from Vitamin B3, in addition to alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) such as glycolic acid, lactic acid, and mandelic acid. These are helpful in treating dark spots by gently exfoliating and bringing pigment to the surface.
Now that you know what causes dark spots and what ingredients to look for, here are some products you can invest in for regular maintenance at home.
Revision Skincare C+ Correcting Complex 30%
This product contains cysteamine hydrochloride, a potent and effective brightener for stubborn hyperpigmentation. It's a Swiss-made product formulated with skin of color in mind. Dr. Robinson cites it as one of her favorite over-the-counter remedies for targeting stubborn dark spots without the use of lasers. And the best part? It doesn't contain hydroquinone so it can be used on sensitive skin.
Glytone Enhance Brightening Serum
This powerful blend of glycolic acid, azelaic acid, and vitamin E helps brighten dark spots and gently exfoliate the skin in the process. In addition to lightening discoloration, hyaluronic acid plumps and hydrates the skin to promote a youthful, healthy complexion.
Vintner's Daughter Active Botanical Serum
If you're looking for those active botanicals Dr. Robinson mentioned, this supercharged serum (which has the texture and hydrating abilities of an oil) contains 22 botanicals and over 60 bioavailable nutrients to brighten and protect your skin while encouraging cell turnover. As a preventative measure, it also contains powerful antioxidants to combat the forming of future wrinkles.
SkinCeuticals Discoloration Defense
This serum has a blend of kojic acid, niacinamide, and tranexamic acid, which work well together to target red-brown pigment and hyperpigmentation from acne. Not only does it target discoloration, it also helps protect the skin from premature signs of aging.
Summer Fridays Soft Reset AHA Exfoliating Solution
Glycolic acid, lactic acid, and niacinamide come together in this pretty blue bottle to gently exfoliate skin, unclog pores, and of course, brighten darker spots. Unlike other AHA solutions, this one also contains hyaluronic acid and glycerin to tone down the "spicy" effects of the acids, making it gentle enough to use every night.
Sunday Riley Good Genes All-In-One Lactic Acid Treatment
This cult-favorite serum is a best seller for a reason. It's a gentle lactic acid treatment that works to smooth, clarify, and retexturize skin for a glowy complexion. In addition to lactic acid, it also contains licorice and lemongrass to target dark spots, while prickly pear extract reduces the appearance of redness.
Shani Darden Retinol Reform
Retinol is a proven dark spot corrector, and this innovative retinol is a favorite among celebrities and beauty editors alike. A slow-release retinol system (2.2 percent retinol and 2 percent lactic acid) works to boost collagen production and encourage cell turnover over time.
Peach & Lily Super Reboot Resurfacing Mask
If you want the effects of an AHA but don't want to add another step to your regular nighttime routine, try opting for an occasional mask instead. This mask contains a 10 percent AHA and 0.5 percent BHA concentration to help boost your skin's cell turnover rate and dramatically reduce the appearance of hyperpigmentation.