Experts Love These Dark Spot Correctors for Brighter Skin
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Whether a by-product of an aggressive breakout, sun damage, or a more advanced condition, dark spots and hyperpigmentation are a common skin issue. Robert Finney, a board-certified dermatologist at Entière Dermatology in New York City tells BAZAAR.com, "Any inflammation in the skin can also lead to a light or dark mark, which can subsequently be worsened following sun exposure. The most common cause of discoloration depends on age, with acne of past reigning supreme in younger patients, UV damage in older patients, and many other factors in between."
Most dark spot correctors use a powerful combination of active ingredients like vitamin C, niacinamide, and kojic acid to effectively brighten skin. Erica Stevens, a dermatologist at a medical center in Buda, Texas, says one of the most potent brighteners is hydroquinone—available over the counter or through a prescription from your dermatologist—which is the "gold standard" in dark spot correction. It can also be And for sensitive or combination skin types dealing with hyperpigmentation, acne, or rosacea, a product containing powerful yet gentle azelaic acid is key.
While topical treatments can help drastically fade an uneven complexion over time, experts also recommend accompanying your serum or cream of choice with a sunscreen containing at least SPF 30 to keep skin protected. "One of the least acknowledged truths about treating hyperpigmentation is that sunscreen is the very first step in improving them," says Caroline Robinson, a board-certified dermatologist and the founder of Tone Dermatology in Chicago. "Sunscreen is extremely important in protecting the skin from harmful UVA/UVB rays and also visible light, which drives hyperpigmentation in melanin-rich skin more than other skin tones. In these cases, sunscreen is more than just protective, it is essential in the treatment of hyperpigmentation."
Some sunscreens are better than others too. "Sunscreens that contain iron oxide and carry a tint tend to provide better protection against visible light," Robinson explains. Then comes next steps: "After consistent sunscreen, I recommend topical tone correctors that contain a blend of antioxidants and proven actives and in-office treatments like chemical peels, microneedling, and laser. As always, pigment is tricky, and stubborn pigment is reason to see a board-certified dermatologist."
To help you fade hyperpigmentation and lingering marks even faster, here, we've rounded up a few of the best dark spot correctors that are worth adding to your daily (or nightly!) range of skincare staples.
Rapid Tone Repair Retinol + Vitamin C Dark Spot Corrector
Ulta shoppers swear by this popular dark spot corrector from Neutrogena, which combines retinol and vitamin C to even skin's tone while renewing skin throughout the day.
"I've now gotten this a second time and love it! The smell is amazing and smells expensive and the product itself works so well. I use it daily after my cleanser before my moisturizer/SPF. Will be buying again and again!" —Drake M.
Squalane + Vitamin C Dark Spot Serum
Just two to three pumps of Biossance's fragrance-free formula, featuring 10 percent vitamin C, is all that's needed to even darker areas of your face and neck.
"I have been struggling with dark spots on my face for about 7 years, I used this serum about a year ago along with a glycolic acid wash and both made a big change on my skin I will keep using it again and again thanks to Biossance." —Neila N
This hydroquinone-free brightening serum from SkinCeuticals uses niacinamide and a blend of tranexamic and kojic acids to minimize the appearance and reoccurrence of hyperpigmentation.
"I have used this for over 30 days with no expectations. Wow, I am so pleased. Brown spots are diminished. I am sold!" —Fitz
Rapid Dark Spot Correcting Serum
This glycolic acid-based correcting serum is gentle enough to use day and night before your moisturizer, and has earned close to a five-star rating from a number of satisfied Dermstore customers.
"I have tried many Med Spa dark spot corrector serums and lotions, but Murad seems to finally be working. The others didn't work quite as fast as Murad. I use it morning and night. After five weeks or so, have noticed a reduction in dark spots." —Anonymous
Brightalive Skin Brightener
In addition to reducing the appearance of dark spots, Zo Skin Health's coveted skin brightener is also ideal to boost luminosity and overall skin clarity without hydroquinone or retinol. The brightener is powered by ingredients like niacinamide, tranexamic acid, and encapsulated peptide for the ultimate glow up.
"It doesn’t get any better than Zo!! Brightalive has been a game changer for dark spots and my over all complexion!I have never stuck to a skin care routine before…until now!" —Jacqueline S.
Faded Serum for Dark Spots & Discoloration
Sephora customers are raving about this buzzy dark spot serum from Topicals that aims to fade stubborn acne marks and sun-damaged, uneven skin in just two weeks with daily use.
"I have pretty bad acne, not only is this preventing some spots, it clears them up soooo much faster. I found myself replacing my vitamin C, because this is so much more effective and erasing those spots quickly!" —Madelyn Joy
Vitamin C + Peptide Hydrating Moisturizer
"Olay's Vitamin C and Peptide 24 moisturizer is one of my favorite budget-friendly dark spot correctors to recommend to clients," Robinson says. "It's not only available at most drugstores, but also uses vitamin C, niacinamide, peptides, and lactic acid to even tone and support collagen rejuvenation."
"I'm a big fan of Olay, and this Regenerist Vitamin C + Peptide 24 Hydrating Moisturizer is awesome. It is super moisturizing and makes my skin feel very glowy." —sabrina_ny_9ttrc
Milk Marvel Dark Spot Serum
Beauty experts and BAZAAR editors agree: This cult-favorite, fragrance-free dark spot serum—which is optimized for melanated skin—is a must-have in any skin care rotation.
"I already see my dark spots fading and it has been a week using Milk Marvel in the AM and PM. This stuff leaves my skin feeling so hydrated and moisturized, and I wake up with my skin glowing!" —Mae M.
Brightening Dark Spot Vitamin C Serum
This brightening serum contains 15 percent vitamin C, plus a blend of ingredients like kojic acid, bearberry, licorice, and salicylic acid to brighten dark spots while preventing future breakouts.
"I’ve been using this for over a year and genuinely see the difference in my skin. Also I love the packaging!! The serum never goes bad because of how it is packaged." —emily3266
Clinical Grade IPL Dark Spot Correcting Serum
This powerful serum uses 10 percent L-ascorbic acid (the purest form of vitamin C) combined with lactic and kojic acids, plus plant-based arbutin to improve the appearance of discoloration.
"I have been using this just for just almost two weeks, so I haven’t seen a major improvement yet. But i know that KOJIC acid is know for skin lightening so i have high hopes that it will help me with my sun spots/hyperpigmentation on my face. But i’m noticing slight improvement in my facial skin tone. Will update maybe after 2 months." —Lorielyn
Universal C Skin Refiner Serum
Here's another vitamin C-based serum that editors and beauty enthusiasts love, featuring 20 percent of the ingredient paired with a green tea compound to brighten dark spots while minimizing fine lines and wrinkles over time.
"As a woman of color, hyperpigmentation has been a problem with my skin. This is the only vitamin c serum that has lightened and gotten rid of my dark spots . Other than the price, this product is beyond AMAZING. Highly recommended!" —niasymonee
Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%
Because azelaic acid is often used to treat acne and rosacea, Stevens also recommends this best-selling moisturizer (which contains 10 percent of the ingredient) to combat post-breakout marks.
"This is the only azelaic acid serum that I've used thus far. As someone with oily skin, this product featuring alpha arbutin really packs a nice punch to create matte skin, kill bacteria, and lighten dark spots. Love the price point for the size." —wanderlust
Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Solution
This best-seller from Kiehl's is powered by vitamin C and peony extract to help minimize hyperpigmentation and uneven tone. One devoted customer even writes that with this potent solution, a "little goes a long way," which means more bang for your buck.
"I got this product and it’s the best serum i’ve ever used! All other serums I try never worked, but my scaring was really bad, and made me self conscious. Now after using this serum, my face is literally glowing.Many people compliment how bright my face looks, and how clear as well. This serum targeted all of my scars. I still have some small ones, but they are not really dark, and are going away. I definitely recommend, this doesn’t irritate skin, and is such a nice light scent!" —Marshmallow
C.E.O. 15% Vitamin C Brightening Serum
Sunday Riley's highly popular brightening serum has close to five stars at Dermstore, and is a cult-classic among beauty lovers in the know to improve skin's texture and vibrance.
"I’ve been using this product for a while and it’s one of my favorite additions to my skincare routine! Leaves my skin feeling fresh and brighter." —C
Revitalift Bright Reveal Anti-Aging Day Cream SPF 30 Sunscreen
This isn't just any regular moisturizer with sunscreen: In addition to broad-spectrum SPF 30, the hydrator also contains a blend of glycolic acid and vitamin C to even tone and protect skin from future sun damage.
"I have been looking for a skin care regimen that actually delivers on its promises and bright reveal has done just that. My skin is smoother and my fine lines are visibly less noticable. I have tried some more expensive brands and was disappointed with the results. I use all the products in this line and will continue to do so due the great results. Even my husband noticed a difference in my skin which really says something to me!" —Robin16
Multi Correxion 5-in-1 Daily Moisturizer
Here's a skin-evening moisturizer that's top-rated at Ulta, and features a featherweight formula that contains broad-spectrum SPF 30 to prevent spots from getting even darker.
"Highly recommend!!! I'm in my 40s. I've been using Roc for a couple of years. No one thinks I'm 40. Helps with fine lines and skin tone, delivering promised results, and it's budget friendly! I use all their products and am happy with them all." —Alison
Lytera 2.0 Pigment Correcting Serum
For clients looking to avoid products with hydroquinone, Stevens also recommends this serum, which combines tranexamic acid and niacinamide to brighten skin.
"This product is excellent!! It does what it says! I could tell the difference immediately! " —Shannon W.
Even Better Clinical Radical Dark Spot Corrector + Interrupter Serum
In addition to dark spots, this correcting serum is also ideal for brightening the appearance of acne scars. It also contains an anti-irritant complex to nourish your skin and prevent future dark spots.
"It’s been a week I purchase this corrector and seen results, my acne scars are lighter and not too pigmented. Very happy with this purchase, so happy to exactly see results after just one week." —BeatrizBea
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best treatment for dark spots?
According to professionals, there are a number of formulas and ingredients available—from retinol to vitamin C—that help minimize the appearance of dark spots and discoloration.
Which dark spot corrector works best?
Since consistency is always key when it comes to skincare, the best dark spot corrector is the one you use on a regular basis. If you're new to dark spot correctors or have sensitive skin, we recommend slowly incorporating new products into your beauty routine at lower concentrations until figuring out what works best for you.
Meet the Experts
Robert Finney is a board-certified dermatologist at Entière Dermatology in New York City.
Caroline Robinson is a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Tone Dermatology in Chicago, Ilinois.
Erica Stevens is a board-certified dermatologist based in Buda, Texas.
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For more than 150 years, Harper’s BAZAAR has been the preeminent fashion and beauty resource for women at every age. We cover what’s new and what’s next in beauty by working with the world’s leading authorities in dermatology, plastic surgery, cosmetics, skincare, haircare, and fragrance. Every story we publish has been thoroughly researched and vetted by our team of beauty editors and industry experts.
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