Written By
Published Sep. 29, 2021

I

It’s no secret that too much fun in the sun can take a major toll on your skin. And in this case, we’re not just talking sunburn: Dark spots are another consequence of ODing on UV rays, which is just one more reason you need to slather on sunscreen. To play it safe, dermatologists recommend a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. Make sure to apply it every 90 minutes to two hours. And sunscreen shouldn’t be reserved for days at the beach. It should be worn every day, rain or shine, and that means even on cloudy winter days—when UV rays can do just as much damage as sunny summer afternoons.  

Dark spots can be triggered by things besides sun exposure. Dark spots are scars caused by post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation—essentially the after-effects of intense skin irritation. Some people who naturally have more pigment are more prone to hyperpigmentation, and genetics can make someone predisposed to scarring. Brown spots can show up as benign sunspots, genetic spots, melasma, hyperpigmentation, or moles, and they can also be dangerous melanoma. Age, fluctuating hormones (think: pregnancy), and skin irritation can all also lead to dark spots. And the fairer your skin, the more likely you are to get these discolorations.

Seeing spots? Luckily, you don’t have to go to the derm to get a dark spot corrector that does its job. These picks will even out your skin tone. 

How We Chose These Products

Methodology

Sometimes active skincare ingredients can solve one problem but lead to another, such as drying out your complexion. That’s why we only considered dark spot correctors that nourished the skin, since adding moisture back can help prevent new dark spots from forming while minimizing the appearance of existing marks. 

In order to really fade hyperpigmentation, it’s important that dark spot correctors are formulated with brightening ingredients that can do some real heavy lifting, such as hydroquinone, kojic acid, azelaic acid, phytic acid, and L-asorbic acid. The latter is a type of vitamin C,  an antioxidant beloved for its brightening wonders. Though hydroquinone is especially powerful, it’s important to note that it can cause sensitivity and not everyone can tolerate it. We focused on dark spot correctors that spotlight one of these potent ingredients. 

We also gave top preference to dark spot correctors that have been recommended by dermatologists and estheticians. And good customer reviews were also crucial in selecting the outstanding options.

The Best Dark Spot Correctors: Reviews and Recommendations

Best Overall: PCA SKIN HQ-Free Pigment Gel

Spot Eraser for Everyone

Formulated with acids to brighten skin, this serum is effective yet can be used by people with sensitive skin both day and night.

Check Price

Why It Made the Cut: Gentle yet effective, this gel is even safe for sensitive skin.

Specs:

  • Skin types: Dry, oily, normal, combination
  • Texture: Gel
  • Size: 1 fluid ounce
  • Unscented

Pros: 

  • Works for all skin types
  • Hydroquinone-free
  • Gentle formula

Cons:

  • Pricey

Stubborn spots are no match for this gel by PCA Skin. Designed to work on all skin types, from dry to oily, it will leave you with an even complexion when you commit to regular use. The carefully curated ingredient list includes kojic and azelaic acids to help even and brighten skin. The formula is free of hydroquinone, which can be tough on sensitive skin, meaning it’s gentle enough for everyone. 

To really target skin discoloration, it can be used as a spot treatment directly on any marks you’d like to fade. The serum should be applied right after cleansing and can be used morning and night. The formula also includes lactic acid to hydrate, antioxidants glutathione and silybin, and phenylethyl resorcinol for an extra boost to even out tone.

Best Value: Burt’s Bees Renewal Dark Spot Corrector

Natural and Affordable

Vitamin C and bakuchiol banish the spots and don’t irritate skin.

Check Price

Why It Made the Cut: This natural wonder taps the power of plants to fight dark spots.

Specs:

  • Skin type: Sensitive
  • Texture: Cream
  • Size: 1 fluid ounce

Pros:

  • Natural formula
  • Anti-aging
  • Contains vitamin C

Cons:

  • The gentle formula may not lighten all stubborn spots

Natural beauty devotees know that Mother Nature can get the job done without any harsh ingredients. (We’re looking at you, hydroquinone.) Case in point: The Burt’s Bees Renewal Dark Spot Corrector. Formulated with 98.6 percent natural origin ingredients, the serum is free of parabens, phthalates, petrolatum, and SLS—a common sulfate known to irritate skin.

This serum puts the spotlight on mega brightener vitamin C, leaving skin brighter, smoother, and glowing. Another key ingredient is bakuchiol, a natural, more gentle alternative to retinol that won’t dry out your complexion. And this drugstore brand comes in at a price that’s easy on your budget. 

Best for Prevention: Murad Environmental Shield Rapid Dark Spot Correcting Serum

Change the Future

Take two weeks to visibly reduce the appearance of dark spots and stop future ones in their tracks. Murad

Check Price

Why It Made the Cut: In addition to fading current dark spots, this anti-ager also prevents future ones from forming. 

Specs:

  • Skin type: All skin tones
  • Texture: Serum
  • Size:  1 fluid ounce

Pros: 

  • Prevents future spots
  • Brightens overall
  • Works in 14 days

Cons:

  • Pricey

Not only does this serum treat dark spots, it also prevents future ones from forming. In fact, it only takes 14 days for it to visibly reduce the appearance of dark spots, courtesy of patented Murad ingredient resorcinol—a compound that targets marks and uneven tone. There’s also glycolic acid, which boosts surface cell turnover, as well as tranexamic acid, which brightens and evens out dull complexions. 

True to its name, the Rapid Dark Spot Correcting Serum works quickly on a range of skin tones and types. The clean formula is free of all icky ingredients, including parabens, sulfates, phthalates, gluten, animal-derived ingredients, mineral oil, formaldehyde, oxybenzone and petrolatum.

Best for Post-Acne Marks: Paula’s Choice Clinical Discoloration Repair Serum

Best for Post-Acne Marks

Make acne scars and sun spots—or a combination of both—disappear.

Check Price

Why It Made the Cut: Whether your spots are from the sun or post-acne marks, this serum will minimize them all. 

Specs:

  • Skin type: Dry, oily, normal, combination
  • Texture: Serum
  • Size: 1 fluid ounce

Pros: 

  • Fades all types of spots
  • Works on both brown and gray discoloration
  • Clinical strength

Cons

  • Some people don’t like the scent

Post-acne marks are known for being especially stubborn, but Paula’s Choice Clinical Discoloration Repair Serum can help fade them, along with practically any type of dark spot, whether they’re brown or gray patches. The clinical-strength formula works to brighten up any unwanted color changes. Made to work for all skin types and tones, it’s even effective for skin that’s prone to melasma and hyperpigmentation.

Paula’s Choice has earned a reputation for using no nonsense, clinically proven ingredients, and this serum is chock full of them. Specifically, there’s 3 percent tranexamic acid, 5 percent niacinamide, 0.5 percent bakuchiol, pure tocopherol (aka vitamin E), and milk thistle. The killer combo teams up to target dark spots and discoloration, leaving you with an even complexion that’s bright and beautiful.

Best for Retinol Fans: Neutrogena Rapid Tone Repair Retinol + Vitamin C Dark Spot Corrector Face Serum

Lessens Spots and Wrinkles

The retinol in this Neutrogena product is both an anti-aging and anti-spot ingredient.

Neutrogena

Check Price

Why It Made the Cut: A potent combo of retinol and vitamin C team up to target spots and signs of aging. 

Specs:

  • Skin type: Dry
  • Texture: Serum
  • Size: 1 fluid ounce

Pros: 

  • Contains retinol
  • Prevents fine lines and wrinkles
  • Brightens with vitamin C

Cons:

  • Can be drying

Retinol is a holy grail ingredient for its multitasking abilities. It boosts collagen production to help fight fine lines, treats acne, improves dullness, softens rough patches of skin, and can help fade age spots. To make the latter even more effective, Neutrogena paired retinol with superstar brightener vitamin C. It only takes one week of daily use to see a difference in clarity and radiance.

Besides tackling dark spots, this tone corrector from Neutrogena will brighten the complexion overall, fighting all sorts of discoloration. The fast-acting dark spot corrector leaves skin renewed, no matter your skin tone. 

Things to Consider Before Buying a Dark Spot Corrector

There are lots of options to correct dark spots on your face. Here’s what to think about before making a purchase.

The Cause of Your Dark Spots

Some dark spot correctors have ingredients that target specific types of marks. For example, there are products available that are particularly formulated to help fade post-acne scars, while others are designed for melasma. To get the best results, shop for a dark spot corrector that fits your individual needs.

Skin Sensitivity

Hydroquinone has been the hero ingredient for minimizing dark spots for years, but recently it’s been put on the backburner in favor of gentler options. Though the compound gets the job done, it can trigger redness and/or dryness, so those with sensitive skin will want to steer clear of it in favor of a less harsh alternative.

Amount of Dark Spots

Some people are trying to fade pigmentation throughout their complexion, while others have just a specific spot or two they’re focusing on. It’s important to determine which camp you’re in, as some dark spot correctors are meant to be applied all over the face and others are designed to be targeted spot treatments.

FAQs

Q: What’s the best way to prevent dark spots?

Applying sunscreen daily—and reapplying as needed—is crucial to warding off dark marks and hyperpigmentation. Make sure to use at least SPF 30. When your skin is healing from a wound, which includes acne, sunscreen is even more crucial to prevent scars. Another key prevention step is moisturizer, since hydrating the skin can help minimize the appearance of current dark spots and prevent new ones from forming.

Q: What ingredients should I look for in a dark spot corrector?

For a long time, hydroquinone was the standard for lightening dark patches on skin, but it can lead to redness or dryness, making it tough for sensitive skin to handle. If your skin prefers something gentler, kojic acid, phytic acid, and L-asorbic acid are all excellent brightening ingredients.

Q: When should I treat dark spots?

The best time to treat pigmentation, dark marks, and scars is when they’re fresh, since they’ll respond better. Always read the instructions of any dark spot corrector products, but typically consistent use—usually daily—is key to seeing results.

Final Thoughts

Some dark spots can be notoriously stubborn and tricky to treat, but these best dark spot correctors all have standout formulas that are up to the task. We opted for products that can help a range of pigmentation woes, from all over dullness to targeted treatments to help you lighten up.

MORE TO READ