14 Best Dark Spot Correctors, According to Skin Experts
Frustrated with hyperpigmentation? These expert-approved dark spot correctors can help you get rid of those bothersome patches once and for all.
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There’s likely little you wouldn’t do or try to fade dark spots on your skin, be it using foundation and concealer or trying unusual skin care tactics like slugging. Hyperpigmentation—also known as dark spots, age spots, or liver spots—may be caused by acne scars, excessive sun exposure, or hormonal changes. They occur when your skin revs up its production of melanin, the pigment that controls skin color. When melanin production is in overdrive, you may develop dark patches of skin. There are lots of products out there that promise to help you fade dark spots, but which is the best dark spot corrector for you? The key is knowing what ingredients to look for, says dermatologist Rebecca Marcus, MD.
What is the most effective dark spot corrector?
Any over-the-counter topical lightening product takes time to work. Be patient, according to Dr. Marcus. “The effects usually start to appear after about two weeks of consistent use and continue to improve over time,” she says. Sun exposure makes dark spots worse and can undo all the benefits of your lightening product, she adds. “Even a tiny bit of sun exposure can erase all your hard work and cause dark spots to recur,” she says. Remember to apply broad-spectrum sunscreen every single day. (Try these expert-approved face sunscreens.)
While creams and face serums are great, sometimes bigger guns like chemical peels, intense pulsed light (IPL), or lasers may be needed for full correction. Hydroquinone —the bleaching agent used to lighten dark patches of skin—is another option, and it works really well…until it doesn’t.
“This popular skin lightening ingredient is very effective, but if overused, it can cause darkening of the skin,” says Dr. Marcus. For this reason, it’s important to only use hydroquinone under a doctor’s close supervision and instruction, for limited periods of time.
What do dermatologists recommend for dark spots?
There are many gentle, effective ingredients that can help fade your dark spots—alone and in combination, Dr. Marcus says. Ingredients to look for include: tranexamic acid, kojic acid, niacinamide, and vitamin C.
Tranexamic acid blocks the interaction between the melanocytes and the skin cells on your skin’s surface called keratinocytes. Kojic acid and vitamin C inhibit the enzyme tyrosinase, which is instrumental in the synthesis of melanin, Dr. Marcus explains. “Once melanin is no longer being formed in excess, the skin has a chance to return to a more even coloration.” Another effective dark spot corrector, niacinamide works by interrupting the cell pigmentation process. Retinol speeds up cell turnover to peel away dark spots.
How we chose the best dark spot correctors
Our picks for best dark spot correctors are based on expert recommendations from top dermatologists, aestheticians, and plastic surgeons. We combined their know-how with user reviews and ratings to develop a comprehensive list of the best dark spot correctors for every skin type at every price point.
Best for melasma
SkinCeuticals Discoloration Defense
This hydroquinone-free serum includes three of Dr. Marcus’s favorite ingredients for fading dark spots: tranexamic acid, kojic acid, and niacinamide. One reviewer was very satisfied: “This has been a game changer! I have had terrible melasma, and this has been the only serum that has completely faded it!” Characterized by brown or blue-gray patches or freckle-like spots, melasma is also known as the “mask of pregnancy” because it often occurs with hormonal changes during pregnancy.
- Especially effective against newer spots
- Takes time and consistency to see results
Best for acne scars
Differin Dark Spot Correcting Serum
This serum contains 4 percent niacinamide, which has been shown in several studies to help with the appearance of hyperpigmentation, says dermatologist Camille Howard, MD. “This serum paired with a good sunscreen is chef’s kiss,” she says. If you still struggle with acne, try these foundations for acne-prone skin.
- Great for dark acne marks
- Won’t clog pores
- Takes time to work
Best for quick results
SkinMedica Lytera 2.0 Pigment Correcting Serum
This hydroquinone-free serum is packed with tranexamic acid, phytic acid, niacinamide, and many more powerful brightening and lightening ingredients, says Taylor Worden, celebrity aesthetician and founder of Taylor Worden Skin. “You will see results in as little as two weeks,” she says. Until then, learn the right way to apply concealer.
- Results in as little as two weeks
- Also helps to prevent future discoloration
- More effective against hyperpigmentation than melasma
Best for vitamin C
Maya Chia Super Lift Vitamin C-More Treatment
This product has all the key ingredients, including three types of vitamin C, niacinamide, tranexamic acid, the antioxidant ferulic acid, and peptides to help brighten the skin, says dermatologist Hadley King, MD. “It diminishes the look of fine lines and wrinkles, immediately (with a temporary tightening/smoothing effect) and in the long-term.” Try it with this vitamin C serum for even more effect.
- Three types of vitamin C
- Smooths fine lines and wrinkles
Best budget pick
Neutrogena Rapid Tone Repair Dark Spot Corrector
This cream contains a stable form of vitamin C plus Neutrogena’s Accelerated Retinol SA (sustained action), a combination of retinol, glucose complex (a retinol booster), and moisturizing hyaluronic acid, says dermatologist Vivian Bucay, MD. “With consistent daily use as well as daily use of a broad-spectrum sunscreen, people can expect to see skin that looks smoother, brighter, and more hydrated, with a reduction in the appearance of dark spots, fine lines, and wrinkles, thanks to retinol,” she says.
- Improves hydration
- Reduces file lines and wrinkles
- Improvements take longer than other brands
Bioeffect EGF Power Cream
This cream contains barley EGF, a powerful growth factor known for its role in skin health, plus niacinamide and other potent plant-based ingredients, says dermatologist Anetta Reszko, MD, PhD. “In a three-month product efficacy study, findings showed a clear improvement of skin pigmentation following application twice a day of Bioeffect EGF Power Cream for 90 days,” she says. Looking for other skin-soothing products? Check out these foundations for dry skin.
- Very expensive
Best for stubborn dark spots
Clinique Even Better Clinical Dark Spot Corrector & Optimizer
Dark spots don’t stand a chance against Clinique’s Even Better Clinical Dark Spot Corrector & Optimizer. As one verified Amazon reviewer puts it: “After using hundreds of creams and treatments, this serum is the only thing that took away the stains.” Powered by the CL302 Brightening Complex plus vitamin C, this serum penetrates 21 layers into the skin’s surface, stopping dark spots in their tracks while a green tea extract soothes skin.
- Penetrates deep
- Some users report malfunctions with the dispenser
Best for evening skin tone
Image Skincare Vital C Hydrating Anti-Aging Serum
Powered by vitamin C, moisturizing hyaluronic acid, and soothing green tea extract, Vital C Hydrating Anti-Aging Serum brightens and improves uneven skin tone, says dermatologist Jenny Liu, MD. “Expect improvement in overall skin radiance, skin tone, texture, and hydration within four weeks,” she says. Another important step in your skin care routine is exfoliating regularly with a quality face scrub.
- Improves overall skin tone and texture
- Good for sensitive skin
- Reviewers report price increases
Best for targeted dark spot reduction
iS Clinical Brightening Serum
Some acne treatments zero in on blemishes—this serum takes that same super-targeted approach for dark marks, Dr. Marcus says. It contains a blend of Norwegian sea kelp extracts and other botanical acids that work together to lighten and brighten age spots.
- Targeted treatment
- Suitable for all skin types
Best for the body
Spot Fade Dark Spot Body Correcting Serum
This serum evens out skin tone and fades dark spots anywhere on the body, says dermatologist Susan Van Dyke, MD. It contains a cocktail of ingredients, including kojic acid, retinol, tranexamic acid, and niacinamide. “These four extraordinary ingredients reduce hyperpigmentation on their own, but when combined, produce even better results,” she says. Improvements are noticeable in as little as two weeks. Another important product for your body? Hand cream.
- Comes in a larger quantity than other dark spot correctors for allover use
- Expensive unless it’s on sale
Best for all skin types
Isdinceutics Melaclear Dark Spot Correcting Serum
This hydroquinone-free serum is packed with phytic acid, vitamin C, green tea leaf extract, and grape seed extract, which all work together to brighten, even, and correct discoloration on your skin, says Worden. “It can be used all year, and all skin types can use it.” Don’t forget to follow it with moisturizer, another year-round product.
- Safe for all skin types
- Includes vitamin C
- Takes some time to see results
- Some users feel it leaves a residue
Best tinted dark spot corrector
PÜR 4-in-1 Correcting Primer Dark Spot Corrector
This peach-toned dark spot corrector contains an encapsulated blend of retinol, lactic acid, shea butter, and a ceramide that all work together to fade dark spots and blur fine lines and wrinkles. Because it’s tinted, it also functions as a primer or concealer.
- Double duty as a primer or concealer
- A little goes a long way, so the product lasts
- Reasonably priced
- Tint is too orange for some skin tones
Best stick dark spot corrector
Olay Skin Brightening Serum Stick with Vitamin C and Vitamin B3
This serum comes in stick form, making it super easy to apply, and includes both vitamin B3 and vitamin C to brighten skin tone. Amazon reviewer Pensters says, “This serum is awesome—my face looks so bright after applying! Plus, it works well with moisturizer and other face products!” Try it with one of these foundations for mature skin.
- Stick form makes it convenient to carry and easy to apply
- Great for under-eye circles
- Has a fragrance
Best for redness reduction
Sente Dermal Repair Cream
This dark spot corrector actually bills itself as a repair cream, but is powered by heparan sulfate analog, which cools inflammation and reduces redness, along with dark-spot fighting niacinamide, says dermatologist Eva Simmons-O’Brien, MD. “Some dark spots may have vascularity running through the brown pigment, so anything that can reduce redness can improve pigment.”
- Reduces redness
- Soothes irritated skin
- Can be too thick for daytime use
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- Rebecca Marcus, MD, dermatologist, Dallas, Texas
- Vivian Bucay, MD, dermatologist and owner of Bucay Center for Dermatology and Aesthetics, San Antonio, Texas
- Camille Howard, MD, dermatologist, New York City
- Anetta Reszko MD, PhD, clinical assistant professor of dermatology, Weill Cornell Medical College, and assistant attending dermatologist, New York Presbyterian Hospital, New York City
- Hadley King, MD, clinical instructor of dermatology, Weill Medical College of Cornell University, New York City
- Eva Simmons-O’Brien, MD, assistant professor of internal medicine, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland
- Taylor Worden, aesthetician and founder of TaylorWorden Skin
- Jenny Liu, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School in Minneapolis, Minnesota
- Susan Van Dyke, MD, dermatologist, Paradise Valley, Arizona