best over the counter cream for dark spots on face

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Dark spots and hyperpigmentation can be quite a conundrum—and a tricky one to solve. You can spend years diligently attending to your skin regimenthe right cleansersthe right moisturizersthe right anti-aging serumsthe right SPF—only to have your smooth complexion struck down almost overnight by hyperpigmentation, more commonly known as dark spots.

“In fair-skinned individuals, hyperpigmentation is often caused by sun damage and often accumulate with age,” says Omar Ibrahimi, MD, founder and medical director of the Connecticut Skin Institute. “In skin of color, meanwhile, hyperpigmentation can be caused by anything that irritates or injures the skin. This is called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH), and acne is a common source of PIH in ethnic skin and is sometimes more disruptive than the actual acne itself.” Then of course, there’s melasma, a special type of pigmentary condition, which tends to occur during pregnancy or during other times of hormonal change (think menopause or the start of taking birth control pills), Ibrahimi adds. “Sun exposure drives the melasma to darken.”

Dermatologists have plenty of tools in their tool belts to help patients deal with pesky darks spots. “We use laser resurfacing treatments and other light-based devices such as IPL to ‘remove’ the damaged skin and simultaneously heat the second layer to promote the formation of new skin cells with a more even texture and tone,” explains Mona Gohara, MD, associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale University. “Chemical peels with ingredients such as glycolic, salicylic, lactic, carbolic, or trichloroacetic acids may be used to resurface and refresh as well.” The good news? You don’t have to run to the dermatologist and shell out thousands of dollars on pricey laser treatments. There are a wide variety of dark spot correctors that really work—and are available over the counter, at every price point.

To make sure you pick the best (and most effective) product for removing dark spots, our experts recommend looking for cream or serum that contains ingredients like vitamin C (an antioxidant that reduces inflammation and brightens skin), niacinamide (a form of vitamin B3 that slows pigment production), hydroquinone (a lightening agent that inhibits the pigment-forming enzyme tyrosinase), retinol (a vitamin A derivative that evens tone and texture), or glycolic or lactic acid (which are alpha hydroxy acids that exfoliate dead skin cells). And remember: Sunscreen is a non-negotiable. Gohara recommends applying a daily sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher that uses mineral ingredients such as zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, or iron oxides.

Ahead, we asked to dermatologists to recommend the best dark spot correctors for your face, including a budget-friendly drugstore cream and a treatment designed specifically for darker skin tones.
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