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Whether you’re dealing with a dark mark left behind by a blemish, spots that indicate sun damage, or hormone-induced melasma, these typically unwanted changes in the skin all fall under the umbrella of hyperpigmentation. Caused by the cells responsible for your skin’s color, melanocytes, depositing excess pigment into deeper levels of the skin, these forms of discoloration can be incredibly frustrating for those who strive for an even-toned complexion — especially since it can be tough to reverse.
“In general, hyperpigmentation is tough to treat and a chronic condition,” New York City-based board-certified dermatologist Dhaval Bhanusali tells Allure, noting that he explains to his patients that it must be taken seriously because it’s so easy for it to recur. Although some patients choose to undergo laser treatments for their dark spots to address their hyperpigmentation with customized prescription compounds — Bhanusali often blends a high dose of hydroquinone with kojic acid and vitamin C for his patients — there are ways to combat discoloration without often-expensive in-office procedures and medications.
That’s where these over-the-counter options come in. Often made with the same active ingredients that dermatologists use in prescription compounds, these serums and creams contribute to more even-toned skin and reduced hyperpigmentation with consistent use. “When targeting hyperpigmentation, you want to use multiple ingredients that have different functions,” New York City-based board-certified dermatologist David Kim tells us. “For example, you want to use a vitamin A derivative to increase cell turnover, alpha hydroxy acids to enzymatically exfoliate, and incorporate azelaic acid, kojic acid, or arbutin to reduce melanin production,” Kim explains, adding that tranexamic acid is particularly beneficial for melasma.
But there is something else dermatologists recommend across the board to get dark spots under control: sunscreen. “Before you spend your money on antioxidant serums and retinoids to improve the tone and texture of your skin, the most important first step is diligent daily sun protection, which is key to reducing the appearance of brown spots,” says board-certified dermatologist Shari Marchbein, also based in New York City. “Otherwise you are literally throwing your money away investing in other skin-care products,” she adds. Kim backs this up, adding that SPF combined with vitamin C in the morning minimizes UV damage, prevents excessive melanin production, and contributes to a brighter complexion overall.
Got your sunscreen checked off? Good. Here are some of the best dark spot correctors and hyperpigmentation-fading products to pair with it. Just ensure that you’re consistent with using these products — every day, folks — and you’ll see amazing (but gradual) results in as little as a month.
All products featured on Allure are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.
Allure Best of Beauty Award-winning Protini Powerpeptide Resurf Serum includes a harmonious mixture of 10 percent lactic acid, a gentle chemical exfoliant, and hydrating peptides. This powerful combination makes it tough enough to tackle dark spots and hyperpigmentation without causing irritation to more sensitive skin types. Don’t be surprised if your skin sees improvement in texture, tone, radiance, and bounce.$82 AT SEPHORA Glow Recipe‘s Guava Vitamin C Dark Spot Serum is no run-of-the-mill vitamin C treatment. Much like the brand’s hydration-focused Plum Plump serum, Guava has an enticing, silky-to-the-touch gel-serum texture that absorbs into skin without an ounce of greasiness or heaviness. Wave goodbye to hyperpigmentation because this serum isn’t playing around. Its vitamin C complex is made up of five dual-encapsulated derivatives of the brightening ingredient, which is further boosted by guava seed oil and fruit extract (which the brand says contains four times more vitamin C than oranges), tranexamic acid, ferulic acid, and vitamin E. “Compounding vitamin C with another antioxidant [like vitamin E] helps preserve the stability and boost the effectiveness of the serum,” Michelle Henry, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City, previously explained. Additionally, ferulic acid doubles down on your skin’s defensive barrier against the effects of photodamage. All in all, expect to see a more even-toned, glowy-as-heck complexion soon. $45 women of color, Eadem Milk Marvel Dark Spot Serum targets all aspects of hyperpigmentation with a potent, just-right dose of brightening ingredients — amber algae, encapsulated vitamin C (ethyl ascorbic acid), licorice, and niacinamide. This fragrance-free, milky-gel formula sinks into skin immediately and boosts hydration levels with crambe abyssinica and glycerin. If that wasn’t enough, pineapple and papaya enzymes provide gentle exfoliation so all of the pigment-evening ingredients absorb more quickly and efficiently. Call up Black Widow because this product is, in a nutshell, a marvel.(P.S. Eadem is launching at sephora.com in early September, so get your Beauty Insider accounts ready.)$68 vitamin C, which brightens the delicate skin around your eyes. It also includes green tea extract and anti-inflammatory hemp oil, which work together to calm and hydrate skin.$65 AT AMAZON use during pregnancy.”Azelaic acid has been shown to be bactericidal against p. Acnes, the bacteria on the skin that is one of the causes of acne,” Ava Shamban, a Beverly Hills-based board-certified dermatologist, previously explained to Allure. She also pointed out that azelaic acid loosens dead, pore-clogging skin cells and reduces instances of inflammation caused by acne. So, the better question is what can’t this ingredient do?$36 selling out its entire inventory because the results are just that, well, clear. This potent but lightweight formula is ripe with a 15 percent concentration of vitamin C that minimizes the appearance of dark spots left behind from breakouts. Furthering this weightless gel’s brightening and smoothing agenda is a team of kojic acid, vitamin E, and fruit enzymes (including apple and papaya). Take note of the soothing vitamin E in particular, since Corey L. Hartman, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, Alabama previously explained that kojic acid can result in contact dermatitis for reactive skin. The good news is that vitamin E and other calming components, like aloe and glycerin, should prevent any harsh side effects.$36 Caroline Robinson, a board-certified dermatologist based in Chicago and founder of Tone Dermatology, tells Allure that Revision Skincare C+ Correcting Complex is “one of the most advanced vitamin C products on the market.” How so? It’s formulated with 30 percent pure tetrahexydecyl ascorbate (a very stable form of vitamin C) and “patent-pending MelaPATH technology to visibly brighten and even skin tone,” Robinson points out. In layman’s terms, this milky serum is chock-full of powerful antioxidants that combat free radicals, including goji fruit extract and squalane, and support your body’s natural production of vitamins C and E.$160 $295 AT DERMSTORE The Ordinary Mandelic Acid 10% + HA, which clocks in at just $7 and infuses a decent dose of hyaluronic acid into the skin for that sweet hydration. Another bonus? “Because mandelic acid is oil-soluble, it works at both the surface of the skin and deeper down in the pores,” Sejal Shah, a New York City-based board-certified dermatologist previously divulged to Allure.$7 alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) can help both lift pigment and dull damaged skin,” says Beverly Hills-based board-certified dermatologist Jennifer Herrmann. The Alpha-H Liquid Gold Exfoliating Tonic is formulated with one of the most popular and productive acids in the AHA family, glycolic acid. Ranella Hirsch, a Boston-based board-certified dermatologist and cofounder of Atolla, has previously told Allure that there’s a good reason why glycolic acid appears in so many products and even in-office peels: “It does the job,” she states simply. This every-other-night treatment also incorporates licorice extract for extra help brightening up dark spots.We love it so much we added it to our September 2021 Allure Beauty Box lineup. You can score the Allure Beauty Box here for access to even more editor favorites — for just $23. Check out beauty’s top subscription box on TikTok at @allurebeautybox.$48 The Inkey List is proving that overnight treatments do not have to feel heavy on the skin — especially when it comes to the gel-based Tranexamic Acid Hyperpigmentation Treatment. All you need is a small dollop of this lightweight mask, and you’ll watch all of your dark spots disappear in about a month’s time. Those results, which will cost you a mere $15, are thanks to two percent concentrations of tranexamic acid, açai berry, and ascorbyl glucoside (a stable derivative of vitamin C) to promote a brighter, more even-toned complexion.$15 retinol SA-powered Neutrogena Stubborn Marks PM Treatment. Ideal for acne-prone skin, this fragrance-free treatment is in for the long haul when it comes to correcting and brightening your complexion. If you have particularly sensitive skin, try applying a calming moisturizer before this treatment — and afterward, too, if you want extra assurance. We’ll also point out that this fiery-red bottle is formulated with soothing glycerin and hyaluronic acid (sodium hyaluronate, to be exact) to deeply hydrate skin. $19$13 retinol-infused serum that won’t set you back more than $30. This nightly treatment is made with a higher percentage of the vitamin A derivative to address fine lines, blemishes, and hyperpigmentation as hyaluronic acid and glycerin provide much-needed hydration. $30$29 AT AMAZON undecylenoyl phenylalanine (an amino acid-derived molecule that reduces the effects of hyperpigmentation and melasma). They “work synergistically at multiple steps in the pigment production pathway to promote a more even, healthy-looking, and radiant complexion,” she explains.$42 hexylresorcinol (a molecule with the melanin-inhibiting tyrosinase we discussed earlier), niacinamide, and shiitake mushroom start fading stubborn dark spots from the very first moment they hit skin. As an added bonus, this luxurious serum is formulated with light-diffusing technology to balance the appearance of uneven pigmentation. It’s enough to convince you to skip the concealer.$95 vitamin C serums, Biossance formulated its Squalane + Vitamin C Dark Spot Serum with licorice root extract for skin-calming benefits, along with white shiitake mushroom in order to further boost the quick-absorbing serum’s brightening powers. It’s gentle enough to wear day (with sunscreen) and night and helps prevent new dark spots from popping up as well.$62