Dark spots don’t require a lofty explanation. They’re post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, or the marks that get left behind after inflammation, such as a pimple or other irritation. And according to New York–based dermatologist Hadley King, MD, other dark spots can be melasma, a type of discoloration that results from a combination of your hormones, genetics, and sun exposure.
Regardless of where your dark spots came from, they’re generally a pain to get rid of, especially if you’re in the habit of picking while they heal. This is where dark spot correctors come in handy. They come in many forms (spot treatments, creams, gels), but the best ones contain a few key ingredients.
“I generally find that hydroquinone is the most effective ingredient for fading dark spots,” says Dr. King. “Hydroquinone is sometimes combined with a topical cortisone and a topical retinoid, and these combination products are great because each ingredient decreases the discoloration through a different mechanism. Azelaic acid is another ingredient that can also be helpful.”
It’s also important to minimize sun exposure and up your daily sun protection, even after you’ve applied something topical. But because we can’t resist a little skin-care magic, here are the top-rated correctors that should be on your radar.
Burt's Bees Brightening Skin Perfecting Serum
Daisy extracts and a host of other clean ingredients work together to soothe skin and elevate your natural glow.
$20 at Burt's Bees
Caudalie Radiance Serum
Apply this serum, made with Viniferine and olive squalane, to your face and neck before you moisturize to diminish spots.
$79 at Caudalie
Clinique Even Better Clinical Dark Spot Corrector
This prescription-strength formula is made with a gentle dose of turmeric extract to brighten and exfoliate damaged skin.
$144.50 at Clinique
Dermadoctor Photodynamic Age Spot Eraser & Brightener
Instead of hydroquinone, this formula includes a host of gentler, but still effective brighteners, such as azelaic acid and mulberry extract.
$60 at Dermadoctor
Estee Lauder Enlighten Dark Spot Correcting Night Serum
Apply this serum day and night before your moisturizer for one month and expect to see fewer dark spots and more brightness overall.
$96 at Estee Lauder
Kiehl's Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Solution Serum
Vitamin C, peony extract, and white birch extract are the star ingredients of this gentle spot corrector, which can be applied all over the face before your moisturizer.
$50 at Kiehl's
Neutrogena Rapid Tone Repair Dark Spot Corrector
This dark spot corrector doubles as a retinol that gently exfoliates as it diminishes the appearance of dark spots.
$17.99 at Target
Paula's Choice Resist Triple-Action Dark Spot Eraser
Glycolic acid and hydroquinone work together to lighten acne marks while also hydrating the surface of the skin.
$27 at Paula's Choice
Ren Ready Steady Glow Daily AHA Tonic
Lactic acid and willow bark extract reduce pore size while azelaic acid brightens and evens out skin tone.
$35 at Ren
tarte Blemish Bully Acne Spot Treatment
Cover just the affected area with this spot treatment one to three times daily to reduce the size of irritations and lighten dark spots.
$16 at tarte
The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%
Get a straight dose of azelaic acid daily when you apply this serum all over.
$7.90 at The Ordinary
Korres Wild Rose Brightening Targeted Tone Corrector
This botanical-based toner is a great corrector choice for sensitive skin that doesn't respond well to acid-based products.
$26 at Korres
Murad Post-Acne Spot Lightening Gel
Hydroquinone does the brightening while plant-derived ingredients do the soothing and healing.
$65 at Murad
Peter Thomas Roth De-Spot Brightening Corrector
Dealing with "pregnancy mask," or discoloration all over? This potent formula promises visible results in as little as two weeks as long as you're using it regularly.
$75 at Peter Thomas Roth
Peter Thomas Roth
Sunday Riley U.F.O. Ultra-Clarifying Face Gel
Slather on this lightweight gel before bed and wake up to smaller blemishes without completely drying them out.
$80 at Sephora