How To Get Rid Of Dark Spots, According To Dermatologists

We grilled derms for the products that will really make a difference in your skin.

The first time you see a dark spot pop up on your face, you’re probably tempted to try to wash it off. But after a few quick scrubs, there it remains. This cannot be happening now, you think. Dark spots are for older people. And you're, well, not.
Because they can be caused by a variety of factors, ID'ing what’s going on is key to finding the right treatment, says Melissa K. Levin, M.D., a board-certified New York City dermatologist and clinical attending at New York University Langone Health and Mount Sinai Hospital. “Brown spots can be as benign as sun spots, genetic spots, melasma, hyperpigmentation, and moles, or be as concerning as melanoma,” she says. The sun, your age, fluctuating hormones (like the ones women experience during pregnancy), and skin irritation can all contribute to a spotty complexion.

Since the sun is one of the biggest culprits, “if you have good sun habits, you’ll get fewer dark spots than if you don’t,” says Elizabeth Tanzi, M.D., founder and director of Capital Laser & Skin Care and associate clinical professor of dermatology at the George Washington University Medical Center. There’s a genetic component, too. The fairer your skin is, the more likely you are to get dark spots.

The good news: There are OTC options for getting rid of dark spots. Here are seven you should have on your radar. (And if you’re not satisfied with your at-home results, consider seeing a derm, who may recommend an in-office procedure like intense pulsed light treatment or a chemical peel.)


“The most important skincare product is sunscreen," says Levin. "Dark spots will only get darker with sun exposure." She loves this mineral-based sunscreen that guards against UVA and UVB rays with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. With a sheer tint, it can help even out the appearance of dark spots, too.


This pick is pricey, but it's good. This is one of Levin’s favorite antioxidant serums, which packs antioxidants vitamin C and E. “These neutralize free radicals from causing oxidative damage to the skin and block enzymatic processes that make more pigment in the skin,” she explains. Apply the oil during the daytime to limit free radicals and boost brightness.


You’ll find hydroquinone in this serum. “Hydroquinone is the gold standard for lightening dark spots,” says Levin. This formula contains 2% of the active ingredient, which is likely the highest concentration you’ll find available OTC. Added glycolic acid helps to up the exfoliating action and boosts the efficacy of hydroquinone.


Along with a brightening cream, “you can do peel pads if you’re looking to lighten up a smattering of spots,” says Tanzi. These convenient pads pack brighteners like niacinamide along with mandelic, phytic, and azelaic acids to remove dead skin cells and diminish darkness. Skin soothing bisabolol keeps things calm.


This product, recommended by Tanzi, relies on Norwegian kelp and bearberry extract to lighten spots. Hydrating hyaluronic acid and dimethicone plump fine lines, meaning this one works on a variety of levels to keep your skin looking young. Because acne can cause spots, too, you’ll also get blemish-fighting salicylic acid in the mix.

SkinMedica Lytera Skin Brightening Complex

Another one on Tanzi’s radar, this treatment is hydroquinone-free, which is great for anyone who may have a more sensitive complexion. It brightens with licorice root extract and includes peptides that work in cells to turn down pigment production—and contains retinol to spur cell turnover (helping further diminish dark spots) and vitamin E to protect your skin.
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Women's Magazine: How To Get Rid Of Dark Spots, According To Dermatologists
How To Get Rid Of Dark Spots, According To Dermatologists
We grilled derms for the products that will really make a difference in your skin.
Women's Magazine
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