How to Get Rid of Dark Spots for Good

Dermatologists reveal their best tips for nipping hyperpigmentation in the bud.

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If you're experiencing dark spots, you're not alone. Like an unwanted house guest, these stubborn areas of hyperpigmentation can show up without warning and may not always go away on their own. But rather than succumb to feelings of frustration after unsuccessfully getting your dark spots to fade for the umpteenth time, why not turn to the pros for help?

We tapped a slew of skincare experts to get the DL on all things dark spots related. From causes to treatments to preventative methods, we left no stone unturned when investigating everything there is to know about skin discoloration.

Keep scrolling for our complete guide to getting rid of dark spots, stat.

What are dark spots?

"Dark spots are areas of hyperpigmentation caused by over-active production of melanin in the skin," says Jaimie DeRosa, M.D., double board certified plastic and reconstructive surgeon and founder of DeRosa Center Plastic Surgery & Med Spa. "Their color can range from light to dark brown and are typically found in areas exposed to the sun (face, chest, shoulders, and hands)."

Various factors can affect the formation of dark spots, some of which you can control and some of which you can't. "The main causes of dark spots are sun damage, hormonal changes (such as pregnancy or birth control pills which can cause melasma), side-effects from medications (including tetracyclines, anti-psychotics, and NSAIDS), inflammation, wound healing, irritants (such as from cosmetics or hair products), and even diabetes, which can cause skin conditions such as acanthosis nigricans," Dr. DeRosa tells us.

The cause of your dark spots is worth noting since it will determine how long they last and whether or not they will ultimately go away on their own. "If a dark spot is due to an inflammatory process (such as an acne breakout or a cut), the discoloration should fade within six to 12 months," comments Dr. DeRosa. "If it’s due to long-term sun damage, the spots may not fade without intervention of some sort (be it lasers, topicals, etc.)."

Acne scars and over-aggressive facial scrubbing can lead to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, or dark spots on the forehead, nose, and chin, adds David E. Bank, M.D., director of the Center for Dermatology, Cosmetic, and Laser Surgery in Mount Kisco, NY. As you mature, "More serious photodamage from years of sun exposure starts to emerge now in the form of dark clusters on the face, upper chest, and hands," Dr. Bank says.

How to Prevent Dark Spots

If you're looking to prevent dark spots from forming in the first place, you're in luck. There are certain measures you can take to reduce the likelihood of some hyperpigmentation occurring. According to Dr. DeRosa, "One of the best ways to prevent dark spots is to avoid UV light and to wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen SPF 30 or above every single day, rain or shine, 12 months a year." She suggests adding physical barriers as well, including a wide-brimmed hat (three-inches or greater) and long sleeves to help protect against the sun’s rays. "These will help to keep the melanocytes (the cells in the skin that produce pigment) ‘quiet’ and not over-active." 

Another way to help prevent dark spots? "Treat the offender to help reduce the risk of dark spot formation. This includes treating acne early to try to reduce post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation," she adds.

How to Get Rid of Dark Spots

Although they're harmless, dark spots can be corrected if you so choose. Treatments range from at-home remedies to in-office procedures. Depending on the cause and type of dark spots you're dealing with, you may opt for one treatment method over another.

Apply a spot treatment.

"Applying a spot treatment with salicylic acid twice daily will gradually exfoliate the excess pigment in the skin and reduce marks," says Dr. Bank. Cane + Austin Acne Retexture Pad is a great option.

Use brightening ingredients.

If your dark spots are the result of hormonal changes, they can be difficult to treat. "The patches often reappear with the slightest UV exposure," NYC-based dermatologist Anne Chapas, M.D. tells us. Her advice? Look for a treatment with resorcinol or hydroquinone. If you're pregnant, choose a formula with a natural brightener, such as Eminence Organic Skin Care Bright Skin Licorice Root Booster-Serum.

"There are some natural ingredients that have been shown to decrease pigmentation and thereby lighten dark spots. These include licorice root, niacinamide, soy, and mulberry," says Dr. DeRosa. Soy combined with vitamin C will also help even out your complexion and neutralize free-radical damage. "Other ingredients are purported to lighten dark spots, such as apple cider vinegar, but the studies are inconclusive," she adds.

Consider medical-grade products.

"There also are some really good medical-grade skin care options that can help reduce dark spots at home," reveals Dr. DeRosa. "These products often contain ingredients that can be found in OTC options but tend to have higher quality and concentration of the active ingredients." Her top picks? Alphascience Alpha Bright Serum and their Phytic [TC] Serum. Both are great for acne-prone skin, but the latter also helps to reduce fine lines and wrinkles and brighten dull skin, for those who are interested, she says.

Try retinol.

Shifts in estrogen and progesterone levels, along with the natural breakdown of DNA that occurs with age, often set off pigmentation changes, says Dr. Bank. "Applying a night cream with retinol helps increase cell turnover to minimize discoloration with the added benefit of stimulating collagen production to firm skin," says LA-based dermatologist, Ava Shamban, M.D.

Go for an in-office treatment.

To hasten the removal of dark spots, Dr. DeRosa says you may want to consider seeing a professional for an in-office procedure. "Some of these treatments include lasers, chemical peels, microneedling, cryotherapy, and prescription topical creams." 

When to See a Professional

If you're unsure of whether to treat dark spots on your own or seek out professional help, Dr. DeRosa offers some advice. "There are two main reasons to see a professional for your dark spots: when you are unsure if it is just a ‘dark spot’ or something more ominous, such as melanoma. Remember the common characteristics of melanoma follow the ABCDE quiz: Asymmetry, Border (irregular), Color (multiple colors or shades of brown/black), Diameter greater than a pencil eraser, and Evolving (changing)."

The second reason? "Sometimes at-home remedies are simply not strong enough to battle tough hyperpigmentation issues, especially melasma. You also may jump in and seek professional help for your dark spots early on to get rid of the dark spots more quickly," says Dr. DeRosa. "In either case, your provider may recommend a variety of treatments based on the exact nature and extent of your dark spots."

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