The 20 Best Dark Spot Correctors for a Brighter Complexion

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The 20 Best Dark Spot Correctors to Fade Hyperpigmentation
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Regardless of how they got there, dark spots on your skin can be tricky to get rid of. Luckily, there are plenty of over-the-counter products that can help fade those pesky marks over time — as long as you know exactly what to look for." Dark spots are increased deposition of pigment under the skin due, mostly to sun exposure," Dr. Tess Mauricio, a board-certified dermatologist based in Beverly Hills, tells InStyle. But there are a few other reasons why your skin could have hyperpigmentation: Things like acne scars and changes in hormone levels can often be blamed, too. "Any process that causes inflammation in the skin and irritates the melanocytes (which are the pigment-producing cells in the skin) will produce dark spots or hyperpigmentation on the body," says Dr. Debra Jaliman, board-certified dermatologist. We scoured the internet to find the best dark spot correctors on the market, including everything from vitamin C serums to at-home peel pads. When putting together this list, we considered all skin types and tones and evaluated each product based on its formula, brightening abilities, and benefits. The Murad Rapid Dark Spot Correcting Serum stood out for its ability to brighten up the skin almost instantaneously and for its exfoliating properties. Ahead, find the best dark spot correctors for a brighter complexion.

Our Top Picks

Best Overall: Murad Rapid Dark Spot Correcting Serum

Dark Spot Serum
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What We Like: The results are very quick.

What We Don't Like: It's a little sticky.

This brightening serum from Murad uses a combination of three powerhouse ingredients to fade dark spots and brighten skin: tranexamic acid, glycolic acid, and the brand's signature resorcinol technology. The unique formula also helps promote cell turnover and has exfoliating properties, which improves both dullness and skin texture. On top of all of those great benefits, the formula is very lightweight and hydrating, so you won't have to worry about it drying out your skin. It is gentle enough for daily use and absorbs well into the skin. With consistent use, the serum is sure to produce visible results when it comes to hyperpigmentation, melasma, and even redness.

Size: 1 fl oz | Skin Type: Oily, combo, normal | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Scented: No

Best Value: Neutrogena Rapid Tone Repair Dark Spot Corrector

Neutrogena Rapid Tone Repair Dark Spot Corrector
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What We Like: It doesn't irritate the skin and it reduces fine lines.

What We Don't Like: It takes three to six weeks to see results.

You don't have to spend a fortune to fade dark spots at home, especially with this affordable serum from Neutrogena. With two dermatologist-recommended ingredients for fighting hyperpigmentation (vitamin C and retinol), this serum is a great option for anyone who wants to try out dark spot correctors for the first time. In addition to brightening up your skin, it will also even out texture and bumps, keep pores clear, and smooth wrinkles. What's even better is that it's formulated without any harmful dyes or mineral oil.

Size: 1 fl oz | Skin Type: Oily, combo, normal, dry | Cruelty-Free: No | Scented: Yes

Best Splurge: SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic

SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic
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What We Like: It gives skin a beautiful glow.

What We Don't Like: It has a distinct smell.

If you're willing to splurge on a dark spot corrector, opt for this popular anti-aging serum by SkinCeuticals. The antioxidant-rich formula features vitamins C and E and ferulic acid to brighten skin and stop dark spots from appearing. With continued use, you'll find that wrinkles are less noticeable and skin tone is more even. It will even banish acne scars for good and provide protection against environmental skin stressors like pollution and sun damage, making it well worth the splurge.

Size: 1 fl oz | Skin Type: Normal, dry | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Scented: No

Best Peel Pads: Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Extra Strength Daily Peel

Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Extra Strength Daily Peel
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What We Like: It smooths out your complexion and mimics the effects of a professional peel.

What We Don't Like: It's pricey.

These at-home peel pads from Dr. Dennis Gross will visibly improve your complexion almost as well as a professional peel would. The two-step treatment gives your skin an extra-strength dose of AHAs, BHAs, and retinol to target dark spots, fine lines, large pores, and more, while soothing ingredients like chamomile and green tea prevent inflammation and protect the skin. Although they are a bit pricey, the set comes with 30 pads and the youthful complexion it produces is well worth the price tag.

Size: 30 sheets | Skin Type: Oily, combo, normal | Cruelty-Free: No | Scented: No

Best Exfoliator: Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Resurfacing Night Serum

Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Resurfacing Night Serum
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What We Like: It transforms your entire complexion, from tone to texture.

What We Don't Like: It is expensive.

This Drunk Elephant night serum is a cult favorite, and for good reason. With an AHA/BHA gel formula, it doubles as an exfoliator and works to resurface dull, congested skin by gently lifting away dead skin cells. On top of improving skin texture, fine lines, and wrinkles, it features a handful of derm-approved ingredients like glycolic and lactic acids and raspberry extract, which target dark spots. It is also formulated at a skin-friendly 3.5 pH level.

Size: 1 fl oz | Skin Type: Oily, combo, normal, dry | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Scented: No

Best With Retinol: Shani Darden Skin Care Retinol Reform

Shani Darden Skin Care Retinol Reform
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What We Like: It has anti-aging benefits and prevents acne.

What We Don't Like: It has a strong scent.

This lightweight serum from Shani Darden utilizes time-released, encapsulated retinol, a more gentle form of retinol that minimizes irritation, to correct dark spots and brighten up your skin. The serum also uses lactic acid and fruit extracts to reduce signs of aging, protect the skin against free radical damage, and improve skin elasticity. It will even gently exfoliate your skin and help even out the texture in as little as two weeks.

Size: 1 fl oz | Skin Type: Oily, combo, normal | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Scented: Yes

Best With Vitamin C: Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum

Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum
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What We Like: It's packed with antioxidants and has powerful brightening abilities.

What We Don't Like: It pills under moisturizer and makeup.

This editor- and expert-approved serum by Mad Hippie is another favorite of Dr. Jaliman's and it features all-natural ingredients. It uses vitamins C and E to make dark spots appear less noticeable and doesn't contain any fragrance or parabens. The antioxidant-rich formula is also packed with hyaluronic acid, konjac root powder, ferulic acid, and chamomile extract to improve your skin's overall complexion and grapefruit to naturally exfoliate dead skin cells.

Size: 1 fl oz | Skin Type: Oily, combo, normal | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Scented: Yes

Best With Lactic Acid: Sunday Riley Good Genes All-In-One Lactic Acid Treatment

Sunday Riley Good Genes All-In-One Lactic Acid
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What We Like: It deeply exfoliates dead skin cells to reveal brighter skin.

What We Don't Like: It is advertised as an anti-aging product but does not do much for fine lines.

If you're looking for a high-quality dark spot corrector, you can't go wrong with Sunday Riley's Good Genes treatment. It is packed with lactic acid, which helps to exfoliate dull, pore-clogging dead skin cells, according to Dr. Jaliman. The formula also features licorice extract to help diminish the appearance of dark spots, acne scarring, and discoloration as well as soothing ingredients like aloe and lemongrass that will nourish your skin. While the treatment is definitely a splurge, it is sure to give you an instant glow that rivals a facial.

Size: 1 fl oz | Skin Type: Oily, combo, normal | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Scented: Yes

Best With Niacinamide: First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance Dark Spot Serum

Dark Spot Serum
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What We Like: It improves skin elasticity and makes the skin noticeably more radiant.

What We Don't Like: It's very creamy and could absorb better.

First Aid Beauty's Facial Radiance Dark Spot serum is another great option to even out your skin tone. It is clinically-proven to boost your complexion in just four weeks and it features niacinamide to gently even out skin texture, minimize pores, and add some bounce. The formula is also reinforced by licorice root and golden kiwifruit, which work together to soothe the skin and protect it from environmental stressors.

Size: 1 fl oz | Skin Type: Oily, combo, normal | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Scented: No

Best Multipurpose: The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%

The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%
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What We Like: It targets dark spots, fights acne, and reduces redness.

What We Don't Like: It can be very drying.

​​Even derms love The Ordinary's affordable skincare products. This lightweight formula by the cult favorite brand uses azelaic acid, which Dr. Mauricio loves for its "multitasking abilities" — plus, the ingredient is gentler on skin than other acids. "This inexpensive solution helps with acne, skin texture, and skin discoloration and is safe to use for long term maintenance of dark spots," she adds. It also helps tame redness and rosacea and has a matte finish.

Size: 1 fl oz | Skin Type: Oily, combo, normal, dry | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Scented: Yes

Best Organic: Eva Naturals Vitamin C+ Serum

Eva Naturals Vitamin C+ Serum
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What We Like: It's made with plant-based, non-irritating ingredients.

What We Don't Like: It can slightly sting if you have sensitive skin.

This dark spot-correcting serum boasts a powerful formula that is packed with ingredients like vitamin C, niacinamide, and retinol. In addition to anti-aging and brightening properties, the serum also boasts hydrating hyaluronic acid and acne-fighting salicylic acid. It's made with entirely plant-based ingredients as well, so it is a great option for anyone looking for something a bit more natural. To top it off, applying this serum daily can reduce the risk of breakouts and it protects against UV rays.

Size: 1 fl oz | Skin Type: Oily, combo, normal, dry | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Scented: Yes

Best Face Wash: La Roche-Posay Pigmentclar Cleanser

La Roche-Posay Pigmentclar Cleanser
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What We Like: It's very hydrating and it gently exfoliates the skin.

What We Don't Like: It can leave behind a film.

With this brightening cleanser from La Roche-Posay, you can target dark spots in nearly every step of your skincare routine. Using a derivative of salicylic acid called lipo-hydroxy acid, the foaming face wash will gently exfoliate and even out skin tone all while providing a thorough clean. It can be used both in the morning and at night, and it features glycerin to help hydrate the skin. The foaming texture lathers up well and it has a pleasant scent to it.

Size: 4.2 fl oz | Skin Type: Oily, combo, normal | Cruelty-Free: No | Scented: Yes

Best for Women of Color: Eadem Milk Marvel Dark Spot Serum

serum
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What We Like: It is designed for women of color, by women of color.

What We Don't Like: It is not ideal for oily skin and can make it feel more oily.

Eadem's dark spot corrector is finally available at Sephora and it's already making waves. The miracle serum contains pigment-correcting ingredients like niacinamide, vitamin C, and Amber Algae. Plus, it was designed for women of color, by women of color — and the dosage of each ingredient was chosen specifically to fade dark spots on melanated skin. For an even brighter boost, it features papaya and pineapple enzymes, which will gently resurface the skin without causing any irritation. It is suitable for both A.M. and P.M. use and it leaves the skin feeling so soft.

Size: 1 fl oz | Skin Type: Combo, normal, dry | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Scented: No

Best for Sensitive Skin: Eau Thermale Avène RetrinAl 0.1 Intensive Cream

Eau Thermale Avène RetrinAL
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What We Like: It features nourishing and soothing ingredients.

What We Don't Like: It's very thick.

This velvety cream will hydrate your skin, get rid of dark spots, and combat signs of aging all at the same time. It's ideal for sensitive skin as it is formulated with retinaldehyde, a form of retinol that's often gentler and more effective, along with the brand's signature thermal spring water, which soothes the skin. The formula is also packed with peptides to nourish and firm the skin. It is free of fragrance, parabens, and silicones, making it even more gentle for anyone with skin that irritates easily.

Size: 1.01 fl oz | Skin Type: Oily, combo, normal | Cruelty-Free: No | Scented: No

Best With SPF: L'Oréal Paris Revitalift Bright Reveal Anti-Aging Day Cream

L’Oreal Paris, Revitalift Bright Reveal Anti-Aging Day Cream
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What We Like: It protects the skin from future sun spots and treats existing ones.

What We Don't Like: It can leave skin feeling a bit greasy.

Using glycolic acid, vitamin C, and pro-retinol, L'Oréal's brightening moisturizer will correct existing dark spots and smooth wrinkles while the SPF 30 will prevent any more sun damage. It also doesn't take long to achieve that sought-after glowy complexion and dull skin will look brighter after just a few applications of this holy grail product. The cream's subtle citrus fragrance is another notable perk and the Bright Reveal line includes a cleanser, peel pad, and an overnight moisturizer to complete the line up.

Size: 1 fl oz | Skin Type: Oily, combo, normal, dry, sensitive | Cruelty-Free: No | Scented: Yes

Best for Acne-Prone Skin: ProactivMD Adapalene Gel 0.1% Acne Treatment

Proactiv Adapalene Gel 0.1% Acne Treatment
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What We Like: It clears up acne and acne scarring quickly and effectively.

What We Don't Like: It may be too strong for some skin types.

ProactivMD's gel was designed with acne-prone skin in mind and is dermatologist-tested to treat both existing breakouts and dark spots that linger once the pimples are gone. It boasts powerful Adapalene gel, a type of retinoid that was previously available by prescription only, but can now be bought over the counter — and even better, right on Amazon. The gel effectively clears acne, blackheads, clogged pores, scarring, and pimples and it is free of benzoyl peroxide.

Size: 1.6 fl oz | Skin Type: Oily, combo, acne-prone, sensitive | Cruelty-Free: No | Scented: No

Best Cream: CeraVe Ultra-Lightweight Facial Moisturizing Lotion PM

CeraVe Facial Moisturizing Lotion PM Ultra Lightweight
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What We Love: It's very calming and it's great for acne-prone or sensitive skin types.

What We Don't Love: It is a bit light for a night cream.

When it comes to removing dark spots, you aren't limited to just serums and treatments. A gentle, fragrance-free formula like CeraVe's lightweight lotion can get the job done without irritating your skin. "This moisturizer is great because it has three types of ceramides, niacinamide, and hyaluronic acid. All [are] very good ingredients, which will help with not just dark spots but fine lines and wrinkles as well," Dr. Jaliman says. These ingredients are also very nourishing and hydrating, so it's a win-win for anyone with dry skin and discoloration. It is designed for nighttime use and it is non-comedogenic.

Size: 3 fl oz | Skin Type: Oily, combo, acne-prone, normal, dry | Cruelty-Free: No | Scented: No

Best Patches: Peace Out Microneedling Dark Spot Brightening Dots

Peace Out Microneedling Dark Spot Brightening Dots
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What We Like: They dramatically fade dark spots after just one use.

What We Don't Like: They leave behind a residue that needs to be washed off.

The brand loved for its pimple patches and pore strips also makes these 1-step microneedling dots that are specially designed to fade dark spots. Each sticker contains niacinamide, tranexamic acid, and ferulic acid, ingredients that actually help reduce discoloration, as well as 430 self-dissolving, hyaluronate-infused microneedles. They provide all the radiance-boosting benefits of real microneedling with a much simpler process, just stick on a dot wherever you see a dark spot and leave it on overnight. They are also made with no parabens, sulfates, or harmful chemicals, so you can rest assured knowing they won't dry out your skin.

Size: 12 dots | Skin Type: Oily, combo, normal, dry | Cruelty-Free: No | Scented: No

Best Spot Treatment: No7 Laboratories Dark Spot Correcting Booster Serum

No7 Laboratories Dark Spot Correcting Booster Serum
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What We Like: It's very gentle and targets individual spots very well.

What We Don't Like: It takes almost a month to see results.

This dark spot corrector from No7 is formulated with the brand's special lightening complex (a combination of vitamin C, emblica, and sophora) that is clinically proven to improve the appearance of dark spots, age spots, and sun spots. And since it's a spot treatment, you can specifically target areas with hyperpigmentation without having to apply it to your entire face. It's a very thin, lightweight consistency that is suitable for all skin types, even those with sensitive skin.

Size: 6.5 fl oz | Skin Type: Oily, combo, normal, dry | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Scented: No

Best Toner: Ole Henriksen Glow2OH Dark Spot Toner

OLEHENRIKSEN Glow2OH Dark Spot Toner
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What We Like: It tightens pores and combats redness.

What We Don't Like: It tingles at first, which may not be for everyone.

This refreshing toner by Ole Henriksen uses two types of AHAs (glycolic and lactic acid) and licorice root to help fade dark spots and even out skin tone. The formula also features witch hazel, a natural astringent that is known to reduce inflammation and prevent breakouts, as well as a variety of soothing ingredients. After cleansing, apply this toner to your skin with a cotton pad and watch as your complexion improves in as little as seven days.

Size: 6.5 fl oz | Skin Type: Oily, combo, normal, dry | Cruelty-Free: No | Scented: Yes

What to Keep in Mind

Skin Type

Before you start applying a dark spot corrector, there are a few things to remember. "If you have very sensitive skin, you want to be careful with certain ingredients such as retinol and acids," Dr. Jaliman says. "You want to start off with [the] lowest strengths possible to make sure your skin can tolerate it."

For people with sensitive skin, Dr. Jared Jagdeo, board-certified dermatologist and Chief Medical Officer at Ever/Body, suggests looking for dark spot correctors made with gentler, less irritating ingredients. "Tranexamic, salicylic, [and] azelaic acids are gentle enough for those with sensitive skin," he says.

Skin Tone

While ingredients like vitamin C are effective on people with fair skin tones, those with darker skin tones may need something a bit stronger like a retinol or acid. Dr. Jagdeo recommends tranexamic acid, salicylic acid, and cysteamine for Black or brown skin. "The ingredients work by blocking melanin production and melanin levels at different points within skin cells," he says.

Brightening Ingredients

An easy way to fade dark spots is to brighten up your overall complexion and skin tone. To do this, keep your eyes out for products with brightening ingredients like antioxidants "Look for vitamin C, alpha arbutin, licorice root extract, hexyl resorcinol, green tea, and of course, SPF to help reduce the appearance of sunspots or freckles," says Dr. Mauricio. Other common ingredients that help fade dark spots are niacinamide (a.k.a. vitamin B3), kojic acid, and lactic acids.

Dr. Jaliman adds that products with exfoliating ingredients can also be beneficial in evening out skin tone and brightening up your complexion. "Lactic acid and glycolic acid help to exfoliate the dark discoloration," she notes. "Taking off the top layer of the skin allows other products to penetrate deeper into the skin to help with hyperpigmentation."

Retinol

Retinol is another ingredient that will help fade dark spots as it stimulates a quicker renewal of skin cells, according to Dr. Jaliman. "When someone uses retinol, the outer layer of the skin is sloughed off and the newer, brighter skin underneath is revealed," she says. Retinol also has tremendous anti-aging benefits and can smooth out fine lines, wrinkles, and uneven texture.

Your Questions, Answered

What causes dark spots?

Dark spots can be caused by a variety of things including both external and internal factors. "Dark spots are increased deposition of pigment under the skin due, mostly to sun exposure," Dr. Mauricio says. "But there are a few other reasons why your skin could have hyperpigmentation: Things like acne scars, pollution, and changes in hormone levels can often be blamed, too."

Are dark spots a cause for concern?

Most types of dark spots are typically harmless, but be sure to consult your dermatologist with any concerns. "Sometimes it is difficult to tell whether a new pigmentation on your skin is a benign freckle, sun spot, or something more serious like a skin cancer, and a skin biopsy may be needed to get a definitive diagnosis," says Dr. Mauricio. "If there are signs of irregularity (uneven coloration, jagged border, and asymmetry) or if your spots are changing, they should be examined by a dermatologist right away."

Should I be using SPF while trying to fade dark spots?

Dark spot correctors and SPF go hand-in-hand and you should absolutely follow your corrector up with SPF, for multiple reasons. "If you're exposing your skin to lightening/brightening and pigment inhibiting agents and not using a sunscreen, you're opening yourself up to a number of problems," says celebrity-loved aesthetician Candace Marino. "You are increasing your risk of sunburn and hyperpigmentation which will remove the melanin from the skin and cause white spots, which is not ideal either." Plus, what's the point of fading dark spots if you are not preventing new ones from forming? So, make sure you have an SPF armed and ready.

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