6 Dark Spot–Correcting Products That Dermatologists Swear By
If you're noticing dark spots on your face, you're not alone. Once called age spots, we now refer to them as just dark spots, or sometimes liver spots or sun spots. They tend to happen to many of us as we age and can appear on the face as well as other parts of the body, including the neck, arms, and hands.
They’re generally caused by sun damage over time but may be due to other causes as well. So, there’s no need to beat yourself up if you spent time in tanning beds or covered yourself in oil as you laid around the beach with reflectors in your teens. That being said, it’s never too late to treat your skin better.
Stacy Salob, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, addresses a common misconception. “Eighty percent of what people think of as [skin] aging is actually due to toxic external factors in our environment: ultraviolet [UV] light, pollution, blue light from computers,” Salob says. “The other 20 percent? You could live in a cave, and still you would get those little spots.” Certain factors can’t be helped, such as genetics.
In other words, no matter what you do, you’re most likely going to get some spots on your face that are darker than the rest of your skin. And anyone can get age-related spots on their skin. In people with lighter skin, it can be more obvious, but darker-skinned individuals can get dark spots, too.
Types of Dark Spots
There are two common types of brown spots that appear as one gets older: solar lentigines and seborrheic keratoses. Solar lentigines (“lentigo” in singular usage) tend to be flat, whereas seborrheic keratoses tend to be slightly raised, sometimes with dry, flaky skin on top. There are many other conditions that may lead to skin discoloration, too, such as melasma, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, and more. Here, we will be addressing solar lentigines, or sun spots.
What Can You Do About Dark Spots on Your Face or Body?
While a dermatologist may be able to peel, laser, or microneedle away some of these discolorations, those procedures may be pricey, and you might want to see if you can make some progress on them at home, using products that offer to lighten or diminish those pesky spots.
“You can definitely improve these spots,” Salob says. “But the first thing you have to do is use sunscreen—religiously—because it doesn’t matter what else you’re using; it takes very little ultraviolet light to go back to where you were.”
That means wearing sunscreen when you’re walking the dog, picking the kids up from school, going to the mailbox. In other words, every day, consistently. And also, Salob says, make sure it’s broad spectrum (meaning it protects against both UVA and UVB rays) and has a high SPF (above 30).
Make applying sunscreen part of your morning routine, like brushing your teeth or putting in your contact lenses. Experts recommend using sunscreen every day and reapplying every two hours, even on a cloudy day. Also, use other forms of sun protection, such as broad-brimmed hats, umbrellas, finding shade, and clothing that contains an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) of 30 or higher.
According to Salob, the best products for lightening these dark spots contain antioxidants and vitamins, and acids like kojic acid and alpha hydroxy acid.
But it’s a little more complicated than just checking the packaging. These ingredients have to be present in the right combinations, says Marina Peredo, M.D., a dermatologist and associate clinical professor at the IcahnSchool of Medicine at Mount Sinai, in New York City. Consumers often spend hundreds of dollars on products that don’t work, which is why, before you use anything, you should check with your dermatologist to determine what exactly you’re dealing with.
It’s also important to have your doctor determine what type of discoloration you have and to check that it’s not worrisome, since some dark spots could be cancerous. For example, a dark spot can be a skin cancer called a lentigo maligna melanoma. Things to look out for is if a dark spot is growing larger, getting darker, or changing in any way. Often, these spots may need to be tested (i.e., biopsied) to determine exactly whether it’s benign or malignant.
Peredo says, “People come to me in a panic over what turns out to be the most benign spot. And then others wait with something that does need medical attention.” If possible, it’s better to have a dermatologist evaluate your dark spots and discolorations before starting a new skincare routine to get rid of them. They may be able to recommend the best specially formulated beauty products and/or prescription compounded medications to help.
6 OTC Products Recommended by Dermatologists for Dark Spots
Here are a half-dozen products that dermatologists say can help make a difference in lightening the appearance of dark spots, no prescription necessary.
1. La Roche-Posay Active Vitamin C
When skin cells receive too much UV light, they give up and say, “I’m just going to make more pigment,” Salob says, explaining how sun damage happens. Vitamin C gets into the cells and says, “Stop right there. I’ve got this.” La Roche-Posay Active Vitamin C ($49.99 at LaRoche-Posay.us) helps the cells repair themselves, Salob says.
2. PrimaSkin Mist
Peredo likes PrimaSkin mist ($64.95 at primaskin.com) because it’s easy to use—simply spray it on your face. Its unique formula turns its powerful ingredients (collagen, curcumin, and hyaluronic acid) into nanoparticles, which penetrate the skin better than a cream or lotion. It also contains glutathione, an antioxidant known to prevent cell damage, according to Peredo.
3. SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic
SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic ($166 at SkinCeuticals) is “really nice,” says Salob. “It’s a cocktail of three different things that work synergistically.” It contains vitamin C, ferulic acid, and alpha tocopherol, another antioxidant (a type of vitamin E) that Salob says promotes skin healing.
While it has a high price tag, this product has earned cult status among many beauty editors who continue to tout its efficacy. The results of a small study published in Lasers in Surgery and Medicine in November 2015 suggest that the combination of vitamins C and E, as well as ferulic acid, may reduce recovery time following laser surgery.
4. Olay Regenerist 24 Max
Olay Regenerist 24 Max, with vitamin B3, ($32.94 at Amazon) contains retinol, which is a “skin rejuvenator,” Salob says. It’s gentle on skin and contains vitamin B3, which is known as niacinamide, another antioxidant that helps cells heal, Salob says. She recommends applying it at night, because that’s when our bodies are regenerating, and this cream can give that process a boost.
5. SkinMedica Lytera 2.0 Pigment Correcting Serum
Cosmeceuticals are cosmetic products that have medicinal properties, and the SkinMedica Lytera 2.0 Pigment Correcting Serum ($154 at SkinMedica.com) fits the bill, according to Peredo. It combines niacinamide and retinol so it both brightens skin and reduces the appearance of spots. “I use this one for pigment correction,” she says.
In addition to niacinamide, it also contains botanical ingredients, like grape cell extract, phytic acid, and tranexamic acid, which are also considered skin brighteners.
6. Bye Bye Dark Spots
Peredo likes Bye Bye Dark Spots ($29 at Ulta.com), which features niacinamide and vitamin C, because it’s smooth to the touch and is generally affordable. According to Peredo, the combination of these powerful ingredients reduces inflammation and the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. It’s a serum that seems to do exactly what its name suggests.
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