How To Even Out Your Skin Tone Once & For All

One of the most common skin-care woes we hear from both readers and friends is an uneven complexion — more specifically, those dark spots left over from our acne-ridden teenage years. To make matters worse, they are seriously difficult to get rid of (and challenging to conceal) once you’ve got them.

Enter the dark spot corrector. If you don’t already have one in your skin-care regimen, it’s time. There are plenty of over-the-counter options out there, but it’s important to know what kind of formula to look for and how to use it properly. Hydroquinone is still considered the gold-standard lightening agent, says dermatologist Sejal Shah, MD, and you can find it in a variety of products. The over-the-counter strength tends to be 2%, while prescription-strength is somewhere around 4%.

But there are other options: Dr. Shah says you can also look for kojic acid, licorice root extract, vitamin C, niacinamide, soy, and retinoid when battling dark spots. Jessica Weiser, MD, of New York Dermatology Group, suggests formulas with turmeric, lactic acid, and papaya for their skin-brightening properties.

Once you’ve made your selection, there are some things to be cautious of: “The most common issue with many lightening agents is that they can irritate the skin, leading to redness, flaking, dryness, or even itchy or burning sensations,” Dr. Shah says. Women with darker skin tones need to take extra care. “Whether citric, lactic, or glycolic, using acid on dark skin tones should be done with caution, as excess peeling of the skin can conversely lead to hyper-pigmentation, or can cause burns that may lead to lightening or darkening of the skin,” Dr. Weiser says.

Both doctors agree that before starting any lightening regimen, it’s important to discuss with your dermatologist what course is right for you. Dr. Shah also stresses the importance of using sun protection in conjunction with your dark-spot treatment, as the active ingredients can make your skin more vulnerable to burns.

With all this in mind, we’ve rounded up a handful of dark spot correctors and broken them down by the number of brightening ingredients they contain — some utilize just one, the others comprise a few. Click through to find the product that’s right for you, consult with your derm, and you’ll be kissing those dark spots goodbye in no time.

Single-Ingredient Formulations

The active ingredient in this serum is rosa roxburghii, an extract from the chestnut rose, which is a good source of antioxidants. The serum helps to reduce dark spots, as well as correct and balance the skin tone.

Dr. Andrew Weil for Origins Mega-Bright Correcting Serum, $57, available at Origins.

Single-Ingredient Formulations

The active ingredient in Proactiv+’s dark-spot correcting serum is hydroquinone, which helps battle everything from acne scars to sun damage.

Proactiv+ Advanced Dark Spot Correcting Serum, $50, available at Proactiv.

While Peter Thomas Roth’s brightener uses a bunch of ingredients, niacinamide is the main active. It’s also safe to use on your hands and décolletage.

Peter Thomas Roth De-Spot Skin Brightening Corrector, $75, available at Peter Thomas Roth.

This little bottle contains activated vitamin C to clarify your skin and help to prevent future dark spots. Plus, it’s 100% fragrance-free, making it ideal for those with sensitive skin. Win-win.

Kiehl’s Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Solution, $49.50, available at Kiehl’s.

Fan of oil-based skin care? Dr. Dennis Gross’ serum is a great option. This formula contains retinol, which not only helps brighten the skin, but also fights fine lines and wrinkles.

Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Ferulic Acid + Retinol Brightening Solution, $88, available at Sephora.

Osmia’s dark spot corrector is formulated with papaya extract (a favorite of Dr. Weiser’s). Natural skin care devotees will also love that it’s made with 85% certified organic ingredients.

Osmia Organics Luz Facial Brightening Serum, $75, available at Osmia Organics.

Clarins’ formula relies on acerola extract, which is high in vitamin C — making it a potent dark spot corrector.

Clarins ‘Mission Perfection’ Serum, $72, available at Nordstrom.

Like most of its products, Caudalie Premiere Cru contains resveratrol, a powerful antioxidant.

Caudalie Premier Cru The Cream, $158, available at Net-A-Porter.

Accelerated Retinol SA is the powerhouse in Neutrogena’s version of a dark spot corrector. Like any other retinol, it improves your skin’s texture and helps to fade dark spots over time.

Neutrogena Rapid Tone Repair Dark Spot Corrector, $19.94, available at Walmart.

Garnier’s tube is super wallet-friendly, but that’s not the only reason it’s a good corrector. The vitamin C in the formula promotes surface cell turnover, which is how it helps your skin appear brighter.

Garnier SkinActive Brightening Moisturizers, $16.99, available at Garnier.

Kojic acid, which is made from mushrooms, is what gives Phyto+ its brightening capabilities. People with sensitive skin might want to reach for this bottle first — it’s made with hyaluronic acid to help keep skin hydrated and calm.

SkinCeuticals Phyto+ Botanical Gel For Hyperpigmentation, $80, available at SkinCeuticals.

Vichy’s ProEven Daily Dark Spot Corrector is gentle enough to be used every single day. Its key ingredient is vitamin C, and it slides on in a serum-like consistency, absorbing super quickly.

Vichy ProEven Daily Dark Spot Corrector, $45, available at Vichy.

With peony root extract as the main active ingredient, this brightening essence from Fresh is great for anyone who prefers their skin care rooted in botanicals. Bonus? It also locks in moisture thanks to a hint of hyaluronic acid.

Fresh Peony Spot-Correcting Brightening Essence, $67, available at Sephora.

Multi-Ingredient Formulations

Mela-D utilizes glycolic and kojic acids to diminish those dark spots. Bonus: Glycolic acid is also a potent acne-fighter, so you’re busting up those spots before they even start.

La Roche-Posay Mela-D Pigment Control, $52.99, available at La Roche-Posay.

Remember how Dr. Shah called hydroquinone the gold-standard of brightening ingredients? It’s in here, along with glycolic acid to remove dead skin cells, which allows the hydroquinone to penetrate more deeply.

Murad Rapid Age Spot and Pigment Lightening Serum, $60, available at Sephora.

Ascorbyl glucoside is a stabilized form of vitamin C, and it’s the cornerstone of Clinique’s Even Better Clinical Dark Spot Corrector — a cult-favorite when it comes to whitening products. Add salicylic acid, and you’ve got a potent cocktail to fade your dark spots.

Clinique Even Better Clinical Dark Spot Corrector, $49.50, available at Ulta Beauty.

Kate Somerville’s LumiWhite is a triple threat when it comes to brightening. It utilizes lactic acid, licorice extract, and arbutin — which is a plant derivative with the same effects as hydroquinone.

LumiWhite Dark Spot Corrector, $55, available at Sephora.

We all know how amazing retinol is for dark spots, but Verso’s Dark Spot Fix also contains niacinamide. According to Dr. Shah, niacinamide is one of the best ingredients you can slather on to help with hyperpigmentation.

Verso Dark Spot Fix, $150, available at Sephora.

Have sensitive or dry skin? This formula is fragrance-free and packed with hyaluronic acid to keep skin hydrated, plus alpha arbutin, seaweed, red tea extracts, and grapefruit oil to brighten skin and fade dark spots.

Goldfaden MD Light Treatment Dark Spot Corrector, $80, available at Dermstore.

While it’s important to remember who is doing the testing, when a brand presents a clinical trail this successful, there’s no doubt that something is working. Estee lauder found that 77% of women saw a reduction in the look of dark spots in four weeks.

Estée Lauder Enlighten Dark Spot Correcting Night Serum, $92, available at Sephora.

Colbert MD’s serum comes highly recommended thanks to a mix of skin-brightening glycolic acid, antioxidants, and gotu kola, an herb with anti-inflammatory benefits.

Colbert MD Stimulate Serum, $160, available at Colbert MD.

Celebrity aesthetician Su-Man Hsu’s brightening serum is praised for its silky texture. But it gets its power thanks to a cocktail of ingredients like hyaluronic acid for hydration, tranexamic acid to fade dark spots, and dragon’s-blood extract (which may sound like something from a fantasy novel, but is actually a sap said to have anti-aging properties).

Su-Man Skincare Velvet Skin Brightening Serum, $164, available at Net-A-Porter.

This cream contains a combination of licorice, mulberry, bearberry, and white-tea antioxidants to help battle dark spots. Plus, with the use of the patented Pro-Niacin formula, tone, texture, and the skin’s overall barrier are improved.

NIA24 Sun Damage Repair, $60, available at

Looking for something natural? Aren’t we all. This option from 100% Pure is packed with vitamin C to help brighten away discoloration and aloe vera to hydrate skin (well-moisturized complexions have better cell turnover).

100% Pure Dark Spot Remover, $38, available at Dermstore.

Vitamin C three ways? Look no further. Dermatologist Dr. Brandt’s latest serum contains two different vitamin C cocktails to brighten skin, as well as Kakadu plum, a third, natural source of the antioxidant.

Dr. Brandt Skincare Power Dose Vitamin C, $69, available at Sephora.

Looking for a one-stop shop? Korres’ newest serum targets fine lines and loss of firmness, and helps to brighten dark spots and pigment unevenness, all thanks to a mix of hyaluronic acid, peptides, amino acids, and various antioxidants.

Korres Golden Krocus Ageless Saffron Elixir Serum, $98, available at Sephora.

Looking for a vegan option? Look no further. Ole Henriksen’s oil is packed with organic rose hip-seed oil, which works on dark spots thanks to vitamin A and C.

Ole Henriksen Pure Truth Vitamin C Youth Activating Oil, $45, available at Sephora.

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