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.

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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%.

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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. Dr. Jessica Weiser, MD, of New York Dermatology Group, suggests formulas with turmeric, lactic acid, and papaya for their skin-brightening properties.

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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.

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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.

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


Advanced Dark Spot Correcting Serum, $50, available at



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.

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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.

For the rest of our picks, visit Refinery29.

By: Maria del Russo

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