When it comes to achieving the glowing, even complexion that dreams are made of, nothing is more of a buzzkill than unwanted spots, whether it’s a singular dark spot or all-over patches of discoloration. The technical term is hyperpigmentation and it can be caused by either sun exposure or trauma to the skin (from something like picking a pimple, for example). Either way, the biological process that kicks in is somewhat complicated, but, ultimately, it boils down to an overproduction of melanin (color) in the skin.
And here’s the thing: This is a potential issue for anyone and everyone, no matter your skin tone, though hyperpigmentation is a particularly common issue with African-American skin, which has more melanin, to begin with. Also worth noting: No matter what product you’re using to try and tackle hyperpigmentation, it’s not going to do anything if you’re not extra diligent about sun protection. And finally, be patient. Depending on the active ingredient(s) in the product you choose, it can take up to six weeks of regular use to see an improvement, points out board-certified dermatologist Dr. Corey L. Hartman, founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, AL.
As you continue your quest for clear skin, keep these best products for hyperpigmentation in your rotation.
Best Overall: Kiehl’s Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Solution
Courtesy of Kiehl’s
Who else recommends it? Harper’s Bazaar also picked Kiehl’s Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Solution.
What do buyers say? 75% of 300+ Amazon reviewers rated this product 4 stars or above.
This product gets the job done by incorporating a potent form of vitamin C that can help fade existing dark spots and impede the production of new ones. Its formula also includes white birch extract to hydrate and peony extract for antioxidant protection, making it a one-stop-shop for all of your skincare needs. Use it in the morning before sunscreen or at night under a thicker moisturizer.
Active Ingredients: Vitamin C | Size: 1 ounce | Dosage: Twice daily | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: No
Runner-Up, Best Overall: SkinCeuticals Discoloration Defense
Hartman is a fan of this formula, which boasts a potent concentration of tranexamic acid, one of his favorite brightening ingredients. He also lauds it for containing HEPES, a synthetically-derived acid. Also nice: He says this formulation is safe to use during pregnancy, a choice product for moms-to-be who are navigating pregnancy-induced melasma. Dr. Brian Hilber, a board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City, also recommends this product, lauding it for being easy to layer with any other products in your skincare routine.
Active Ingredients: Tranexamic acid, kojic acid, niacinamide | Size: 1 ounce | Dosage: Twice daily | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: No
Best Budget: The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution
Use this toner nightly, post-cleansing, to reveal clearer, more even skin. Glycolic acid exfoliates and breaks down discolored skin cells—plus, it has the added benefit of stimulating collagen production over time. And let’s not forget to mention it costs less than ten dollars.
Active Ingredients: Glycolic acid | Size: 8 ounces | Dosage: Once daily, PM | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best Without Hydroquinone: Murad Rapid Age Spot and Pigment Lightening Serum
Courtesy of Sephora
Hydroquinone is effective, but has some drawbacks; it can’t be used for long periods of time and there are some concerns about its safety. This formula, one of the best-selling brightening products out there, recently got a revamp to eliminate HQ (as it’s often called). Instead, it relies on a brightening peptide, vitamin C, and a niacinamide complex. Bonus points for the inclusion of light-reflecting pearls, which instantly make skin look brighter.
Active Ingredients: Peptide, vitamin C, niacinamide | Size: 1 ounce | Dosage: Twice daily | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best for Sensitive Skin: First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance Niacinamide Dark Spot Serum
The hard truth of the matter is that many of the best brightening ingredients—like hydroquinone, vitamin C, and retinol—can be too irritating for sensitive skin. That’s why we appreciate that this serum relies on niacinamide instead, a great spot-fading ingredient that just also happens to hydrate and even reduce redness and inflammation. And true to the brand’s sensitive skin-friendly vibes, it’s generally super gentle and fragrance-free.
Active Ingredients: Niacinamide | Size: 1 ounce | Dosage: Twice daily | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best Splurge: SkinMedica Lytera 2.0 Pigment Correcting Serum
Courtesy of Skinstore
Pricey, yes, but this product is effective at knocking out even the most stubborn dark spots and discoloration. It’s another one of Hartman’s recommendations and relies on tranexamic acid along with a litany of other ingredients that help to both fade existing marks and prevent new ones from forming. Hilber also likes it, noting that the tranexamic acid is combined with niacinamide, which makes it extra effective, and that it can be used to help fade pigmentation anywhere on the face or body. It works on all skin tones, too, and in a brand-backed clinical study, (results shown on the product page) 100% of participants said it made their skin tone look more even after about three months of use.
Active Ingredients: Tranexamic acid, tetrapeptide, niacinamide | Size: 2 ounces | Dosage: Twice daily | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best with Retinol: Dr. Dennis Gross Advanced Retinol + Ferulic Texture Serum
There’s no shortage of reasons why retinol is a fan-favorite ingredient among dermatologists. It works both in the deeper layers of the skin, where it helps to stimulate collagen production, as well as on the surface of the skin. Here, it helps stimulate skin cell turnover, which results in both fewer clogged pores and brighter, smoother skin. Case in point: It’s a great brightening ingredient that also delivers tons of other benefits. This newbie combines retinol with bakuchiol, a plant-derived ingredient that has similar benefits, plus ferulic acid, a potent antioxidant. The best part? It’s specifically formulated to not irritate (a common side effect of retinol). We can vouch for the fact that it’s gentle enough for super sensitive skin.
Active Ingredients: Retinol, bakuchiol, ferulic acid | Size: 1 ounce | Dosage: Twice daily | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best for Dark Skin: MELE Even Dark Spot Control Facial Serum for Melanin Rich Skin
As we said, hyperpigmentation can be an especially pesky problem for deeper complexions, which is why we love that this treatment is specially formulated to meet the needs of darker skin. It’s a bi-phase serum (so give it a good shake before using) that relies on a trio of proven brighteners: niacinamide, hexylresorcinol, and a retinoid. Satisfied users love the texture and report that, with consistent use, it works well to fade all kinds of spots.
Active Ingredients: Niacinamide, retinoid | Size: 1 ounce | Dosage: Once daily | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: No
Best Face Wash: Revision Skincare Brightening Face Wash
While a face wash may not be as intense as a leave-on product, Hilber says using one in the morning is a good way to up the efficacy of and complement your overall brightening routine. He likes this formula, which he says is good for normal, oily, and combination skin types and contains a combination of alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids, plus licorice extract and vitamin C, to deliver exfoliating and brightening benefits.
Active Ingredients: Glycolic acid, salicylic acid, vitamin C, licorice extract | Size: 6.7 ounces | Dosage: Once daily | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best with Vitamin C: BeautyStat Universal C Skin Refiner
Courtesy of Skinstore
In the world of spot-fading ingredients, vitamin C is one of the best options, not only for its skin-brightening abilities but because it has the added benefit of acting as an antioxidant and stimulating collagen production, too. Sign us up. This particular pick (developed by a cosmetic chemist) boasts a 20% concentration of the most potent form of the vitamin, L-ascorbic acid, to deliver brightening, firming, and smoothing benefits in one fell swoop.
Active Ingredients: Vitamin C | Size: 1 ounce | Dosage: Once daily | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Runner-Up, Best with Vitamin C: Glow Recipe Guava Vitamin C Dark Spot Treatment Serum
There are five different types of vitamin C to be found in this newbie. As if that wasn’t enough, there’s also guava extract and seed oil (another good source of vitamin C and additional antioxidants), plus tranexamic acid in the mix, too. Satisfied reviewers rave about how well it brightens their skin, as well as its lightweight feel and lightly fruit scent (which is naturally derived, we should add).
Active Ingredients: Vitamin C, tranexamic acid, ferulic acid | Size: 1 ounce | Dosage: Twice daily | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best Intensive: Kiehl’s Clearly Corrective Accelerated Clarity & Renewing Ampoules
If you’re looking for a super speedy solution, try this heavy-hitting, fast-acting formula. You get 28, single-dose vials, each filled with a brightening formula that relies on a mix of vitamin C and alpha-hydroxy acids. Use one in the morning and once at night for impressive results in just two weeks.
Active Ingredients: Vitamin C, glycolic acid, lactic acid | Size: 28x 0.03-ounce vials | Dosage: Twice daily | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: No
A hyperpigmentation product is worth trying for acne marks, scars, sun spots, and more. The Kiehl’s Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Solution is our favorite formula; the brand also makes a more intensive option that we like, the Kiehl’s Clearly Corrective Accelerated Clarity & Renewing Ampoules, that can help fade spots in just two weeks. The First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance Niacinamide Dark Spot Serum is a gentle yet effective choice for more sensitive skin, while the SkinMedica Lytera 2.0 Pigment Correcting Serum is a splurge for sure, but highly recommended by dermatologists and well-worth every penny.
What to Look for in a Product for Hyperpigmentation
Ingredients, not Formula
“The formulation doesn’t matter as much as the active ingredients, so choose the vehicle that works best for you,” says Hartman. In other words, it doesn’t matter whether you go with a serum or cream or mask—it’s all about the active ingredients.
This is the undisputedly most effective skin-lightener and one that Hartman recommends. But, as mentioned, it can have some drawbacks. Good alternatives include vitamin C, retinol, kojic acid, and niacinamide.
Similarly, formulas that combine multiple brightening ingredients are a good choice, as each of the ingredients works in a slightly different way to ultimately yield the best results.
What types of products best address hyperpigmentation?
The answer here is leave-on serums, which contain the highest concentration of active ingredients. However, be careful not to use too many different products at once, cautions Hilber. “Implementing too many new products too quickly can lead to two problems. Firstly, if your skin responds poorly, it’s difficult to know which product or ingredient was the culprit. Secondly, combining multiple active ingredients too quickly can lead to over-exfoliation and irritation,” he says.
Your best bet? Try one new serum and stick with it for at least a few months before you decide if it’s working or not. Also, always use your products in tandem with a broad-spectrum sunscreen that’s at least SPF 30, since sunlight is going to worsen any type of hyperpigmentation, he adds.
Are there any ingredients to avoid in products for hyperpigmentation?
Hilber says it’s important to avoid ingredients that may be irritating your skin in particular. For example, retinoids can be helpful but can make your skin irritated, which can ultimately end up worsening hyperpigmentation. Point being: Avoid any ingredients that don’t mesh with your skin.
How do you apply products for hyperpigmentation?
Hilber suggests following the directions for any particular product you’re using, though they should usually be applied before any other products (on clean, dry skin).
How often should you apply products for hyperpigmentation?
Again, this depends on the particular product you choose, Hilber notes, though it’s usually once to twice per day. (Again, with the caveat that your skin can tolerate this frequency, he adds.)