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11 Treatments That Will Fade Your Dark Spots

Let’s talk about hyperpigmentation!
How gorgeous is Vanessa Axente's radiant complexion? Photo: Getty Images/Gary Gerschoff 

How gorgeous is Vanessa Axente's radiant complexion? Photo: Getty Images/Gary Gerschoff 

Hyperpigmentation. Dark spots. Discoloration. No matter what you call it, the lasting reminder of a bad breakout, rash or sun damage lingering right on your face can be pretty annoying. And in some cases, it can end up being more of a beast to deal with than the initial skin problem that caused it.

"The most common cause of dark spots is post-inflammatory pigmentation, which is when any sort of inflammation occurs on the skin, like acne, an insect bite or a rash," explains Miami-based dermatologist Dr. S. Manjula Jegasothy. "This happens mostly to people with medium to dark skin tones, and these dark spots also last longer and can be more difficult to treat than the original inflammation — think of it as the ghost of the pimple's past."

During the summer, dark spots can get even worse, since the sun's UV rays can exacerbate them. "UV light exposure causes melanocytes to rev up pigment production darkening the skin," says Dr. Joshua Zeichner, the director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital. And because some brightening products can increase skin’s sensitivity to the sun, broad-spectrum sun protection is even more necessary.

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The good news is that there are plenty of treatment options, and you can find them in both drugstores and department stores. Look for products that include niacinamide, vitamin C, retinoids, soy, kojic acid, licorice root, daisy or peony extract, all of which can help to fade spots. We've culled some of our favorite hyperpigmentation-treating products below.

If OTC products still aren't doing the trick, the best course of action might be to consult a dermatologist, who can prescribe stronger topical medications or administer in-office procedures. "Chemical peels remove heavily pigmented cells from the outer skin layer and lighten spots," says Zeichner, who also recommends laser treatments like Fraxel, a full face treatment that brightens and evens skin tone or individual spot lasers, such as the Nd Yag laser, which directly targets melanin and eliminates dark spots.

Whatever you try, try something. And try it soon. "The biggest mistake I see patients make is waiting too long to seek treatment," says Jegasothy. "Hyperpigmentation becomes much harder to treat after six months. If you've been treating a new or worsening brown spot for more than a month with no improvement — take pictures if you're unsure! — visit your dermatologist. It's critical to rule out any abnormal mole or even melanoma in a brown spot." 

Click through our gallery below for ten of our go-to brightening serums, moisturizers, and masks.

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