Sunspots, age spots, tomato, tomahto. We’d rather not think about them at all (we mean spots; tomatoes are fine) - never mind see them on our face and hands - so we put together the best routine for evening out complexions. And it doesn’t involve hydroquinone
The pigment in brown spots (melanin) moves deeper into skin over time, so a spot is easiest to erase when it’s still relatively new (about six months old). If you start early, hyper-pigmentation may be nearly gone in two months, says Jessica Wu, a dermatologist in Los Angeles.
Retinol and vitamin C are two of the best ingredients for fading dark spots. Try SkinMedica Lytera Skin Brightening Complex, a "blend of vitamin C and retinol that’s reliably effective," says Francesca Fusco, a dermatologist in New York City. Slather it all over – but just two nights a week to avoid irritation. Another dermatologist favorite: SkinCeuticals Advanced Pigment Corrector, with ellagic acid. "It fades spots on all skin tones," says Vivian Bucay, a dermatologist in San Antonio. "It even stacks up to prescription-strength hydroquinone when paired with salicylic acid."
In the mornings, wear a gentler serum with brightening botanicals (try Skin Inc Licorice Serum or Dr. Andrew Weil for Origins Mega-Bright). In addition to treating existing spots, it’ll help prevent new spots from forming by keeping melanin that’s under the skin from surfacing. "By 30, many people have pigmentation that’s visible with UV photography, if not the naked eye," says Zoe Draelos, a dermatologist. Also: Happy birthday!
Move things along
Peels with glycolic acid slough away stained cells and “safely treat discoloration on all skin types,” says Wu. Use one once a week (we like Bliss That’s Incredi-Peel, Malin + Goetz 10% Glycolic Acid Pads, and Avon Anew Clinical Advanced Retexturizing Peel).
UV exposure makes discoloration darker - so if you’re not wearing sunscreen, your spots aren’t going anywhere. You could bathe in vitamin C, and it wouldn’t matter. Slather on sunscreen with SPF 30 or more every single day. (We like Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 55) Another common mistake? Using gritty scrubs, which can irritate skin enough to cause dark spots.
Know when to move on
Results from brighteners can plateau in six months to a year, and older spots may still be visible. Ask your dermatologist about a professional peel or laser or prescription of azelaic acid. "It only targets excess melanin, so it won’t lighten healthy skin like hydroquinone will," says Jeannette Graf, a dermatologist in Great Neck, New York, who often prescribes it to patients with dark complexions for that reason.