The 15 Best Dark Spot Correctors, According to Editors and Experts

Bright, even skin, coming right up.

woman shading her eyes from the sun
(Image credit: Getty Images/Plume Creative)

If you’ve ever spent a day in the sun or had to deal with an unwanted pimple, it’s pretty likely you’ve had a dark spot to contend with. Welcome to the club! You’re one of the millions and millions of people that have had dark spots: post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, melasma, sun spots, age spots—you get the point. While these are not necessarily permanent and can fade over time with some lifestyle changes (read: stay out of the sun), there are an exorbitant number of the best dark spot correctors that can speed along the process. 

“Skincare products can contain ingredients that work in a variety of ways to mitigate the skin producing a darker pigment,” explains board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City Dr. Nava Greenfield. Said ingredients range from hydroquinone, which is something you’ll have to get from your dermatologist, and retinoids to over-the-counter options including everything from vitamin C to licorice root. 

If you’re not quite sure where to start, read ahead—and consult with your board-certified dermatologist. We’ve spent hours upon hours testing out highly-rated, industry favorites and have compiled a list of the best dark spot correctors out there. From dermatologist-recommended moisturizers and serums to editor-approved brightening serums and concentrates, these products will set you up for brighter, more even-toned skin in just about three months’ time. 

What Causes Dark Spots?

There’s not one singular cause for dark spots, namely because there are so many different types of dark spots. “They can come from outside, extrinsic factors such as sun exposure or from internal factors such as hormones,” explains Dr. Greenfield. “Sometimes, dark spots can even result from a combination of both.” 

A large portion of dark spots are going to be caused by inflammation. “Some dark spots are post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. We commonly see this after acne, particularly acne that gets picked, but sometimes acne by itself is inflammatory enough to cause discoloration,” explains board-certified dermatologist Dr. Hadley King

The second major cause is sun exposure, aka the enemy to good skin. The sun, in tandem with hormonal changes and genetic predisposition, can bring about brown or gray-ish patches called melasma. Too much vitamin D can also bring about lentigines, or sun spots. “They’re small, pigmented spots on the skin with a clearly defined edge, surrounded by normal-appearing skin,” says Dr. King.

What to Look For in a Dark Spot Corrector

Let me put it this way: You have options—and a lot of ‘em. There are so many topical agents that can help brighten skin, even out tone, and fade discoloration. Perhaps the strongest—and most classic—ingredient is something called hydroquinone, which is a lightening agent that can only be used under the care of a dermatologist given potential side effects, such as mercury exposure. If you’re going the over-the-counter route, Dr. Greenfield recommends searching for an encapsulated algae complex, which “has demonstrated its ability to prevent the formation of dark spots.” Dr. King also recommends seeking out retinoids, arbutin, azelaic acid, kojic acid, vitamin C, phytic acid, tranexamic acid, and licorice root.” Some focus on speeding up cellular turnover, while others will provide antioxidant protection and a brightening effect. 

When Can I Expect Results?

Word from the wise: Give it time. “Use a product for at least three months before you look in the mirror, take before and after photos, and make the determination whether you feel this product has benefited your skin,” says Dr. Greenfield. “Often, you will see a result sooner, but it may take up to three months. So, hang tight, the skin is slow at responding.”

The Best Dark Spot Correctors

Meet the Dermatologists

Dr. Nava Greenfield

Dr. Nava Greenfield is a dermatologist practicing at Schweiger Dermatology Group. Dr. Greenfield earned her Bachelor’s Degree from Queens College, City University of New York, where she graduated Cum Laude with honors in mathematics, natural sciences, chemistry and biochemistry. Dr. Greenfield attended medical school at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Yeshiva University. She completed her internship at Yale-New Haven Hospital and her residency in dermatology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center. Dr. Greenfield has been published in many medical journals, including The Journal of Dermatological Treatment, the Journal of Women’s Dermatology and Pediatrics. Dr. Greenfield is a member of the American Academy of Dermatology, Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society, Women’s Dermatologic Society and the American Medical Association.

Dr. Hadley King

Hadley King, MD is a board-certified dermatologist who specializes in medical and cosmetic dermatology.  She is also a Clinical Instructor of Dermatology at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University. Dr. King graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College with a degree in biochemistry.  She received her MD from Columbia University.  She trained in medicine at Greenwich Hospital, affiliated with the Yale University School of Medicine, and completed her dermatology residency at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University. After residency, Dr. King worked as an attending physician at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, during which time she specialized in cutaneous oncology and phytodynamic therapy.  She also has a background in immunology and her research has been published in a variety of medical journals, including the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Samantha Holender
Beauty Editor

Samantha Holender is the Beauty Editor at Marie Claire, where she reports on the best new launches, dives into the science behind skincare, and shares the breakdown on the latest and greatest trends in the beauty space. She's studied up on every ingredient you'll find on INCI list and is constantly in search of the world's glowiest makeup products. Prior to joining the team, she worked as Us Weekly’s Beauty and Style Editor, where she stayed on the pulse of pop culture and broke down celebrity beauty routines, hair transformations, and red carpet looks. Her words have also appeared on Popsugar,,,, and Philadelphia Wedding. Samantha also serves as a board member for the American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME). She first joined the organization in 2018, when she worked as an editorial intern at Food Network Magazine and Pioneer Woman Magazine. Samantha has a degree in Journalism and Mass Communications from The George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs. While at GWU, she was a founding member of the school’s HerCampus chapter and served as its President for four years. When she’s not deep in the beauty closet or swatching eyeshadows, you can find her obsessing over Real Housewives and all things Bravo. Keep up with her on Instagram @samholender.