We all have something on our skin that we're not happy with. This can be dark spots (aka hyper-pigmentation), scarring, uneven skin tone, and even freckles. Dark spots is a broad term though, that actually refers to almost all types of skin discoloration which can be caused by acne scarring, sun exposure, or even hormonal changes.
Learning how to get rid of dark spots on the face can be tricky because there is a lot of information out there, and some of it also misleading. We dove deep and did our due diligence in trying to find out what exactly works to remove or lighten dark spots and what doesn't.
Best Treatments for Dark Spots
There are a large variety of treatments for dark spots that can actually work. These can include creams, serums, retinoid solutions, laser treatments and peels, and even homemade solutions that are all natural. Deciding between which treatment is right for you all depends on a number of factors such as:
- The severity of your dark spots
- How long you've had them
- Your budget
The severity of your dark spots – Do you only have one or two or do you have a big chunk of your face that is covered in dark spots? Maybe you've had cystic acne and have a lot of scarring, or maybe you just have a sun spot.
How long you've had dark spots – If you've had a dark spot for your entire life, it could be that it's a birth mark. Or, if you've had acne scars since you were a teenager, it may be harder to get rid of them now.
Your budget – Everyone has a different budget, and we all can't afford a chemical peel or expensive creams and serums. Thankfully, there are alternative treatments that can be made at home or purchased for cheap, but they may take time and patience.
Hydroquinone Creams and Serums
One of the best and most popular ways to get rid of dark spots is to use hydroquinone creams and serums. These creams and serums contain a concentration of hydroquinone, and it's the only ingredient that's classified as a “bleaching agent” by the FDA. You can get hydroquinone creams and serums in a 2% concentration over-the-counter, or a 3-4% concentration when prescriped.
Be wary though, as this ingredient can be quite harmful to the skin, especially in higher concentrations. In South Africa, for example, hydroquinone is not legal at all, and in Canada it's classified as “potentially toxic or harmful”.
That being said, many people have seen great success in using hydroquinone creams and serums, but again, we do have to caution you. Only use on a short term basis, and if you notice any darkening of the skin, discontinue use immediately.
Another popular method to removing dark spots are retinoid solutions which include products like Retin-A and Renova. These products work for most people because they contain alpha hydroxy acid and retinoic acid which help to speed up cell turnover, promote new cell growth, and exfoliate.
Although retinoid solutions do work, it can take several months to see any difference, so be persistent and patient. If you do use retinoid for dark circles, it's recommended you avoid sun exposure as much as possible and apply sunscreen everyday.
Peels and Laser Treatments
Another solution to getting rid of dark spots on the skin is a chemical peel or a laser treatment. These are, of course, pricier treatments, but people have seen significant improvement after just one treatment.
Laser treatments work by targeting the dark spots with concentrated light energy by removing the skin layer by layer. What this does, essentially, is burn the dark layer of the skin right off. Although laser treatments work significantly faster than topical treatments, there are risks you should be aware of. People who undergo laser treatments can expect bruising, scarring, swelling, and redness. Additionally, infection, scarring, tightness, and changes in skin texture are also possible.
Peels work by removing dead skin cells, which is essentially the top layer of the skin. By removing this layer, the skin is rid of dead skin cells and dark spots and reveals healthier, softer, brighter skin. Peels or exfoliants can cause extreme dryness and irritation so be prepared for skin to feel extra dry and tight.
Natural & Homemade Dark Spot Treatments
There are tons of natural and homemade solutions to getting rid of dark circles. We'll explore this area the most, since we truly believe that natural skin treatments and solutions are best for the skin. Be aware though, that with homemade solutions, it can take several months, and you need to be consistent.
First, let's start with over-the-counter products and ingredients which can help lighten the skin and get rid of dark circles. These are products that contain the following:
- Azelaic acid
- Vitamin C
- Beta carotene
- Pomegranate extract
- Licorice extract
These are all, of course, safer and healthier alternatives to all of the above mentioned treatments, but you could still have an allergic reaction. Take extra caution and test a small patch on your arm before applying to the face.
Homemade dark spot treatments are the safest and most budget friendly, but they do take the longest to work. The key to making the most out of homemade treatments is to be consistent with the application. That means that whichever homemade treatment you choose to use should be applied several times a week for at least a month or more.
Lemons are naturally bleaching, and when used on the skin, can not only exfoliate, but, over time, also lighten the skin and help in getting rid of dark spots. If you have dry or sensitive skin, do not use lemons as they can cause redness and irritation. To use, simply rub a lemon on the affected area and leave on for 5-10 minutes. You can also directly apply the juice of a lemon onto the affected areas. Use this treatment every day or every other day for several months. Check out 5 amazing uses for lemons!
Tomatoes contain lycopene which help to fight cellular damage and skin inflammation. Like lemons, they also contain lightening properties and will revive dull skin as well as help to get rid of dark spots. Apply tomato juice directly onto the affected areas or rub a cut tomato onto the skin. Leave on for 15-20 minutes, and rinse off. Use once a day for a month or two. Check out our top 10 tomato face mask recipes!
Baking soda is also a natural skin lightener, and when used the right way, can make a significant difference to your skin. You can mix baking soda with a number of different ingredients to make a paste. Some of our favorites include apple cider vinegar, tomato juice, lemon juice, milk, and aloe vera. Simply mix baking soda with another liquid of your choice until a smooth paste forms. Apply directly to the affected areas and leave on for 5-10 minutes. Rinse off and pat dry. Use 2-3 times a week. Check out our favorite baking soda masks for dark spots!
Milk & Yogurt
Dairy products such as milk & yogurt contain lactic acid which help to gently exfoliate the skin and remove the top layer right off. This is helpful because by removing this top layer, you're left with lighter, brighter skin. Simply massage the milk or yogurt into the affected area and leave on for 15-20 minutes. Repeat every day for several months for best results.
Aloe vera contains a natural depigmenting compound called Aloin which is very effective in lightening dark spots. If used on a regular and consistent basis, aloe vera can lighten the skin, treat acne and breakouts, and fade away scars. Be sure to only use 100% natural aloe vera gel or apply the gel directly from the plant. Learn how to make your own aloe vera gel and check out these 8 DIY aloe vera face mask recipes!
Turmeric's active ingredient, curcumin, prevents hyper-pigmentation and therefore naturally helps to fade away scars and dark spots over time. It's also a great anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant, which makes it a favorite ingredient of beauty DIYers! You can mix turmeric with another liquid to create a spot treatment. Some of our favorite ingredients are milk, yogurt, honey, and water. Check out these DIY turmeric face masks.
Papaya has natural skin lightening properties. The beta-carotene, enzymes, and phytochemicals present in papaya can help exfoliate the skin and fade away dark spots. Puree some papaya and mix it with a little bit of lemon juice or tomato juice to form a paste. Apply to skin and leave on for 15-20 minutes. Check out these 7 papaya skin benefits!
How to Prevent Dark Spots
The best solution to dark spots is obviously to prevent them in the first place. Of course this is easier said than done.
#1. Protect Your Skin
One of the best ways to prevent dark spots is to protect your skin from the sun's harmful UV rays. Even in the winter or on overcast days, the sun can still burn the skin, and so it's super important to always wear sunscreen. Make sunscreen a part of your morning skin care routine.
#2. Don't Pick Your Pimples
The fastest way to get scars and dark spots is to pick your pimples. We all know this is a huge no-no, but yet, we still do it. Instead, treat your pimples with over-the-counter topical creams such as benzoyl peroxide. Eventually, the pimple will go away, but you just have to be patient. Alternatively, you can also use pimple patches and face masks for acne.
#3. Establish a Skin Care Routine
Having a daily skin care routine can help your skin stay clean, breakout free, and therefore prevent the formation of dark spots and scars. First, determine whether you have oily, combination, dry, or sensitive skin. Based on that, you can make decisions on which skin care routine is best for you.
#4. Eat Well and Exercise
Eating well and exercising won't directly prevent dark spots, but it can prevent breakouts which are a cause of dark spots. Have a balanced diet rich in vitamins and minerals, ensure you drink plenty of water throughout the day, and exercise daily for at least 20 minutes. Your body will not only burn calories, but also expel toxins from the skin.
How to Get Rid of Dark Spots
- Use hydroquinone creams and serums. These are quick and effective at bleaching the skin and getting rid of dark spots. Be wary though, as this ingredient can cause redness and irritation.
- Use retinoid solultions. These also work very well, and they're not as abrasive as hydroquinone creams.
- Peels and laser treatments are costly but they can get rid of dark spots and scars almost instantly with minimal damage to the skin.
- Natural homemade treatments are cheap and easy to apply, but do require time and patience. Our favorite natural spot treatments are: lemons, tomatoes, aloe vera, milk and yogurt, turmeric, baking soda, and papaya.