Dark spots are mostly caused by melanocyte activity. When the skin has been exposed to UV radiation, melanocytes send more melanin to the skin's surface to protect the skin from burning. Too much melanin can result in dark spots. Fading dark spots with a safe topical treatment (avoiding controversial actives such as hydroquinone) is one of the hardest things to achieve. Or that’s what I used to think. In the past year, I’ve come across some treatments and topicals that really work (along with a dollop of patience) on my dark spots. Here’s my Five Best for dark spots.

  • Medik8 White Balance Click

    Medik8 White Balance Click ($80 in the shop). I dab White Balance Click on my dark spots every day. It has taken months, but it does work. When the kojic acid (stored in the jar’s lid) is released it mingles with seven actives — one each for each of the mechanisms that cause skin discoloration or hyperpigmentation: alpha-arbutin, niacinamide, Sepiwhite, l-lactic acid, linoleic acid, l-leucine, and n-acetyl glucosamine. Alpha arbutin is found in bearberry and is a form glucoside and, actually, a hydroquinone but much less irritating to the skin. Also worth a call-out is Sepiwhite, which has a novel way of controlling melanin and a molecular structure that enables it to target melanocytes located in the lower layers of the epidermis.
  • Sciote Illume Brightening Serum

    Sciote Illume Brightening Serum ($95 in the shop). This serum has rave reviews from the Truth In Aging community. Not only does it fade dark spots (per Francine’s review) and eliminate dark acne scars, but it improves the skin’s condition overall. So it can be used for targeting or as an overall serum. Kojic acid is a key active and is backed up by two AHAs: glycolic acid and salicylic acid. There’s also Sciote’s signature methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), which among other things acts as a skin whitener, increasing the amount of production of pheomelanin, the melanin that is found in fair-skinned people.
  • Dr. Dennis Gross Dark Spot Sun Defense SPF 50

    Dr. Dennis Gross Dark Spot Sun Defense SPF 50 ($42 in the shop). At last an intelligent sunscreen. I really like the idea of minimizing existing sun spots while preventing future damage. A thoughtful inclusion is melatonin. Studies have also shown melatonin’s ability to counteract the harmful effect of UV rays. There is some subtle fading of dark spots and superlative defense against future ones. There are some really interesting ingredients here including a native American plant that protects from UV rays and the newest Matrixyl peptide, Synthe’6. Also worth noting is that it is a mineral sunscreen with a serious SPF of 50 without it being liquid chalk.
  • Trophy Skin Microderm MD

    Trophy Skin Microderm MD ($299 in the shop). Of Trophy’s three at-home microdermabrasion devices, Microderm MD is the most powerful. Although I found that my dark spot got slightly worse after initial use, it gradually began to fade enough to require less concealer. Yay! Microderm MD has diamond tips to exfoliate and different levels of suction. A couple of passes takes only seconds about three times a week, but it does require at least a month to see meaningful results.
  • Jenetiqa Premiere Essence Day & Night Anti-Aging Serum and Dark Spot Corrector

    Jenetiqa Premiere Essence Day & Night Anti-Aging Serum and Dark Spot Corrector ($65). This is a good choice for someone wanting a daily anti-aging serum that also incorporates skin brightening ingredients for a more “energized” complexion and will gradually and subtly reduce dark spots. Jenetiqa’s signature ingredient is ubiquinol, a bioavailable form of coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), a naturally occurring antioxidant that helps neutralize free radicals. It has three forms of vitamin C as well as skin brightening arbutin and licorice, plus mulberry (which contains a compound that is a natural form of arbutin).