I am not going to kid you, dark spots are tough to diminish. Other forms of hyperpigmentation such as melasma, acne scars and even freckles are not much more cooperative. This is why for years people resorted to harmful chemicals such as hydroquinone and bleach. These days, there are some safe and increasingly effective natural alternatives. And I don’t just mean a bit of a brightening. There are natural dark spot faders that work and here they are in a round-up where we have all reported results — just add patience.
M-Tranexamic acid is a derivative of the amino acid lysine and it inhibits UV induced hyperpigmentation and melanocyte activity. It works best on localized areas of irregular melanin distribution - such as a melasma patch or a dark spot - rather than lightening the overall skin tone.
This is new and cutting edge. Tranexamic acid acts on plasminogens, ultimately reducing inflammatory mediators. It turns out that inflammatory cells are more abundant at the site of an age spot than at normal skin.
E'shee Serum Intensive Brightening ($119 in the shop). A Truth In Aging Five Best for Dark Spots, this is one of the better treatments I have found. But E’shee warns that it takes at least three months to see results. For me, after three months, there was a subtle fading of freckles, but an appreciable difference after six months. Read the full review
Lumiskin is also known as diacetyl boldine. Extracted from the bark of the Chilean Boldo tree, this is a skin lightening agent that works in a weird and wonderful way. Its molecular structure resembles that of stress receptors, which leads many to believe that it has the ability to simultaneously block stress receptors and inhibit the body's melanin production (skin pigmentation).
M.A.D Spot On ($42). A skin brightening serum that minimizes dark spots and uneven skin, Spot On not only features Lumiskin, but also B-White, a combination of amino acids derived from a growth factor (TGF-b). The result is a peptide called oligopeptide-68 that inhibits the enzymes involved in skin pigmentation. This targeting serum punches well above its weight with some powerful forms of vitamin C. Read the full review
Bearberry is indeed a berry beloved by bears and it contains something called arbutin, which is a natural skin brightener. Arbutin works by blocking tyrosinase, the enzymes that get activated by UV light and ultimately form melanins - freckles and age spots.
Most skin lighteners and brighteners, such as hydroquinone, have side effects. The exfoliating types such as glycolic acid will make your skin more sensitive to sunlight. Bearberry, on the other hand, has the added bonus of having sun protection properties and may reduce the degree of skin tanning after sun exposure.
Arcona Instant Magic Reversal Serum ($105). This is a serum that packs its punches with a smart antioxidant called spin trap, as well as milk thistle. There’s also a stable and potent form of vitamin C called MAP. Sodium hyaluronate and hyaluronic acid provide hydration and alpha arbutin is center stage.
More stable and faster working than Beta Arbutin, alpha arbutin comes from the aforementioned bearberry, pear and cranberry. It works by inhibiting the body’s oxidation of Tyrosine, the culprit behind melanin production.
Sweetsation Lumi*Essence Organic Advanced Brightening Repair Treatment ($36). This is an all natural formula that includes vitamin C and kojic acid, as well as alpha arbutin. Our tester, Naheed, saw a reduction in dark patches after nothing else had worked. Read the full review
Several species of fungi produce kojic acid, which acts as a melanin inhibitor. Typically it is used in concentrations of 1% or less. In a 1982 study done in Tokyo, Japan, 66 patients were treated with kojic acid over an average of one year. 95% saw improvement in the whitening of their skin. Note that the study lasted a year — as I was saying hyperpigmentation is tough to treat.
Medik8 White Balance Click ($80 in the shop). Kojic acid isn’t just the star of the show. It is a diva with a personal limo and the largest dressing room. Well at least its own personal ante-chamber. White Balance Click has rather fancy packaging that stores the kojic acid in a special compartment that keeps it separate from the solution. A click brings them together for a powerful solution. Read the full review
Sciote Illume Brightening Serum ($95 in the shop). Sciote uses 5% kojic acid, 3% glycolic acid and 1% salicylic acid to reduce hyperpigmentation, age spots, fine lines and wrinkles. Our tester had such good results on her dark spots that she no longer needs concealer. Read the full review
Pumpkin and papaya enzymes
Pumpkin and papaya contain enzymes that dissolve dead skin cells by breaking down peptide bonds. Someone once told me that papaya enzymes “eat” skin cells. Surprisingly, this is kind of what happens: papain is a proteolytic enzyme, meaning that it digests proteins. Exfoliation is an essential part of the process of removing dark spots and can be followed by one of the melanin inhibitors listed in this article.
Mukti Age Defence Night Serum ($91). This corrective skin lightening serum majors on papaya, whose skin brightening actives are given a boost with vitamins A and C. Read the full review
Glycolic acid is a type of alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) naturally found in sugar cane. As the AHA with the smallest molecule and the greatest penetration, glycolic acid deeply exfoliates.
Arcona Pumpkin Lotion 10% ($35 in the shop). This is a body lotion with a lot of personality. It is infused with pumpkin extracts and glycolic acid at a 10% concentration to help improve elasticity while exfoliating and brightening skin. It's a great freckle fader. Read the full review
Vitamin C is a tricky ingredient that can be unstable and drying. Get it right though, and it repairs DNA damage, fades hyperpigmentation and corrects rosacea. Studies have shown that it has an inhibitory effect on melanogenesis. There have been improvements made in vitamin C formulas and there are new derivatives that are stable and potent. Read more on how to choose the right vitamin C.
Eslor Brightening Activator Serum ($110). Although this uses plain vanilla ascorbic acid, it is bolstered by retinyl palmitate in what is a very simple formula. Members of the Truth In Aging community have reported visible fading of dark spots in only two weeks of daily use. Read the full review
suki intensive nourishing cream ($60.95). Backed by a cocktail of botanical extracts, the key ingredient here is ascorbyl glucoside, a stable form of vitamin C. Designed as an all-over brightening moisturizer, it also works on areas of sun damage and dark spots. I use it on a few patches of freckles every day and have done so for about four months now, with noticeable fading. Read the full review
Green LED light
Theoretically, green LED light targets melanocytes, melanin-producing cells located in the bottom layer of the skin's epidermis. Green light inhibits the production of excess melanin, prevents it from traveling to the skin’s surface, and breaks up melanin clusters to diminish existing discoloration.
Ultra Renew Plus ($159 in the shop). One of the few devices with green LED light, Ultra Renew Plus (made by Truth In Aging) has red (anti-aging) and blue (anti-breakouts) lights as well. Plus there’s ultrasound and ionic for toning and firming. Read the full review