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Dark Spots: What Causes Dark Spots and How to Get Rid of Dark Spots

what causes dark spots
Is a Solution for:
Age Spots, Sun Spots
September 25, 2018 Reviewed by Marta 1 Comment

What Are Dark Spots?

Dark spots — aka, age spots, sun spots and liver spots — are flat tan, brown or black spots that appear on your face and on areas of your body that are most exposed to the sun.

What Causes Dark Spots?

Dark spots are mostly caused by melanocyte activity. Melanocytes are melanin-producing cells located in the bottom layer of the skin's epidermis. Melanin is a naturally occurring substance in the body that is responsible for both its color and the skin's absorption of UV rays. 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 age spots, freckles, and hyperpigmentation.

Two recent studies, from Germany and China, show an increase in dark spots due to particulate matter from soot and traffic exhausts. A 2010 study that found dark spots are caused by other pollutants, specifically PACs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), which come from oil, coal and tar deposits.

How to Prevent and Treat Dark Spots

While it may not be 100% possible to avoid dark spots, one key strategy to preventing them is protecting your skin from ultraviolet rays. Avoid being out in the sun when its rays are at its strongest. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen, which protects skin against both UVA and UVB rays, and look for a minimum of SPF 15. We recommend choosing sunscreens that contain antioxidants to boost their levels of protection.

Toxic chemical bleaches are not recommended. Instead, the safer protocol is the chemical correction of areas of hyperpigmentation by inhibiting melanin synthesis.

Effective Ingredients to Combat Dark Spots

To lighten dark spots, topical skin care products contain actives that inhibit the production of melanin in the skin. Although hydroquinone decreases the formation of melanin, it is an extremely controversial. Hydroquinone has been found to be a carcinogenic skin-whitening agent and has also has been linked with the medical condition known as ochronosis. Tyrosinase inhibitors are alternatives to hydroquinone that are considered safer (tyrosinase is the essential enzyme in the formation of melanin). Actives that focus on inhibiting tyrosinase include decapeptide-12, SymWhite 377, arbutin, glabridin (licorice extract), magnesium ascorbyl phosphate and hexylresorcinol. Some effective natural dark spot faders include m-Tranexamic acid, lumiskin, bearberry, kojic acid (with newer, more stable forms) glycolic acid, ferulic acid and vitamin C. Recently, reseveratrol has been found to be helpful as a dark spot fader, as has a new natural derived from sunflower seeds called octadecenedioic acid (marketed as Mediatone).

Solutions for Dark Spots

Fading dark spots and hyperpigmentation is one of the hardest things to achieve. A regimen, rather than a single product application, is required to make any inroads. Our recommended regimen is:

  1. Exfoliate the damaged skin,
  2. Protect new skin from further sun damage
  3. Use a melanin inhibitor (see above)
  4. Be patient - it can take three months for even subtle results

These are some of our favorite products for dark spots

Transderma R Resveratrol Serum

Your Best Face Brightening Concentrate (with kojic acid)

MitoQ Chrystal Brightening (with Mediatone)

See all our curated and community tested products for dark spots, brightening and hyperpigmentation

Read more about Dark Spots:

Getting Under the Skin of Hyperpigmentation and Dark Spots

The Truth About Dark Spots

Natural Dark Spot Solutions



  • January 8, 2016

    by Victoria

    I hate the dark circles around my eyes. When I saw Dermalmd Anti-Aging Serum that diminishes dark circles while it rejuvenates the skin, I decided to try it. I am totally happy with the product. Also, I am glad that it does both at the same time saving me time and money. I use it regularly on a daily basis and the results are great. The reduction of wrinkles and dark circles around my eyes are noticeable. I would recommend this product to any friend.

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