Say Hello to a Brighter Complexion! A Beauty Editor Shares Her Top Picks for Fading Dark Spots

100% worth the hype.

By Langa Chinyoka
Stella Simona skincare routine

So you finally cleared up your most recent breakout. Time to celebrate! But you look in the mirror and… a spattering of dark spots. What do you do next? Thanks to my darker skin, I’ve dealt with this question for over a decade. Even when I’m on sunscreen game and resist picking at my breakouts, I’m still left with dark blemishes. Over the years, I’ve tried just about every product claiming to treat dark spots, hyperpigmentation, or post-acne scars. Some? Useless. Others, totally transformative! But it was a long hard road to finding the best hyperpigmentation products on the market.

For a long time, my skincare was mostly focused on quick fixes for hormonal breakouts. I cringe at all the beauty faux pas I committed in vain. I made all the classic mistakes. I slept in my makeup one too many times. I indulged in way too many DIY treatments for acne—like putting toothpaste on breakouts or rubbing lemon juice on my dark spots—just to wonder why my skin was always irritated and inflamed. Then there were the years I spent thinking that my oily skin meant I should didn’t need moisturizer and my dark skin meant I didn’t need sunscreen. To top it all off, like so many others, I had a torrid love affair with the St. Ives Apricot Scrub during my acne-ridden teen years.

After all that, my hormones have balanced to leave me with rare breakouts but persistent hyperpigmentation. If my skincare journey taught me anything, it’s that patience is key. So-called easy solves just aggravate your skin even more. And nothing works if you don’t give it time. From what I’ve found, even the best hyperpigmentation products take weeks to really start showing results. But don’t lose hope! With guidance and consistency, you can fade those reminders of breakouts past.

Read on for some of the best hyperpigmentation products I’ve found in over a decade as a skincare lover and beauty editor.

Shanika Hillocks, morning routine, Michelle Nash photography, skincare_best hyperpigmentation products
Image by Michelle Nash

What Causes Hyperpigmentation?

There are three main types of hyperpigmentation and they all have different causes. Melasma is a side effect of aging, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation are the dark spots left behind in acne’s wake, and sun-induced hyperpigmentation are the dark marks more commonly known as sunspots. Each manifests differently, so each needs to be treated differently. Identifying the cause of your hyperpigmentation is the first and most important step in figuring out how to address it.

How Can I Prevent Hyperpigmentation?

Even the best hyperpigmentation products can’t help if you’re not also taking preventative measures. Universally, sunscreen helps stop increased melanin production caused by sun exposure. It also staves off the effects of aging, including melasma, and will completely prevent sun-induced hyperpigmentation.

You can also prevent hyperpigmentation with a comprehensive skincare routine tailored to your specific concerns. If you have blemish-prone skin that leaves a lot of marks, a clarifying routine will help prevent the blemishes in the first place. You can also add a prescription retinoid, like tretinoin, to your lineup to encourage cell turnover. After a few weeks of the dreaded retinol purge, your skin will look brand new—both in texture and tone.

What Professional Treatments Help Fade Hyperpigmentation?

For a faster process with more immediate results, consult with an esthetician or dermatologist to find out what professional treatments might be right for you. Cosmetic treatments can superficially transform the skin, addressing hyperpigmentation by targeting the top layer of the dermis. Using some of the best hyperpigmentation products alongside professional treatments is the best way to see results.

Chemical Peels

One of the most effective and common treatments for hyperpigmentation is a chemical peel. I’ve done these before and every time I do, they change my life. After seven days, the treatment has removed the top layer of my skin to reveal a clearer, more even surface. With a skin expert’s support, you can choose what strength you need for your goals. From there, you’re all set.

The downside of chemical peels? They take seven days of downtime where you pretty much can’t leave the house as your face literally peels off. I know how that sounds, no thanks. But know that if you don’t have that kind of time—I have places to go and Zoom calls to attend, too—other treatments can give you more instant results.

Laser Therapy

Laser therapy is another popular treatment for hyperpigmentation. Lasers get deep beneath the layers of the skin to stimulate cell turnover and target melanin production, in turn fading dark spots with consistent treatments. However, these are not suited for all types of melasma, as light therapy could make your hyperpigmentation worse.

Dermabrasion and Microdermabrasion

Other in-office treatments include dermabrasion or microdermabrasion for deep exfoliation. Dermabrasion is more intense, using a high-speed brush to resurface your skin and remove or reduce the depth of scars. This rigorous process can take up to three weeks to heal. For a similar procedure with no downtime, try microdermabrasion, which uses a handheld device to remove surface skin. Multiple treatments can go a long way.

Talk to your dermatologist about which treatments may be best suited for your type of hyperpigmentation. Doctors can also provide prescriptions for retinoids, which increase cell turnover and address external signs of aging like hyperpigmentation as well as fine lines.

best hyperpigmentation products
Image by Riley Reed

What Ingredients Should I Look For in Hyperpigmentation Products?

Don’t worry, there’s hope for your hyperpigmentation beyond professional treatments and retinoids. With consistent use of the right over-the-counter products, you can fade dark spots all on your own. Experts recommend combining ingredients that increase cell turnover with ingredients that moisturize and restore your lipid barrier to further protect you from sun damage. This means creating a skincare routine that balances active and nourishing ingredients.

For actives, look for exfoliating ingredients like azelaic acid, kojic acid, tranexamic acid, alpha hydroxy acids (like glycolic acid and lactic acid), and retinol. Other actives to include are antioxidant stars like niacinamide and vitamin C. To keep your skin protected and nourished as you add potentially harsh ingredients, be sure to add moisturizing agents like glycerin or hyaluronic acid. And of course, don’t forget to top it all off with the best SPF for your skin type.

Choose from one (or more!) of the best hyperpigmentation products below to brighten your complexion and effectively fade scars.

Indie Lee Brightening Cleanser

If you know, you know. This cleanser has been a staple in my line-up since the very first time I used it. It clears away dead skin along with impurities for instantly brighter skin. It’s packed with antioxidants like lycopene and strawberry seed oil to brighten and protect against environmental stressors, while hydrolyzed wheat protein fortifies and strengthens. You can even leave it on for 5-10 minutes to use as an exfoliating mask.

Indie Lee Brightening Cleanser, $36

The Whistling Thorn Daily Brightening Toner

To tone or not to tone, that is the question. This moisture-packed product will put you firmly in the pro-toner camp. It contains equal parts soothing and hydrating ingredients like licorice root extract and hyaluronic acid plus actives like kojic acid and azelaic acid. The elegant formula is the perfect texture: hydrating without being sticky or tacky, and you can feel it working without any burning sensation. Gentle and effective, it’s a perfect extra step to fortify your routine.

The Whistling Thorn Daily Brightening Toner, $28

Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Clinical Grade Resurfacing Liquid Peel

Admittedly, this two-step system is a little involved. Fair warning: if you’re looking for low maintenance, look away! But if you’re ready to dive in deep, trust that this peel is worth it. It contains a clinical-grade blend of AHAs with antioxidants and bromelain for some of the most effective chemical exfoliation you can do at home without completely depleting your moisture barrier. 

Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Clinical Grade Resurfacing Liquid Peel, $95

best hyperpigmentation products
Image by Michelle Nash

Sunday Riley Good Genes All-in-One Lactic Acid Treatment

For more gentle, but equally effective, chemical exfoliation, add this beloved treatment to your routine. It’s earned its stripes as one of the best products for an even complexion. The powerful concentration of lactic acid works with licorice and lemongrass to boost radiance and lighten hyperpigmentation.

Sunday Riley Good Genes All-in-One Lactic Acid Treatment, $85

Renée Rouleau Vitamin C&E Treatment

Celebrity facialist Renée Rouleau makes effective, targeted products that deliver results tailored to your skin concerns without irritation. This antioxidant-packed serum uses multiple stable forms of vitamin C and hydrating vitamin E for intense brightening. Combined with licorice root, a color-correcting natural exfoliant, it lightens dark spots and lifts discoloration from blemish scarring to reveal brighter, even-toned skin.

Renée Rouleau Vitamin C&E Treatment, $69.50

Peter Thomas Roth PRO Strength Niacinamide Discoloration Treatment

Niacinamide has become a holy grail ingredient for many people because it truly does it all. It smooths texture, strengthens your moisture barrier, calms irritation, and it’s a powerful defense against discoloration. With multitasking niacinamide, targeted tranexamic acid, and brightening kojic acid working together, your dark spots don’t stand a chance.

Peter Thomas Roth PRO Strength Niacinamide Discoloration Treatment, $88

Kiehl’s Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Solution

Anyone who’s struggled with stubborn dark spots keeps a bottle of this corrective solution in their arsenal. The product that launched a thousand empties is a hyperpigmentation holy grail for its effective formula specifically designed to treat post-acne dark marks.  Activated C (a stabilized form of vitamin C), buffered salicylic acid, and peony extract come together for a stable solution that works on all skin types and complexions.

Kiehl’s Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Solution, $84

Naturium Multi Bright Tranexamic Acid Treatment 5%

Naturium’s tranexamic acid emulsion is one of the highest concentrations on the market. Tranexamic acid is getting more and more popular, and this serum is all the proof you need to pay attention to the buzzy ingredient. Targeting post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, it blends tranexamic acid with encapsulated kojic acid, alpha arbutin, and acetyl glucosamine for a brighter, more even-looking complexion.

Naturium Multi Bright Tranexamic Acid Treatment 5%, $22

Michelle Nash photography, bathroom sink, best hyperpigmentation products
Image by Michelle Nash

Topicals Faded Cream

Another tranexamic acid-rich product is this cult-favorite cream by Topicals. Created by a Black woman who was tired of ineffective dark spot treatments, this is the dark spot solution that always sells out—and for good reason. The power trio of tranexamic acid, niacinamide, and azelaic acid visibly transform your complexion.

Topicals Faded Cream, $38

Hyper Skin Hyper Even Brightening Dark Spot Vitamin C Serum

Another Black-owned hyperpigmentation solution, Hyper Skin’s Hyper Even serum is packed with vitamin C to nourish skin cells, promote skin healing, and brighten dark spots. At the same time, kojic acid exfoliates while hyaluronic acid keeps in moisture.

Hyper Skin Hyper Even Brightening Dark Spot Vitamin C Serum, $58

Ranavat Brightening Saffron Serum

Ranavat has brought the power of saffron to skincare with its line of potent, effective products. Their brightening serum uses superfoods like saffron with ayurvedic ingredients and antioxidants to pack your skin with moisture and target uneven complexion.

Ranavat Brightening Saffron Serum, $35

Cyspera Intensive Pigment Corrector

If you need to bring out the big guns, Cyspera is the closest you can get to clinical dark spot treatment without a prescription. It was recommended to me by an esthetician who said she’d seen it work miracles on acne scarring. It also works effectively on other types of scarring on the body, from bacne scars to post-surgery scars. Especially potent on your face, its Cysteamine Isobionic-Amid Complex combined with AHAs deliver powerful antioxidant activity to improve the appearance of stubborn dark spots.

Cyspera Intensive Pigment Corrector, $185