Pale or dark-skinned, young or old, skin discolorations can affect anyone and any skin type. It can be easy to forget, what with the proliferation of perfectly-filtered photos clogging our social media feeds, but nobody’s skin tone is completely uniform, and that’s normal. Still, dark spots and other discoloration can be frustrating to deal with. If you’re struggling with this, thankfully, there are things you can do at home to help improve their appearance.
Here, we’ll give you the rundown on this common skin concern. You’ll learn what causes dark spots on skin and discover our top tips for fading these stubborn spots. We’ll also offer advice on how to help prevent skin discolorations from occurring in the first place. Pull up a chair, settle in, and read on for your ultimate Kiehl’s guide to managing dark spots on skin.
What Are Dark Spots?
Put simply, dark spots are a form of localized hyperpigmentation. They are commonly seen on the face but may also appear on other parts of your body like your chest, back, and arms. These skin discolorations usually appear tan or brown, though some spots can look greyish or even black. How prominent these spots are is largely dependent on your skin tone—those with deeper skin tones tend to have darker spots, while those with fairer skin typically have lighter brown spots.
What Causes Dark Spots On Skin?
Dark spots result from an overproduction or irregular distribution of melanin, the pigment that gives skin its color. Specialized cells called melanocytes produce and store this pigment. Usually, your melanin production is more or less stable. Certain factors, however, can cause your body to create more melanin than usual.
One such example is the sun. Sun exposure triggers an increased production of melanin, which is why being in the sun makes us tan. Excessive unprotected sun exposure can damage your melanocytes, causing them to create too much of this natural pigment. Over time, repeated damage to your melanocytes can result in age spots or sun spots.
Breakouts are another common cause of dark spots, particularly for those with darker skin tones. Pimples can irritate the skin and cause it to create more melanin than usual. This risk is higher if you pick at or pop your blemishes—it can result in a type of spot called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (also known as post-blemish marks). While these marks sometimes fade on their own with time, they can be stubborn and difficult to manage.
How Can You Help Prevent Skin Discolorations?
There’s no guaranteed way to prevent all dark spots. That said, there are things you can do to make developing skin discolorations less likely. Keep reading for three of our top tips for keeping dark spots and discolorations at bay.
Wear Sunscreen (Every Day)
Super Fluid Daily UV Defense SPF 50+
The best way to reduce your risk of developing discolorations on your face is to wear sunscreen every day, rain or shine. We recommend reaching for a broad-spectrum formula that feels comfortable on your skin, such as Super Fluid Daily UV Defense SPF 50+. The lightweight sunscreen helps protect against UVA and UVB rays and boasts antioxidant defense for added skin benefits. It’s non-comedogenic and suitable for all skin types, including sensitive skin.
Wash Your Face Morning and Night
You already know that cleansing is an integral part of an effective skincare routine—but in addition to keeping your skin clean, it may help prevent discolorations. When you wash your face, you’re removing all the impurities you’ve come into contact with throughout the day. This is crucial because if left unchecked, these environmental stressors can damage your skin, leading to skin concerns like dryness, irritation, or dark spots.
Morning and night, we recommend washing your face with a gentle cleanser, such as Calendula Deep Cleansing Foaming Face Wash. It’s formulated with calendula extract and glycerin and helps lift away dirt, excess oil, and pollutants without stripping the skin’s natural moisture barrier. When used regularly, the unique formula helps soothe the skin and helps relieve visible redness and discomfort for a refreshed, revitalized appearance.
Don’t Skip Moisturizer
While it’s true that moisturizer alone is unlikely to prevent skin discolorations, it does help keep your skin hydrated. This is important because when the skin becomes dehydrated, your body may produce excess oil to make up for the lack of water in your skin. This increased sebum production can lead to clogged pores and breakouts, which, as we noted above, can result in post-blemish marks.
For lightweight daily hydration, look for a gentle face cream, like our cult-classic Ultra Facial Cream. It’s made with olive-derived squalane (a Kiehl’s signature ingredient) and is clinically-demonstrated to leave the skin softer, smoother, and visibly healthier when used consistently.*
*Results based on a four-week clinical test.
If you’d prefer a moisturizer that also helps address existing dark spots, try Clearly Corrective Brightening and Smoothing Moisture Treatment, which contains activated vitamin C and exfoliating glycolic acid. The intensely hydrating formula is clinically-demonstrated to help improve the appearance of skin discolorations and uneven skin texture.* It’s suitable for all skin types and can be used morning and night for clearer, brighter-looking skin over time.
*Results based upon a clinical study of the upper layers of the skin.
How Should You Treat Dark Spots and Discolorations?
Even with a flawless skincare routine, skin concerns still occur. While we can’t tell you how to get rid of dark spots instantly, we can help you address them. Find our three top tips for managing dark spots at home, below.
Try a Dark Spot Corrector
It seems pretty obvious, but if you have a dark spot (or several), you’ll want to reach for a dark spot treatment, like Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Corrector. This concentrated serum with activated vitamin C, buffered salicylic acid, and peony root extract helps even the skin tone for a more radiant appearance. It helps visibly reduce a wide range of dark spots and discolorations, including age spots and post-blemish marks, and is suitable for all skin types. If you’re prone to developing discolorations, you can use this powerful formula as your go-to daily serum. For those simply looking to fade individual spots, this dark spot corrector also works well as a targeted spot treatment.
As needed, you can also give your routine a boost with Clearly Corrective Accelerated Clarity Renewing Ampoules. This powerful two-week brightening treatment helps promote accelerated cell renewal to reveal smoother-looking skin. When used consecutively over 14 days, the ampoules are clinically-demonstrated to visibly brighten the skin and boost radiance, leaving the skin looking clearer and more even.*
*Based on expert grading in a two-week clinical study of 85 panelists in Brazil.
Everyone can benefit from exfoliation, but the practice is especially beneficial for those prone to dark spots and discolorations, as it can help promote a brighter, more even skin tone. Of course, you want to choose a gentle exfoliator that suits your skin’s unique needs—overdoing it can leave your skin feeling stressed and irritated.
Clearly Corrective Brightening & Exfoliating Daily Cleanser
If you have oily skin, we recommend reaching for a physical exfoliant, such as Clearly Corrective Brightening & Exfoliating Daily Cleanser. Formulated with peony extract and pearlstone, this mild exfoliating cleanser helps remove dead skin cells, pollutants, and excess oil without damaging the skin’s natural moisture barrier. The clarity-enhancing formula is suitable for all skin types and can be used daily to help promote a smoother, more refined appearance.
If you have sensitive or dry skin—or simply prefer chemical exfoliants—try a liquid exfoliator instead. We recommend Milk-Peel Gentle Exfoliating Toner, which contains lipo-hydroxy acid (a salicylic acid derivative) and lactic acid. The mild toner gently exfoliates while helping to replenish moisture, leaving your skin feeling soft and comfortable. It’s clinically-demonstrated to visibly brighten skin within just seven days, while consistent use helps promote a clearer, more refined appearance.*
*Results based on expert grading in a clinical study of 44 panelists, aged 30-50, after four weeks of use.
Reach For Retinol
Retinol is one of those rare ingredients that can help address a wide range of skin concerns, from fine lines and wrinkles to blemishes. It’s also extremely useful for those who deal with dark spots and discolorations since it helps reveal fresher, clearer-looking skin.
To reap these benefits, we recommend reaching for Micro-Dose Anti-Aging Retinol Serum with Ceramides and Peptide. This powerful serum, which contains 0.1% pure retinol, helps promote a more youthful appearance. It’s carefully formulated for gentleness and is clinically-demonstrated to visibly even the skin tone, diminish wrinkles, and firm the skin with regular use.* This mild serum is suitable for all skin types and tones and can be used daily, even if you’re a first-time retinol user.** Just remember that retinoids can increase your sensitivity to the sun, so you’ll want to be extra diligent about wearing your sunscreen every day to protect your skin against ultraviolet damage.
*Results based on expert grading in a clinical test for subjects showing improvement after 12 weeks of use. **Based on a consumer study of 135 panelists after 12 weeks of usage.