Pale or dark-skinned, young or old, skin discolorations can affect anyone. 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 on the face 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 the face and body and discover our top tips for fading these stubborn spots. We’ll also offer advice on how to help prevent dark spots and discolorations from occurring in the first place. Pull up a chair, settle in, and read on for the ultimate Kiehl’s guide to managing dark spots on the face.
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, resulting in visible dark spots and discolorations.
One such example is the sun. Sun exposure triggers an increased production of melanin, which is why being in the sun (unprotected) makes you 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.
What Is The Best Treatment For Dark Spots?
While we can’t tell you how to get rid of dark spots on your face, a skincare routine for dark spots may help make discolorations less visible over time. Ahead, find our top tips for managing dark spots at home.
Start With a Clean Canvas
Clearly Corrective Brightening & Exfoliating Daily Cleanser
As with any skincare routine, the first step is to ensure your skin is clean and free of impurities. We recommend washing your face with Clearly Corrective Brightening & Exfoliating Daily Cleanser. This gentle face wash cleanses and purifies the skin to remove traces of dirt, excess oil, and environmental pollutants. It exfoliates and refines without stripping the skin's natural moisture barrier, revealing clearer, brighter-looking skin over time. The unique cleanser is suitable for all skin types (yep, even sensitive skin) and can be used morning and night to help keep your skin clean, smooth, and radiant-looking.
Exfoliate Your Face Regularly
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-looking 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.
When it comes to exfoliation, you have two options: physical exfoliants, like face scrubs and exfoliating cleansers, and chemical exfoliants. If you prefer the former, try 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.
For those with dry or sensitive skin—or those who’d simply rather use a chemical exfoliant—we recommend Milk-Peel Gentle Exfoliating Toner. The mild toner with lactic acid and lipo-hydroxy acid 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.
Start Using 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 can also be 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 using Micro-Dose Anti-Aging Retinol Serum with Ceramides and Peptide. This face serum helps promote a more youthful appearance. It’s carefully formulated for gentleness and is clinically-demonstrated to visibly even the skin tone, diminish the appearance of wrinkles, and firm the skin with regular use.* This mild serum is suitable for all skin types and incorporates easily into your daytime or nighttime skincare routine.
*Results based on expert grading in a clinical test for subjects showing improvement after 12 weeks of use.
For those comfortable using stronger retinol products, we have Retinol Fast Release Wrinkle-Reducing Night Serum. Formulated with 0.3% pure retinol, this potent serum helps reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles in as little as five days. Over time, the effective formula also helps improve skin texture, giving way to a more youthful, glowing appearance. Because it’s more potent, this serum is best suited for those who are already well-acquainted with retinol and want more rapid results.
How Can You Help Prevent Skin Discolorations?
There’s no guaranteed way to completely prevent 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.
Protect Your Skin From The Sun
The best way to reduce your risk of developing discolorations on your face is to practice sun safety every day. That means staying in the shade whenever possible, avoiding direct sunlight at midday, and wearing sunscreen every day, rain or shine. We recommend reaching for a broad-spectrum formula that feels comfortable on your skin, such as Super Fluid UV Defense Daily Facial Sunscreen 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. Apply an even layer to your face at least fifteen minutes before going outside, and be sure to reapply roughly every two hours or after sweating, swimming, or toweling off.
Another great way to help protect your skin from the sun is by swapping your usual daytime moisturizer for a formula that contains SPF. We love Ultra Facial Cream SPF 30—the lightweight formula provides up to 24-hour hydration while protecting against damaging UVA and UVB rays. If you prefer a moisturizer that also helps address the visible signs of aging, try Super Multi Corrective Cream SPF 30. The five-in-one moisturizer helps lift, firm, smooth, re-texturize, and moisturize the skin to help keep it soft and healthy-looking. Plus, it offers broad-spectrum protection against the sun’s harmful rays and is 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 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 blemishes, 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 feeling softer, smoother, and visibly healthier when used consistently.*
*Results based on a four-week clinical test.
Clearly Corrective Brightening and Smoothing Moisture Treatment
If you’d prefer a moisturizer that also helps address existing dark spots, try Clearly Corrective Brightening and Smoothing Moisture Treatment—it’s among our best creams for dark spots on the face. The intensely hydrating formula with glycolic acid and vitamin C 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.
Protect Your Skin Barrier
Protecting your skin’s natural moisture barrier is important if you want your skin to look its best. To help ensure your skin barrier stays in good condition, we recommend incorporating Ultra Facial Overnight Hydrating Mask with 10.5% Squalane into your nighttime skincare routine. This luxurious balm-to-oil mask helps replenish and strengthen the skin’s natural moisture barrier, making it more resilient against potentially damaging external stressors. When applied before bed, it also helps seal in moisture to prevent excess overnight water loss, leaving your skin visibly smoother and more hydrated. Apply a thin, even layer to your face before bed three nights per week, or use it as a quick 15-minute mask anytime your skin feels excessively dry or tight.