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The causes of discoloration vary tremendously and may result from both internal and external factors (more on that below). However, you can help address the appearance of dark spots with a targeted formula designed to help visibly even skin tone, such as Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Solution.
Our powerful brightening serum with activated C, a vitamin C derivative, efficiently brightens the look of skin. This top-rated formula also contains buffered salicylic acid to visibly reduce discolorations and visibly renew skin’s texture. Our serum has also been tested on all ethnicities and is suitable for all skin types, including sensitive skin*.This potent serum is our number-one recommendation for addressing dark spots and post-acne marks.
Ahead, we’ll break down the different types of discolorations and their causes. We’ll also outline a six-step routine to help visibly fade existing dark spots. Read on for our comprehensive guide to identifying, managing, and addressing discolorations. Keep in mind, cosmetic products cannot remove skin discolorations, but they can help reduce their appearance.
The Issue: Sun Spots
Sun spots, as the name suggests, are small discolored skin patches caused by repeated exposure to UVA and UVB rays emitted by the sun. They’re also sometimes referred to as "photodamage" or "solar lentigines." While some skin darkening after sun exposure is unavoidable, permanent damage occurs with repeated exposure. As such, sun spots are most common in people above 50 years old, but they can develop at any time. Unlike dark spots, sun spots are more common in those with lighter complexions.
The Issue: Age Spots
As we get older, our skin changes in several ways. Collagen and elastin production slows, the skin gets drier, and melanin begins to build up within the skin. Research indicates age spots typically appear on skin frequently exposed to the sun, so as you get older, you may begin to see skin discoloration on the face, neck, and chest. These flat marks typically appear light to dark brown in color and can develop in clusters.II
The Issue: Dark Spots
Dark spots are small areas of skin discoloration, often similar in appearance to freckles. Unlike freckles, however, they won’t fade on their own. Although there are a variety of catalysts that can lead to the development of dark spots on the skin, darker skin tones are more prone to developing discolorations because they naturally produce more melanin. What color they appear as is the result of several factors, including their cause, overall skin tone, and where on the skin the dark spots developed.
The Issue: Post-Acne Marks
If you’ve ever had a stubborn breakout heal, only for a dark spot to appear in its place, then you’re probably familiar with post-acne marks. If not, we’ll give you a brief overview: A post-acne mark, sometimes referred to as post-inflammatory inflammation (PIH), is a type of discoloration that can develop after the skin is damaged from a pimple. The inflammation from the breakout stimulates melanin production, resulting in the appearance of a dark spot, roughly the same size as the original breakout.
Though this kind of discoloration is most common among those with darker complexions, anyone can develop a post-acne mark after a breakout. It may fade on its own, but this process takes time.
Step 1: Cleanse
Your skincare routine should always begin with cleansing your face to remove impurities that have built up throughout the day. To cleanse your skin, we recommend reaching for a gentle exfoliating cleanser, such as Clearly Corrective Brightening & Exfoliating Daily Cleanser. This purifying cleanser features volcanic ash-derived pearlstone and helps remove the dead skin cells, dirt, and excess oil that can lead to clogged pores. It also contains salicylic acid and peony extract, for a formula that helps brighten and smooth the appearance of your complexion. Use it daily for softer-feeling, clearer-looking skin.
Kiehl’s Expert Tip: Following a regular skincare routine can help keep your pores looking clean. If you do develop a blemish, don’t pick at it as this can damage your skin: Instead, reach for an anti-acne spot treatment to clear up acne blemishes and allow skin to heal.
Step 2: Tone
Next, use an essence. We recommend Clearly Corrective Brightening & Soothing Treatment Water, which contains a blend of activated C, white birch extract, and licorice root. It promotes a more radiant and even-looking complexion. The lightweight formula, which has a hydrating feel, also contains illuminating minerals and gives skin a soft, natural-looking glow.
Step 3: Treat
As we mentioned above, Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Solution is our go-to recommendation for visibly minimizing discolorations and it is clinically-demonstrated to visibly correct dark spots. In addition to fading the look of discolorations, the best-selling serum helps visibly brighten the complexion over time for more even, radiant-looking skin.
Kiehl’s Expert Tip: You can use Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Solution as an all-over facial serum or as a potent targeted spot treatment for stubborn discolorations on your neck, chest, or hands.
Step 4: Hydrate
Regardless of your skin concerns, every routine requires a moisturizer. Provide your skin with long-lasting hydration by applying Ultra Facial Cream. It has a non-greasy, lightweight formula that includes olive-derived squalane and is suitable for all skin types. The customer-favorite moisturizer (it’s our #1 face cream) leaves skin softer, smoother, and visibly healthier.
Step 5: Protect
Experts recommend wearing sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 every day (30, if you’re fair).III Incorporating a broad-spectrum sunscreen, such as Super Fluid Daily UV Defense 50+, into your daily routine can, if used as directed with other sun protection measures, decrease the risk of early skin aging caused by the sun. This lightweight, non-comedogenic formula contains broad-spectrum sunscreen to help protect your skin from sun damage.
Kiehl’s Expert Tip: In addition to wearing sunscreen every day, follow all expert guidelines for safe sun exposure whenever you spend time outdoors. This includes wearing a wide-brimmed hat and avoiding direct sunlight between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. whenever possible.
Bonus Step: Renew
To reduce the appearance of stubborn dark spots, supplement your usual skincare routine with a potent targeted treatment, such as Clearly Corrective Accelerated Clarity Renewing Ampoules. This two-week course includes 28 individual ampoules formulated with activated C and a blend of glycolic, lactic, and phytic acids. When used as directed, this powerful formula is clinically-demonstrated to visibly brighten skin by 33% and boost the look of radiance.**
To use it, cleanse and dry your face thoroughly, then shake and open one ampoule. Apply the intensive treatment all over your face and neck and let it absorb into your skin. Follow with Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Solution and your preferred moisturizer (and sunscreen for daytime). Use it twice daily for 14 consecutive days for a more visibly even, radiant complexion.
I Poljšak, Borut et al. "Intrinsic skin aging: the role of oxidative stress." Acta dermatovenerologica Alpina, Pannonica, et Adriatica vol. 21,2 (2012): 33-6.
II Mayo Clinic Staff. "Age Spots (Liver Spots)." Mayo Clinic. 21 Jan 2020.
III "Sunscreen: How to Help Protect Your Skin From the Sun." United States Food and Drug Administration. 2019.
*This product was tested on a multi-ethnic panel equally distributed: 25% African American, 25% Asian, 25% Caucasian, 25% Hispanic
**In a clinical test. Based on expert grading in a 2-week clinical study of 85 panelists in Brazil.