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How to Improve the Look of Dark Spots, According to a Dermatologist

Picking at your acne stops now.
August 04, 2023

When it comes to your skin, it’s probably safe to say that you’re not a fan of fine lines and wrinkles or dark spots. As such, you might be wondering how to improve the look of dark spots on your face or anywhere on your skin. We hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there’s no way to snap your fingers and get rid of dark spots once you have them — it takes time and in some instances several weeks and even months, to visibly improve their appearance. To learn more, we spoke to Michelle Henry MD, FAAD, board-certified dermatologist and L’Oréal Paris consultant. 

Read on as we share her expertise regarding how to get rid of dark spots, how to prevent them from happening in the first place, and how to reduce their appearance with the help of makeup.

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What Are Dark Spots?

According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), dark spots are a type of discoloration that can appear on the surface of skin, usually as the result of years of sun damage. Those with darker skin tones are more prone to seeing dark spots — however, dark spots can occur on any skin tone, per the AAD.

Dark spots and hyperpigmentation are two terms that are often used interchangeably but they aren’t the same thing. “All hyperpigmentation is dark by definition, but not all hyperpigmentation is a spot,” says Dr. Henry. “Melasma is a wide irregular patch across the face, it’s not a spot but it’s dark and a type of hyperpigmentation.” 

Cosmetic products generally address dark spots. Prescription medications, topicals and aesthetic treatments like laser resurfacing (under the supervision of a board-certified dermatologist) can generally address hyperpigmentation and melasma.


What Causes Dark Spots?

The AAD notes that one of the main causes of dark spots is sun damage. When you spend prolonged amounts of time in the sun without protection (ahem, like broad-spectrum SPF), this can lead to damage, which can show up as visible signs of aging, such as fine lines, wrinkles or dark spots down the road, per the Cleveland Clinic. The AAD also names acne as a cause of dark spots — without proper treatment, breakouts can lead to dark spots appearing as the acne clears. 

Can You Improve the Look Of Dark Spots?

If you want to fade dark spots, you have to play the long game — this means using products to fade their darker pigment while diligently wearing SPF and taking proper care of your skin to prevent further darkening. 

According to Dr. Henry, topical prescriptions, like hydroquinone are another option  for treatment of dark spots. Talk to your dermatologist if you want to go this route. 

Does Niacinamide Improve Dark Spots?

In a study conducted by The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, use of topical niacinamide has also been shown to help minimize the appearance of dark spots. For some context, niacinamide is an active form of vitamin B3, found in yeast and root vegetables. Unlike hydroquinone, niacinamide is available over the counter, and it is commonly found in facial serums and moisturizers. As a general reminder, always talk to your dermatologist before adding a new ingredient or product to your routine. 

How Can You Reduce Your Chances Of Getting Dark Spots?

Now that you know what can cause dark spots, you can try to create a consistent skin care routine to help protect your skin against early signs of sun damage. Incorporate all of the tips below into your regimen (and lifestyle) in order to prevent dark spots on face from forming in the first place.

1. Wear Sunscreen

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Taking daily sun protection measures should be at the top of your skin care agenda — and that goes for everyone, not just those with dark spots. Pick a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or greater, since this can help protect against the sun’s UVA and UVB rays. We love the L’Oréal Paris Bright Reveal Broad Spectrum SPF 50 Invisible UV Fluid, a weightless sunblock that, when used as directed with other sun protection measures, protects against UV rays that cause aging and burning. Plus, it doesn’t leave a white cast on any skin tone. 

2. Reapply SPF

Applying SPF once in the morning on your way out the door isn’t enough. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends reapplying every two hours. As far as how much SPF you should use, the FDA says that the average person needs at least an ounce of sunscreen for their entire body — about how much it would take to fill a shot glass. 

3. Take Other Sun Protection Measures 

Sunscreen isn't always enough, you should be taking other sun protection measures as well. These include limiting the amount of time you spend in the sun (especially during peak hours, which are between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.), seeking shade and covering up exposed areas in long sleeves, pants, a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.

4. Stop Popping Pimples 

You likely already know this, but we’re going to confirm it — no good can come out of popping your pimples. “Not only is picking going to increase the chances of hyperpigmentation, but it could also contribute to textural changes,” Dr. Henry warns. In short, picking at your acne can create dark spots, uneven texture and scarring. Remember that while you can try to cosmetically improve the look of dark spots, scarring is much harder to get rid of without the help of pricey laser and dermatologic treatments.

5. Visit a Dermatologist

If you deal with acne, Dr. Henry recommends taking an aggressive plan of action to treat it so you can prevent the formation of dark spots. For that reason, if you're dealing with acne-prone skin, it could be helpful to visit your dermatologist and tailor a plan for your specific skin care needs advice. 

How Can You Minimize the Appearance Of Dark Spots?

Ready to learn how to actually minimize the appearance of those dark spots? Add the following skin care tips for dark spots to your skin care routine.

1. Exfoliate

Dr. Henry recommends glycolic acid for fading dark spots. According to the Cleveland Clinic, alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), like glycolic acid can help exfoliate skin’s surface and reduce the appearance of dark spots over time. As for how often you should use it, pay attention to how your skin responds to determine what works best for you. While some people can handle daily exfoliation, others may only need to do so once or twice a week. 

2. Use a Dark Spot Corrector 

Daily UV exposure and age can result in the appearance of a dull, uneven skin tone. So, another skin care product to add to your routine is a serum or cream meant to improve the appearance of dark spots, like the L’Oréal Paris Bright Reveal 12% [Niacinamide + Amino Sulfonic + Ferulic Acid] Dark Spot Serum. This serum contains the aforementioned niacinamide to fade visible dark spots and imperfections while brightening the skin. Apply it directly onto skin after cleansing, then layer your moisturizer on top. 

3. Take Sun Protection Seriously

Now that you know that dark spots may be caused by sun damage, it’s important to up your sun protection measures if you haven’t already. Beyond taking all the sun protection tips we shared above, don’t forget to reapply SPF at least every two hours or immediately after swimming or sweating. 

If you like a sun-kissed glow, resist the temptation to lay out in the sun and reach for a self-tanning serum, like the L’Oréal Paris Sublime Bronze Self-Tanning Facial Drops, Fragrance-Free instead. Apply a few drops to your moisturizer before bed and enjoy your bronzed glow when you wake up the next morning. 

4. Use a Vitamin C Serum 

According to Dr. Henry, another potent skin care ingredient you can use to fade the look of dark spots is vitamin C. One of the best ways to utilize this ingredient is by using a vitamin C face serum, like the L'Oréal Paris Revitalift Derm Intensives 12% Pure Vitamin C + E + Salicylic Acid Serum. This serum aids in reducing the appearance of dark spots, increasing radiance, evening skin tone, and minimizing the appearance of enlarged pores. Apply it directly onto skin after cleansing, then layer your moisturizer on top.

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How Do You Conceal Dark Spots With Makeup?

If you have dark spots, you don’t have to feel self-conscious about your complexion anymore. When it comes to hiding dark spots, it’s all about using the right makeup products and application techniques. Try the makeup tips for dark spots, below.

1. Color Correct 

If you have dark spots, or any other skin imperfection, it’s time to add a color-correcting concealer to your makeup bag. In order to really understand how the color-correcting technique works, think about the color wheel. The colors that are opposite each other on the wheel cancel each other out, and color-correcting concealers use the same concept. Peach can help to disguise dark spots and dark circles, yellow can help to conceal discoloration, purple can help to hide dullness, and green can help to neutralize redness. 

The L'Oréal Paris True Match Color Correcting Crayons come in three shades to mask the appearance of dark spots: peach for fair to light skin tones, bisque for light to medium skin tones, and orange for medium to deep skin tones.

Another way to color correct is with a skin-perfecting makeup primer, like the L’Oréal Paris Prime Lab Up to 24H Dullness Reducer. Best for tan to deep skin tones, this dullness-reducing primer uses orange tones to brighten lackluster skin while extending your makeup wear time. 

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2. Follow Up With Full-Coverage Concealer 

Once you’re done color correcting, use a full-coverage concealer, like the L’Oréal Paris Infallible Full Wear Concealer up to 24H Full Coverage.  It has a matte finish and a long-lasting formula that stays in place for up to 24 hours. Grab a shade that matches your complexion and buff the concealer onto your skin using a makeup blender.

3. Layer on a Full-Coverage Foundation

Once you’ve finished with concealer, it’s time to move on to foundation. Try the L'Oréal Paris Infallible 24 Hour Fresh Wear Foundation. The lightweight, breathable finish is transfer-proof and offers buildable coverage that wears for up to 24 hours. Stipple the liquid foundation onto your skin with a clean foundation brush, or use a make sponge to blot it across your complexion.

4. Finish With Setting Spray 

To help your makeup stay in place and last longer, use a setting spray, like the L'Oréal Paris Infallible Pro-Spray and Set Make-Up Oil-Free Setting Spray. This micro-fine spray can help set your makeup with just a few spritzes. Shake the bottle well, then hold it eight to ten inches away from your face, close your eyes and spray four to six times in an X and T motion.

Next: What Does Niacinamide Do for the Skin?

Photo Credit: Courtesy of L'Oréal Paris

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