14 Best Natural Dark Spot Correctors of 2021, by Beauty Experts
PUBLISHED: 06/17/2019 | LAST UPDATED: 01/17/2020
It seems like almost everyone is looking to remove dark spots. In fact, our editors surveyed 500 women on their skin care habits and goals. Of those women, 55% rated “fading dark spots” as one of their top beauty objectives; outranking other skin goals such as “clearing acne” and “reducing redness.” As a result, there is no shortage of beauty brands promising quick and powerful dark spot removers and skin lightening treatments. Unfortunately, these potent treatments can lead to serious permanent skin damage.
Luckily, there are natural and effective products on the market to correct dark spots. In this article, we’ll review the causes of dark spots and how to prevent them, the most powerful natural brightening ingredients, and our tested picks of the best natural dark spot removers around.
What Are Dark Spots and What Causes Them?
Hyperpigmentation, the technical name for dark spots, is a condition where an accumulation of melanin pigment causes the skin to be darker than the natural skin tone. Dark spots are a common complaint because there are many innocuous and unpreventable causes behind the formation of dark spots on the skin. Four of those common causes include:
- Sun Exposure: Exposure to UV rays (whether from the sun or tanning beds) can both increase the accumulation of melanin on the surface of the skin and cause damage deep beneath the skin which can result in dark pigmentation (1)(5). The real danger with sun damage is that it is cumulative; thus, the damaging effects of sun exposure may not appear until later in life. This is why dark spots are sometimes referred to as “age spots.”
- Hormonal Changes: During periods of extreme hormonal fluctuation (for example, puberty, pregnancy, or disruptive hormonal conditions), melanin can permanently or temporarily accumulate in certain areas of the body. Melasma and linea nigra, who pregnancy-related melanin conditions, are some common examples.
- Scarring & Skin Damage: Melanin deposits can form when your skin is stressed or damaged by physical means.
- Other Health Issues: Melanin deposits can form as a result of using certain medications, liver diseases, dermatitis, and others.
Can You Prevent Dark Spots?
Contrary to popular belief, the formation of dark spots as we age is not as inevitable of a process as we once thought. What we commonly refer to as “age spots” or “liver spots,” may actually be the result of years of sun damage or poor health as opposed to the natural aging process. Here are some great skin care habits to build if you want to do your best to keep dark spots at bay:
- Wear a Non-Toxic Sunscreen Daily: By and far the largest cause of dark spots and hyperpigmentation is the sun. Wearing a natural mineral sunscreen (zinc oxide or titanium dioxide) will deflect the sun’s UV rays away from your skin and protect it from further damage. Remember, UV rays can penetrate windows so be sure to wear sunscreen when in exposed indoor areas.
- Don’t Pick or Pop! Sometimes, we can be the biggest source of our own problems. In the case of pimple poppers, you may be the source of your own dark spots! Picking pimples and blackheads can cause scarring and bruises which leave behind dark spots. If you can fight the temptation, it’s best to leave your blemishes alone.
- Don’t Over Exfoliate: “Too much of a good thing” is real. Excessive exfoliation with scrubs and chemical peels can easily cause skin damage ranging from mild redness to dark spots. Try using a gentle natural exfoliator 2-3 times per week at the max (once per week or less for more powerful exfoliation methods).
What is the Best Way to Remove Dark Spots & Brighten Skin Naturally?
A little too late for preventative tips? As mentioned above, sun damage is cumulative and often goes unnoticed until “age spots” begin appearing on areas typically unprotected from UV rays. That’s good news and bad news. The bad news is, you may already have accumulated some sun damage. The good news is that there are natural treatments to fade your existing dark spots and treat sun damage. You don’t have to use harsh chemical peels, bleaches, and other instantaneous skin lighteners to achieve a glowing, even complexion. With a little time (roughly 2-6 weeks) and a consistent routine you will start to notice the brightening effects of simple natural treatments.
At the end of this article, you’ll find our recommendations for the best organic and all natural dark spot removers and skin brightening serums that you can mix into your skin care routine.
Not all natural brighteners are created equal. Just because a chemical peel is made from natural AHA fruit acids, doesn’t mean that it’s not incredibly potent! On the flip side, there are also a ton of natural ingredients are ineffective at best and potentially dangerous at worst (hello, pure lemon juice?) When shopping for a natural skin brightener, be sure to look for these stand out ingredients:
- Hydroxy Acids: Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA) and Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHA) are gentle exfoliants which help to remove dead skin on the surface of the skin and penetrate below the skin’s surface to reverse the effects of photoaging (2). These acids are commonly derived from fruit such as papaya, pineapples, apples, and grapes.
- Niacinamide (Vitamin B3): A 2002 study found that niacinamide, when applied at 2-5% concentrations within moisturizers, effectively reduced hyperpigmentation by 35-68% (6).
- Aloe Vera: Tyrosinase which is the catalyst behind the production of melanin has been shown to be inhibited by Aloesin, a compound in Aloe vera (3).
- Vitamin C: A particularly effective antioxidant for controlling hyperpigmentation while protecting against sun damage (4). Vitamin C has also been shown to inhibit Tyrosinase and prevent the production of melanin.
- Gentle Physical Exfoliants: Exfoliation is a great way to remove dead skin cells and stimulate new cell production. This process slowly cycles through the old skin cells until the melanin deposits have been removed. However, be sure to use gentle physical exfoliants to avoid damaging your skin. Great ones to look for are almond powders, clays, jojoba wax beads, and oatmeal.
- Omega Fatty Acids: According to an article published in the Archives of Dermatological Research, a decline in hyperpigmentation was observed after a 3 week period of topical application of Omega 6 and Omega 3 fatty acids.
- Other Natural Brighteners: Other natural brightening ingredients include almond oil, tomato, cucumber juice, willow bark, lactic acid, citrus oils, and yogurt.
Which Dark Spot Removers Should Be Avoided?
You don’t have to search long on the internet before discovering that “10 items in your kitchen” can dramatically lighten your skin overnight. Unfortunately, many of these beauty tips can easily damage your skin. Even commonly recommended over the counter lighteners (such as hydroquinone) have negative potential side effects worth serious consideration. Here are some skin lighteners that you may want to avoid:
- Pure Lemon Juice: Even though the citric acid found in lemon juice is very effective at reducing dark spots over time (and you should look for dark spot treatments with citric acid), it’s not a great DIY tip to try yourself. If done improperly you could risk causing acid burns and serious sun hypersensitivity/ sun damage.
- Undiluted Apple Cider Vinegar: Just like pure lemon juice, applying pure apple cider vinegar directly to your skin can actually burn your skin.
- Hydroquinone: Another potent ingredient that has some serious downsides. Hydroquinone is a highly effective whitening agent. However, the substance causes cell death and has been banned in certain countries due to concerns (7).
- Harsh Chemical Peels: Professional level and highly concentrated chemical peels can cause serious skin damage if used improperly. The speedy promise of deep peels often comes with a side of raw skin, painful spots, sun sensitivity, and flaking skin.
- Hydrogen Peroxide: Another powerful lightening agent which may cause permanent scarring and burns.
- Kojic Acid: Again, effective, but usage commonly leads to contact dermatitis, redness, irritation, rash, swelling, and itching.
How to Find a Natural Dark Spot Remover & Brightener?
We thought you’d never ask! With a little consistency, patience, and the right products you can significantly brighten your skin and fade dark spots. Give any natural brightening routine you adopt at least 30 days to begin to noticeably work its magic (you may want to snap a before and after photo for comparison).
Finding an organic dark spot remover that is free from synthetics, mineral oils, parabens, and harsh chemical whitening agents is the best long-term approach to brightening skin naturally. As always, our team researched and tested over 100 natural dark spot removers and skin brighteners from the best organic brands. We scrutinized every ingredient, tested products on women with dark spots and dull skin, and even analyzed customer reviews from across the web for each product. In the end, only the very best were selected for this list. We hope that you find something to brighten your day!
Q: Does lemon really work for dark spots?
A: Yes, due to the natural acidity and skin brightening Vitamin C content of lemon juice, it is technically effective at reducing hyperpigmentation (4). However, lemon juice can cause irritation, burning, and even scarring if used directly on the skin in high concentrations. Lemon juice should be used carefully and at low concentrations to avoid potential skin irritation.
Q: What is the best home remedy to get rid of dark spots?
A: Aloe vera, vitamin C, honey, AHA & BHA gentle peels, omega fatty acid oils have all been proven as great natural remedies for getting rid of dark spots over time (2, 3, 4). To prevent potential skin irritation from home remedies, we find it best to use a professionally formulated natural dark spot treatment.
Q: How long does it take for dark spots to fade?
A: The time it takes for your dark spots to fade depends on a number of factors, including the severity of the hyperpigmentation and the underlying cause. If using chemical-based dark spot treatments, the time to fade is typically much faster than when using natural dark spot remedies. Some people have reported results in as little as 1 week with chemical treatments like hydroquinone and hydrogen peroxide. Keep in mind however that chemical-based treatments are extremely harsh and potentially damaging to both your skin and health. Natural treatments can be just as effective, but require a bit of patience, with results being seen in as little as a few weeks.
1. (2013) Effect of the sun on visible clinical signs of aging in Caucasian skin https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3790843/
2. (2012) Hydroxy Acids, the Most Widely Used Anti-aging Agents https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3941867/
3. (2013) Skin Ageing: Natural Weapons and Strategies https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3569896/
4. (2017) Topical Vitamin C and the Skin: Mechanisms of Action and Clinical Applications https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5605218/
5. (2009) The Protective Role of Melanin Against UV Damage in Human Skin https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2671032/
6. (2002) The Effect of Niacinamide on Reducing Cutaneous Pigmentation https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12100180
7. (2004) Toxicological Aspects and Health Risks Associated With Hydroquinone in Skin Bleaching Formula https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15129564