How To Kick Dark Spots to the Curb

Written by Dahvi Shira

Are pesky permanent face marks keeping you from a makeup-free selfie? Freckles, sun spots and scars are just a few of the unwelcome guests that tend to stake claim on our skin, making our complexion look uneven. Hyperpigmentation (aka dark spots or discolored marks) can be caused by acne scars, excessive sun exposure or hormonal changes. Its result? More insecurity than your first day of high school.

It really makes no difference whether you have acne-prone skin, dryness or combination—every skin type is susceptible to these ugly marks. The good news is, with the right skin care and small lifestyle changes, you could be ready for your next closeup! Below is a breakdown of how to get rid of dark spots on the face. It’s different for everyone, so find out what’s best for you.

What are dark spots?

When a group of cells overproduce melanin, that’s when dark spots arise. Sounds simple enough, but “dark spots” is an umbrella term for many forms of hyperpigmentation. Some dark spots are caused during those margarita-fueled sunday fundays under the UV rays. Others are triggered by broken skin or inflammation, like a pimple, bug bite or rash. And of course there are hormonal factors to take into consideration, too.

What causes dark spots?

Dark spots on skin arise for a handful of reasons. But it’s important to get acquainted with each, because you can bid adieu to some of them easier than others.

UV Exposure

Think twice before slipping into your next bikini! Ok, ok, we don’t want to ruin your fun in the sun—but it’s important to play responsibly (and we’re not even referring to cocktail consumption here). UV exposure is a major cause for dark spots. In fact, up to 80% of premature aging is caused by UV rays. 

It takes all of three minutes to adequately apply sunscreen and throw on a trendy head covering (colorful visors are making a comeback!). If you forgo this step, the risk of dark spots runs even greater. In addition to adding some unwanted color to the face, you also risk darkening the spots already there.

In addition to stepping outside for some vitamin D, you should also rethink a favorite pastime of the early 2000s. While not as common today, if you do still slip into a tanning bed from time to time, don’t be surprised if you end up with spots on the back of your hands, face and arms. Our advice? Skip the beds and opt for a spray tan or self-tanner. Tanning bed color will fade, dark marks from UV damage will find a permanent home on your face and body.


Remember when you hit puberty in your teens, and you thought you’d heard the last of “hormones?” Well, surprise! They’re in it for the long haul, and they’re here to affect you every step of the way. Fun times!

And they continue to impact your skin. As you age, hormonal changes can cause dark spots as well—and melasma is a common form. Melasma is a skin condition that leads to larger patches of skin discoloration, as opposed to small spots. Soaking up the sun in the sand can certainly trigger melasma, but hormones (especially around pregnancy), heat and irritating skin care products can make it worse.

Irritation & Inflammation

We all know life isn’t fair—and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation is an example of something we did not sign up for. Abusing sun privileges is one thing, but dealing with the dark (literally!) aftermath of bug bites, ingrown hairs and acne is out of our control. These spots are a result of the inflammation that occurs secondary to another skin problem.

A final potential cause of dark spots is rashes. We’re talking atopic dermatitis, contact dermatitis, psoriasis, drug eruptions and cosmetic procedures. The aftermath can leave scarring, which can then lead to hyperpigmentation.

How To Kick Dark Spots to the Curb

If you’re wondering how to clear dark spots on the face, the simple answer is effective ingredients and patience. Being too aggressive or excessive can further inflame the skin and set you back to square one. 

Embrace Retinol Into Your Routine

Retinol and its other forms (retinoids) are derivatives of Vitamin A. They’re what we’d call the “popular kids” of skin care. They’re elevated, everyone wants them around, and they’re the life of the party (ok, life of your skin care routine).  These are powerful molecules that increase cell turnover and production (also known as proliferation). 

Like with anything powerful and popular, it’s easy to overdo it—but slow and steady wins the race here. Overuse of retinol can have your face peeling worse than an unprotected afternoon under the Hawaiian sun. But applied correctly and not combined with too many other active ingredients, retinol use can improve discoloration, increase collagen production, minimize the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and help unclog pores.

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Retinoids come in several forms, including retinoic acid (a prescription-level retinoid commonly known as Tretinoin or Retin-A); retinol (the most common retinoid, recommended for all skin types, a great place to get started using retinoids); and retinal (a more advanced form of retinol, recommended for acne-prone skin). Our Last Call Retinol Serum supports anti-aging, overall brightening and improvement in texture and tone, making skin appear more youthfulin your sleep. This unique formulation is gentler than most retinols, making it better suited for sensitive skin.

However, some dark spots can prove to be extra stubborn...

For hyperpigmentation you can't seem to make disappear, then brightening treatments are just your answer. Our Problem Solver Brightening Treatment, for example, is the ultimate product for helping reduce this type of persistent discoloration. Made with Tranexamic Acid, Niacinamide, and Licorice Root Extract, the unique formula works to improve dark spots and reduce UV-induced discoloration, while brightening the overall appearance of skin. Problem, solved.

Antioxidants Are Your Answer to a Brighter, More Youthful Glow

Vitamin C isn’t just a nutrient found in some of our favorite fruits. The antioxidant is a powerful skin care ingredient. Research shows that topical Vitamin C serums can help lighten dark spots caused by sun exposure and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. It also protects your skin from free radicals (the cause of oxidative stress). In other words, Vitamin C kind of gives your toasted skin a second lease on life.

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  • YSE Beauty

While there are plenty of antioxidant serums on the market, Vitamin C is a buzzy topical for a reason. It’s been studied extensively in dermatological research for stability and effectiveness—proven to be preventative and reparative when it comes to dark spots.

AHA & BHA Will Have Your Complexion Ready for Its Close-Up

Is your skin bored? You know, kind of like you after the 10th board game on family vacation? Shake things up with some acid (*ahem* for the face, that is!). Acids aren’t just there to take up space. They exist to disrupt (and in the best way possible, if used correctly). 

If we’re talking in terms of dark spots on the face, AHA (alpha-hydroxy acids) and BHA (beta-hydroxy acids) are about to make your bored, dull skin a lot more interesting. They're different products, but they function in a similar way. AHA (lactic acid, glycolic acid and mandelic acid) target dark spots by exfoliating the skin. BHA (salicylic acid) are traditionally used to treat acne but can be used to lighten dark spots, especially those from post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.

Get Instantly Glowy Gratification By Exfoliating

While you can’t just buff away dark spots like you would nail polish, you can uplift the dullness those spots leave behind. Enter: exfoliation. Physical exfoliation is the process of manually sloughing away dead skin cells via scrubs, washcloths, facial brushes, or any other tool that rubs at the skin. The key word here is gentle, as being aggressive isn’t going to make the process go any differently in your favor. We recommend using a washcloth or light peeling pads. Our YSE Beauty Your Favorite Ex Exfoliating Pads gently exfoliate to give the appearance of smoother, brighter skin—thanks to glycolic acid, which supports in retexturizing, brightening and refreshing. Other hero ingredients include grape extract for additional exfoliation, and ectoin for skin barrier repair.

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  • YSE Beauty

Act Preventatively With SPF!

You wouldn’t leave the house without pepper spray or another form of personal defense, right? So why would you leave without protecting your skin? Even if a full-blown skin care routine is the least of your priorities, you just can’t skimp on the SPF. Considering most dark spots are triggered by UV exposure, sunscreen is one of the most important things you can add to your routine. It’s also imperative even after dark spots appear. SPF will keep the situation from worsening. And once they’ve lessened, use products with UV blocking ingredients, otherwise, the spots can come back more easily.

How To Get Rid Of Dark Spots

When considering how to remove “dark spots” on the face, we’ve learned that said term is more nuanced than we think. Not only do forms of hyperpigmentation have different names (“dark spots,” “sun spots,” liver spots”), they can be caused by a variety of factors: acne, sun exposure, rashes, hormones and general skin inflammation. 

Luckily, we think we’ve cracked the code to fading these spots—and all of which can be done from home at any budget. Whether you’re suffering from severe hyperpigmentation, or your skin needs a glowy refresh, check out our top dark-spot-correcting products for bright, dewy skin.