As we grow older, quite a few physical changes begin to manifest in and on our bodies. One of those potential changes is the presence of dark spots on our face. A dark spot, medically known as , is a common skin condition that makes some areas of the face appear darker than others. Often, such skin discoloration can cause insecurity, lack of self-confidence, and even self-esteem. No need to worry!
In this article, we’re going to give you a complete breakdown of hyperpigmentation, including its causes and various potential treatments. Then, we’ll dive into a comparison of the six most effective skin lightening creams available on the market today. We’ll look at their key features, scientific backing, and reviews to formulate a holistic rating. Let’s get started!
Hyperpigmentation: The Causes of Dark Spots
Before we begin to explore the many treatment options available for dark spots, let us first examine what causes hyperpigmentation in the first place. Generally speaking, hyperpigmentation is caused when the skin begins to produce more melanin than usual in certain areas. Melanin is the substance in our bodies that gives our skin, hair, and eyes their pigmentation. However, while this is the reason for hyperpigmentation, it is still unclear what causes this upsurge in melanin production. Let’s get into that now.
The first cause we’ll discuss is sun damage. This variation of hyperpigmentation is often referred to as sun spots, solar lentigines, or even liver spots and is characterized by an uneven skin tone. It occurs when certain parts of your body experience sun exposure for too long; this results in too much “exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun,” says Healthline. Ultimately, UV radiation causes pigmented cells called melanocytes in the skin to multiply, manifesting a dark spot. According to this study, the basic function of melanocytes is to facilitate melanin production.
Certain demographics of people are more prone to developing sun spots. Here are some risk factors:
- Having fair skin
- Having a lot of sun exposure
- Frequently tanning indoors
- Phototherapy or radiation therapy
Another common cause of a dark spot is hormonal changes. This variant of hyperpigmentation is medically known as . Just like other forms of hyperpigmentation, melasma is characterized by dark, discolored patches on your skin. This condition more commonly affects women than men, although men can still get it. It is even more common in pregnant women, given the many hormonal changes that the female body experiences during pregnancy. The American Academy of Dermatology concluded that 90 percent of people who develop melasma are women.
As we understand hyperpigmentation, any individual with melasma experiences an increase in melanocyte activity and thus more active melanin. However, there are still some gaps in our knowledge of how exactly hormonal changes impact our melanocytes and, in turn, our melanin. A study by Hajira Basit et al. offers some analysis of the unique causes of melasma.
First, they note that hormonal changes in “obstetric patients” likely cause melasma and the dark spot. They state that hormones such as “estrogen, progesterone, and [other] melanocyte-stimulating hormone[s]” undergo increased production during the third trimester and are a likely cause of the increased melasma rate in pregnant women. Another major component that causes melasma is thyroid disease, substantiated by this study. Researchers observed a four-fold increase in thyroid disease in melasma patients.
There are also certain demographics of people more vulnerable to melasma. Those risk factors include:
- Women between the ages of 20 and 40
- Having a medium or dark skin tone
- Having a blood relative who also has melasma
The next cause of dark spots is medically referred to as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation or PIH. You might commonly know them as acne scars. According to WebMD, this condition occurs when your skin cells react to damage or irritation by producing extra melanin. Typically, such skin discoloration manifests as a dark spot that is tan, brown, dark brown, or even bluish-gray patches and spots on your skin. The most common triggers of PIH are acne, eczema, psoriasis, impetigo, or any other type of trauma or irritation that affects your skin. Some other reported causes of PIH include:
- Bug bites
- Razor bumps
- Allergic reactions
Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation can happen to both men and women and affects people of all ages. However, it is essential to note that it is more common in those with medium or dark skin tones.
The final major cause of hyperpigmentation lies in the use of certain medications. While these medications are not the root cause of your dark spot, they work to make the skin more sensitive to sun exposure (i.e., photosensitivity); this ultimately increases the risk for dark spots.
VeryWellHealth has compiled a comprehensive list of such medications that include:
- Estrogens, such as Vagifem, Climara, and Estrace
- Tetracyclines.) — broad-spectrum antibiotics such as Adoxa (doxycycline), Declomycin (demeclocycline), and Minocin (minocycline)
- Amiodarone treats irregular heartbeat (brand names include Cordarone and Pacerone)
- , is an anticonvulsant (brand names include Dilantin and Phenytek)
- treat mental and emotional disorders (brand names include Compro and Thorazine)
- treat infections (brand names include Bactrim and Septra)
Treatments for Dark Spots
Now that we’ve taken some time to familiarize ourselves with the potential causes of hyperpigmentation let’s quickly go through the most common methods of treating a dark spot and their underlying scientific premise. It will help us gauge the best product to eliminate dark spots.
It is perhaps the most popular ingredient in topical solutions for skin lightening on a spot-by-spot basis: hydroquinone. It essentially works by lowering melanin production wherever it is applied by “decreasing the number of melanocytes” present in your skin, writes Kristeen Cherney of Healthline.
Originally, the substance was deemed safe for use by the FDA in 1982. However, they overturned that decision in 2021; since then, it is only available as a prescription. This change was likely driven by existing research that found that hydroquinone has the potential to cause cancer. Also, note that the substance is banned entirely in South Africa, and Canada classifies it as “expected to be toxic or harmful.”
On that cautionary note, let’s explore its efficacy. One 2013 study found potential benefits of hydroquinone in subjects with facial melasma. It deemed the hydroquinone-based cream had an “overall superiority” to another common treatment option for hyperpigmentation: Kojic Acid.
Another common dark spot corrector employed to treat hyperpigmentation is the chemical exfoliator. These products use various types of gentle acids to break up dead skin cells, which make up the top layer of the skin. By removing this layer, chemical exfoliators can reveal a healthier and more evenly toned layer of skin beneath. Here are some of the chemical ingredients that these exfoliators use:
- alpha hydroxy acid (AHA)
- azelaic acid
- beta-hydroxy acid (BHA)
- glycolic acid
- lactic acid
- mandelic acid
- salicylic acid
Most of these can be bought over the counter, as their active ingredient is not inherently dangerous. You can even get them in stronger forms via your doctor or dermatologist. It’s important to note that chemical exfoliants can cause irritation and inflammation, especially if you have naturally dry skin or sensitive skin. Your skin needs time to rebuild and repair after every use.
Other over-the-counter skin care products claim to offer lightening capabilities via natural ingredients. According to David E. Bank, M.D. of the New York-Presbyterian Hospital, some typical compounds that are featured in such products are:
- vitamin C
- azelaic acid
- pomegranate extract
- beta carotene
- licorice extract
While other products claim to include vitamin E, asserting that it has powerful skin correcting effects, clinical research largely unsubstantiated this claim.
Finding the Best Skin Lightening Cream
Finally! We now have a solid understanding of the causes and treatments of hyperpigmentation. That gives us the foundation to assess various products and determine the best one thoroughly. We’ll review six of the most popular skin-lightening solutions on the market and review them individually. We’ll gauge their claims, what the science says, and public reviews and ratings. Let’s dive right in.
Admire My Skin Dark Spot Corrector
First, we have the Dark Spot Corrector made by Admire My Skin. This product features a variety of chemicals in it, such as Synovea, Kojic acid, Vitamin C, Salicylic acid, Azelaic acid, and Lactic acid. The product offers a two-year shelf life and promises effective results within four weeks of directed use. As we learned with chemical exfoliators and other solutions, many of these ingredients effectively treat dark spots. Notably, Synovea — chemically known as hexylresorcinol — is clinically proven to be four times more effective than hydroquinone. Similar levels of efficacy apply to the other ingredients, including Kojic acid, Vitamin C, Salicylic acid, Azelaic acid, and Lactic acid.
Let’s see what the people have to say. This product received a global rating of 3.8 out of 5 stars, compiled from 41,327 ratings. One pleased consumer said they were “amazed at the results” and that the solution “completely removed” their dark spots. However, another customer was very critical of this product, saying it “ruined [their] skin.”
Divine Derriere Intimate Skin Lightening Gel
Our following product comes from Divine Derriere, and it’s their Intimate Skin Lightening Gel. The main ingredients reported in this product are Kojic acid (from Japanese mushrooms), Lactic acid, naturally occurring alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA), and Mulberry and Licorice extracts. Again, we know via research that many of these compounds are effective at healing dark spots, namely Kojic acid, AHA, Lactic acid, and Licorice extracts. Another highlight of this product is that it is entirely plant-based, posing less risk of skin irritation due to chemical exposure.
What about the public consensus? This product has an overall rating of 3.7 out of 5 stars based on 8,942 global ratings. A happy buyer said, “this stuff saved me,” and they saw “major results” after just one week. Conversely, a displeased consumer said that this gel “did not work” and was a “waste of money.”
EnaSkin Dark Spot Corrector
This skin-lightening cream comes via the EnaSkin store: the Dark Spot Corrector. This product boasts comprehensive skin tone correcting technology and advanced anti-spot ingredients. These include 4-Butylresorcinol, Kojic Acid, Lactic Acid, Salicylic Acid, and Morinda Citrifolia extract. Many studies support that 4-Butylresorcinol is the most effective topical agent for mitigating hyperpigmentation, and we already know that the other ingredients are staples in the skin lightening industry. They claim it is suitable for those with oily, dry, or normal skin.
This product has our highest global rating yet: 4.3 stars out of 5 from 24,319 ratings. One pleased buyer said they “highly recommend this product” as it’s the “only thing that has worked” for them. On the other end of the spectrum, an angry customer said “nothing changed” after two months of disciplined use.
PearlBright Dark Spot Corrector
The next product we’ll look at is from PearlBright, their Dark Spot Corrector. While this cream has a variety of ingredients, many of them have not been scientifically explored as treatment options for hyperpigmentation, such as potassium sorbate, lemon essential oil, and trideceth-6. However, it also includes other ingredients that exhibit clinical efficacy in treating dark spots, such as Mulberry and Licorice extract, niacinamide, and collagen.
What about the people? The public consensus on this product is favorable, as it has a 4.6 out of 5-star rating via 8,708 global ratings. One top review states that “this worked excellently,” and they noticed a “significant change.” An unhappy buyer said that this cream “does not work” despite its dedicated use twice daily.
Pretty Private Intimate Skin Cream
This skin-lightening gel comes courtesy of the Pretty Private’s Store, called Intimate Skin Cream. The product’s packaging showcases two active ingredients, Kojic acid, and Arbutin. Kojic acid, as we know, has been used to treat hyperpigmentation for decades now, if not a whole century. Arbutin shares similar efficacy, as it is another popular ingredient in OTC skin lightening solutions. This product also includes niacinamide, which we learned is a suitable compound for mitigating dark spots. Aside from those three compounds, the rest of the ingredients used to make this cream are relatively neutral and safe, such as water, coconut oil, palm oil, and other natural ingredients.
This product has a solid 4 out of 5-star rating from 1,992 global ratings. One happy buyer said they were “very happy” that this product “actually works.” Another displeased consumer said this product “didn’t work for [them]” even after “3-5 weeks” of use.
Natural Vine Store Dark Spot Cream
The final skin lightening cream that we’ll cover is the Dark Spot Cream by the Natural Vine Store. This skin lightening solution is targeted at underarm hyperpigmentation, but Natural Vine assures us that you can use it on all parts of the body. It’s unclear how effective it would be for dark spots if used on your face, neck, or other areas. Most of the ingredients used in this cream are moisturizers or emulsifiers, meaning they either hydrate your skin or improve its absorption of other ingredients. However, one notable ingredient is hydrolyzed collagen, which is the most abundant protein in our bodies, as well as our skin in particular.
This product is rated 4.2 stars out of 5, based on 1,689 global ratings. One satisfied customer said this cream was “the only thing that helped [them],” and it only took a few “days.” On the other hand, an unhappy buyer felt this was “more of a concealing cream” that did not work to eliminate hyperpigmentation. This claim is based on the product’s label, which says that it “makes skin appear lighter,” but nothing about healing it.
That’s all we got! Hyperpigmentation, or dark spots, is caused by an upsurge in melanin production in that area. It can be caused by various things, namely sun exposure, inflammation, medications, and hormonal changes. There are several treatment options, such as topical agents that include hydroquinone, or chemical exfoliants that feature many different acids. There are even OTC options for treating dark spots!
As for the best skin lightening cream out there, that conclusion is yet to be made. Based on consumer ratings, it would be either the Pearl Bright cream or the EnaSkin cream, both of which have 4.2+ ratings from thousands of reviews. Most, if not all, of the products we looked at today, include a variety of ingredients that are clinically proven to heal dark spots to some degree. We highly urge you to do your research and consult a dermatologist before going all-in on any one treatment. Our personal favorite would have to be the EnaSkin cream, as it offers the strongest combination of ingredients that eliminate dark spots. See you next time!