The Best Skincare Regimen To Remove Sun Spots

by Gio
best skincare routine for sun and dark spots

“Come out and play under my warm rays,” the sun invites us.

It’s a promise full of light, warmth and carefree fun. How can you resist?

What that sneaky sun never tells you is the price you have to pay for it: premature wrinkles and sun spots. They appear one day completely out of the blue. You’re caught off-guard but you know who to blame.

Pointing the finger now is useless. Save your energies to get rid of them. It’s not easy but it can be done – if you know how. Here’s the best skincare routine to fade dark spots away:

dr dennis gross c collagen brighten and firm vitamin c serum

Morning Skincare Routine

Step 1: Cleanser

Let’s start with the basics: if you want your dark spots treatments to fade away the damn things, you need to help them penetrate deeply into your skin.

The easiest way to do it? Cleansing. Remove all that dirt and grime that’s sitting on your face and those actives won’t find anything blocking their path.

It doesn’t matter much what cleanser you choose. As long as it cleanses everything and doesn’t leave your skin feeling tight afterwards, you’re good.

Best picks:

Related: How To Choose The Best Cleanser For Your Skin Type

Step 2: CEF Serum

That’s Vitamin C. Vitamin E. Ferulic Acid.

One of the most powerful antiaging combos you can use on your skin. This trio:

Yep, CEF helps fade away the dark spots you already have AND prevent new ones for forming.

Best picks:

Related: Why You Should Add Vitamin C To Your Skincare Routine

Step 3: Hydroquinone Cream

Love it or hate it, hydroquinone is still the best treatment for sun spots. It works in two ways:

  • it inhibits the activity of tyrosinase (the enzyme that controls the synthesis of melanin)
  • it increases the cytotoxicity of melanocytes (cells that produce melanin)

It’s true it’s pretty harsh but then all the most powerful antiaging actives are (retinol, anyone?).

It’s also true it can cause ochronosis (a bluish black discolouration), especially in people with dark skin. But it’s rare.

Instead, it DOESN’T cause cancer. That’s just a rumour science has debunked a long time ago.

For best results, use it in 4 months cycles. That means 4 months on hydroquinone, 4 months on another skin-lightener, then back to hydroquinone again.

If you’re really not comfortable with the idea of using hydroquinone, you can use another skin-lightener all year round. Just be aware they may work more slowly.

Best picks:

Related: 10 Ingredients That Fade Away Dark Spots

Step 4: Sunscreen

Here’s the truth: you can do everything else I tell you to do in this post but if you don’t wear sunscreen religiously every single day, nothing’s gonna work.

CEF, hydroquinone and whatever else you throw at your dark spots may fade them a little but all that unprotected sun exposure will bring them back with a vengeance.

By the way, it’s not enough to apply a thin layer in then morning. You need to apply a whole glass shot for your face and neck every few hours.

A pain, I know. But you’re sabotaging all your efforts if you don’t.

Best picks:

  • Drunk Elephant Umbra Tinte Physical Daily Defense Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF 30 ($36.00):available at Sephora
  • EltaMD UV Pure BroadSpectrum SPF 47 ($24.50): available at Dermstore and Walmart
  • Shiseido Ultimate Sun Protection SPF 50 Sunscreen + WetForce For Sensitive Skin & Children ($42.00): available at  Nordstrom and Ulta
peter thomas roth retinol infusion pm night serum 01

Night Skincare routine

Step 1: Cleanse skin

We’ve already covered this, so I won’t bore you again. I’ll just tell you that you can safely use your morning cleanser at night too, unless it’s not powerful enough to remove every last trace of makeup. You want those skin-lightening products to penetrate deep into the skin, so cleanse it well!

Step 2A: Glycolic acid

This is where your skincare routine gets a bit tricky. To get the best results, you’ll have to throw more than one active at those dark spots. But all those actives are harsh. You can’t use them all at the same time.

One trick is to use some of them in the morning and others at night. Another its to use them on alternate nights. That’s what I suggest you do here.

One some nights, use glycolic acid. It’s a powerful exfoliator with a very small molecular structure that allows it to easily penetrate skin and do its magic.

You see, those dead cells on the surface of your skin are the darkest, most sundamaged. Remove that layer and you’ll uncover the one underneath, which is brighter and more even-toned. This takes time but, after a few months of this cycle, your dark spots will start to fade.

Bonus points: glycolic acid also hydrates skin and boosts collagen.

Best picks:

Related: The Complete Guide To Glycolic Acid

Step 2B: Retinol Serum

On the nights you’re not using glycolic acid, opt for retinol. This antiaging superstar speeds up cellular turnover, i.e. they skin’s exfoliating process. That alone makes your dark spots less visible overtime.

Bonus points: retinol also boosts collagen production and destroys the free radicals that cause wrinkles. It’s an all round antiaging powerhouse.

Just don’t go overboard! Retinol is harsh so a bit of irritation at the beginning is normal. Start with a small concentration and increase the dose gradually.

Best picks:

Related: The Complete Guide To Retinol

Step 3: Moisturizer

It’s time for the last step: moisturizer. Pick one with plenty of antioxidants to help keep wrinkles at bay for longer. But make sure it’s packaged in an air-tight, opaque tube, or they won’t be effective for long!

Best picks:

The Bottom Line

With the right skincare routine and products, you can get rid of dark spots and achieve the brighter, smoother skin you deserve!

How do you fade your sun spots? Share your routine and tips in the comments below.



MonicaP September 7, 2015 - 6:45 pm

I’m sure this all work work for me if I didn’t live in Southern California .. I love the sun <3

I do wear sunscreen every day though 🙂


Gio September 7, 2015 - 7:45 pm

Monica, it’s a never-ending battle, is it?

chinitapr March 29, 2018 - 7:51 pm

Question, Gio… Can you use retinol or hyrdroquinone with the glycolic acid toner?

Gio March 31, 2018 - 11:02 am

Chinitapr, I recommend you use them separately because these are all harsh ingredients. Using them together may dry up or irritate your skin. Having said that, some skin types can use them together without problems. So it really depends on what your skin can take.

Grace July 4, 2018 - 6:49 pm

Hi Gio, I’ve got several dark sun spots and very sensitive skin. I’ve been following this routine for several months, now, substituting azelaic acid for the hydroquinone because of my skin sensitivity. I haven’t seen any improvements yet. Do you have any advice? Thanks! Grace

Gio July 5, 2018 - 7:24 pm

Grace, try using alpha arbutin instead than azelaic acid. If that doesn’t work, you should consider seeing a dermatologist as OTC options may not be enough for you.

Fela August 22, 2018 - 9:35 am


Kindly recommend some products for getting rid of acne scars for oily skin.


Gio September 7, 2018 - 1:23 pm

Fela, I’m afraid you’ll have to see a dermatologist for that. Unless the scars are really new, OTC skincare products can’t do much for them.

Vik October 11, 2018 - 6:11 am

It looks like the Super Rescue Antioxidant Night cream is discontinued. Do you think Cerave PM might be a good alternative for the night regime?

Gio October 12, 2018 - 5:27 pm

Vik, in terms of moisturization, yes. But CeraVe doesn’t have as many antioxidants. If you’re already using an antioxidant serum at night, it won’t matter much as you’re getting your fix anyway. Otherwise, look into Paula’s Choice moisturizers.

Laura November 19, 2018 - 4:55 pm

Hi Gio! I was wondering if there is a cheaper alternative for the vitamin C products that you recommend to treat hyperpigmentation. Would you recommend any vitamin C from The Ordinary (such as Ascorbic Glucosyde Solution 12%)? I am already following the PM routine that you mention and TO Niacinamide + Zinc to treat occasional pimples and whiteheads (which works great).

Thanks for your help:)

Gio November 23, 2018 - 1:04 pm

Laura, the problem with The Ordinary vitamin C serums is that they don’t have vitamin E and ferulic acid too. Ascorbyl Glucoside Solution can help you with hyperpigmentation but you’d miss out on some of the antiaging benefits. Another cheaper alternative that has all 3 antioxidants is Skin Actives Vitamin C Serum.

Mehak March 24, 2019 - 8:59 pm

Could you give more options for products with Hydroquinone available?

Gio March 29, 2019 - 1:43 pm

Mehak, where are you based? Unfortunately, there aren’t that many products with hydroquinone. In some countries, like EU countries, it’s available by prescription only.

Martha Ruiz June 20, 2019 - 1:55 pm

Hi Gio, I am battling dark spots, most of my dark spots are around the upper lip ( SO FRUSTRATING). Right now I am trying a Brightening Kit from Kare MD. Right now I am only 2 weeks into it, but my face burns non stop everyday and is peeling. Is this normal? Or what should I do different? These are the Key Ingredients.
Melaclenz: Panthenol (Pro-Vitamin B5), Chamomilla Flower Extract, Aloe Leaf Extract, Hamamelis Flower Extract, Cucumis (Cucumber) Fruit Extract, Glycyrrhiza Glabra (Licorice) Root Extract
Melapads: Salicylic, Glycolic and Kojic Acid
Melarase AM: Mulberry Extract, Bearberry Extract, Glycyrrhiza Glabra (Licorice) Root Extract, Vitamin A
Melarase PM: Bearberry Extract, Glycyrrhiza Glabra (Licorice) Root Extract, Vitamin C, Hydroquinone, Ammonium Lactate
Replenish: Retinol, Retinyl Palmitate, and Retinyl Acetate, Arnica Montana Flower Extract, Horse Chestnut Leaf Extract
ReplenishCx: Retinol, Retinyl Palmitate, and Retinyl Acetate, Arnica Montana Flower Extract, Horse Chestnut Leaf Extract
RR Complex: Retinol, Retinyl Palmitate, and Retinyl Acetate, Arnica Montana Flower Extract, Horse Chestnut Leaf Extract
Elevase: Opti-ceramide, Hyaluronate, Aloe Leaf Extract, Calendula Flower Extract, Chamomile Flower Extract
Spectrase: Avobenzone 2.0%, Oxybenzone 4.0%, Octisalate 5.0%, Octinoxate 7.5%, Retinyl Palmitate (Vitamin A)

Gio July 6, 2019 - 3:00 pm

Martha, stop using it!! If it burns and peels, it’s way too strong for you.

Monica July 1, 2019 - 10:32 pm

So excited to find your blog! Thank you for all your recommendations! So I was gifted the Obagi Nu Derm starter kit with hydroquinon. I know exciting right! well I was until I started reading all the horror stories about it! Plus it has so many parabens. Anyway I loved your comments and think I am going to go ahead and use it at least for 1 cycle!

Lisa December 10, 2019 - 2:38 pm

Hello, for anyone looking for a good alternative to the expensive Skinceutical vitamin C serum, I recommend the vitamin C serum from Timeless Skin Care.

Glory February 27, 2020 - 1:02 pm

Hi gio. I’m addicted to your site, is my favorite read, but as normal I’m a little CoNfused. I have dry skin and am on my 40’s. Don’t have many wrinkles but a little bit of sagging skin and pigmentation. I want to follow a mix between your dry and aging skin routine and the dry and pigmentation. But am unsure on how to add in niacinamide, retinol and a peel. Also, would like to arrange some monthly peels but I’m not sure if I should. This is what I’m doing (and plan to do)
Cleanser: soft cleanser like cerave hydrating cleanser
Toning mist (I love the dermalogica anti age one)
Vitamin c: paulas choice c15 booster (I’m planning on buying the elephant drunk c firma, but need to see what to do about oxidation cause I already owned one and had to throw it away)
*paulas choice triple sport eraser lotion (this one planing to buy)
Moisturizer : I’m using the natural factors from the ordinary and loving it. But I can use another recommendation. Also love the peptides one from elephant drunk.
Oil: I’m using a Squalane oil right now
Sunscreen: I use isis fusion water and super goop mineral sunscreen. I like both but I love that the isis one is lighter and works better under make up
After that I put a tinted Moisturizer or a light base as make up plus bronzer

Cleanse: oil and cleanser
Rotate between the framboois serum from elephant walk (glycolic)
And retinol (here I don’t know what to use. I have a 0.25 retinol cream the Dr recommend a year ago but I feel it does nothing for me.) wondering if I could use the antioxidant serum with retinol from pc that you recommend for dry skin.
I would like to add the 20% niacinamide from pc. But not sure in which order.
Moisturizer and oil

Can you guide me here. And let me know if I’m missing something

I also have this others things I’ve bought but don’t know how to add them on my routine:
The buffet from to
Granactive retinol from to
I have a clinical glycolic lotion from Peter Thomas Roth (it’s a 2 step process with 2 different solutions) but don’t know when would I use it.


Gio March 6, 2020 - 11:56 am

Glory, I’d be happy to help you create the best skincare routine for your needs. You can book your consultation here:

Gladys April 10, 2020 - 10:13 am

Hi Gio! I recently discovered your website and I love it. You are amazing. I wanted to get clarification on the night time routine. Do I alternate glycolic acid one night then next night the retinol?

Gio May 15, 2020 - 9:06 am

Gladys, yes that’s correct. Keep in mind that if you’re new to these ingredients, it’s best to use them a couple of nights a week and build up frequency overtime to avoid irritations.

Maria Cordero May 5, 2020 - 3:48 pm

Hi Gio,

I am so excited I bumped into your website because am VERY CONFUSED! HELP!

I turn 50 this year and decided to start a skincare care routine to improve texture, hyperpigmentation, wrinkles, and overall better NAKED skin health.

I started looking for products that could help me achieve these goals and I found The Ordinary products, and I bought a bunch of them, but now I don’t know when to use them. I would appreciate it if you could give me some guidance. This is what I got:

Apologize in advance is a lot…

Resveratrol 3% + Ferulic Acid 3%

Squalane Cleanser (switching to CeraVe Moisturizing Cleanser)

Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution (Using Thayer Witch Hazel)
AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution
Lactic Acid 10% + HA

Natural Moisturizing Factors + HA
Amino Acids + B5
Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5
100% Plant-Derived Hemi-Squalane
Jojoba Oil ( I am using it to moisturized)

Alpha Arbutin 2% + HA
Caffeine Solution 5% + EGCG
Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%

Argireline Solution 10%
Matrixyl 10% + HA

Retinol 0.5% in Squalane

Vitamin C
Ascorbic Acid 8% + Alpha Arbutin 2%

Honest Tinted Moisturizer SPF 30

I know is a lot, but I need a strong AM, PM foundation to use in the next few weeks or month and maybe interchange later to spot treat specific issues.

Gio May 17, 2020 - 10:45 am

Maria, I’d love to help you create the best skincare routine for your needs. You can book your consultation here:

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