“Come out and play under my warm rays,” the sun invites you.
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:
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.
- Corsx Low PH Good Morning Gel Cleanser ($11.00): available at Sokoglam and YesStyle
- Neutrogena Fresh Foaming Cleanser ($6.49): available at Ulta
- Paula’s Choice Skin Recovery Softening Cream Cleanser ($17.00): available at Dermstore and Paula’s Choice
Related: How To Choose The Best Cleanser For Your Skin Type
Don’t know which skincare products you can mix and match together and which ones deactivate each other? Download your FREE “How To Layer Actives Like A Pro” cheat sheet to get the most out of your skincare products:
Step 2: CEF Serum
CEF stands for Vitamin C + Vitamin E + Ferulic Acid.
One of the most powerful antiaging combos you can use on your skin. This trio:
- Fights the free radicals that cause premature wrinkles
- Boosts collagen production
- Protects skin from sun damage
- Reduces dark and sun spots.
Yep, CEF helps fade away the dark spots you already have AND prevent new ones for forming.
- Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum ($80.00/£67.00): available at Cult Beauty, Sephora and SpaceNK
- Paula’s Choice C15 Booster ($49.00): available at Feel Unique, Nordstrom and Paula’s Choice
- Skinceuticals CE Ferulic ($166.00): available at Blue Mercury and Dermstore
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.
- Alpha Skin Care Dual Action Skin Lightener ($10.99): available at Ulta
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.
- Drunk Elephant Umbra Tinte Physical Daily Defense Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF 30 ($36.00):available at Cult Beauty, Sephora, and SpaceNK
- 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
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.
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.
- Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum ($90.00): available at Cult Beauty, Sephora and SpaceNK
- Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Lotion ($29.00): available at Dermstore and Paula’s Choice
- The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution (£6.80): available at Beauty Bay, Cult Beauty and Feel Unique
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.
- Dr Dennis Gross Ferulic Acid + Retinol Brightening Solution ($88.00): available at Dermstore, Nordstrom, Sephora and SpaceNK
- Paula’s Choice Resist 1% Retinol Booster ($52.00): available at Feel Unique and Paula’s Choice
- Peter Thomas Roth Retinol Fusion PM ($65.00): available at Beauty Bay, Cult Beauty and Sephora
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!
- Boscia Green Tea Oil-Free Moisturizer ($38.00): available at Dermstore and Ulta
- First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Face Moisturiser ($28.00): available at Dermstore, Feel Unique, Sephora, and Ulta
- Paula’s Choice Defense Nightly Reconditioning Moisturizer ($29.00): available at Dermstore, Nordstrom, and Paula’s Choice
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.
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 🙂
Monica, it’s a never-ending battle, is it?
Question, Gio… Can you use retinol or hyrdroquinone with the glycolic acid toner?
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.
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
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.
Kindly recommend some products for getting rid of acne scars for oily skin.
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.
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?
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.
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:)
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.
Could you give more options for products with Hydroquinone available?
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.
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)
Martha, stop using it!! If it burns and peels, it’s way too strong for you.
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!
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.
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.
Glory, I’d be happy to help you create the best skincare routine for your needs. You can book your consultation here: https://www.beautifulwithbrains.com/skincare-consultation/
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?
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.
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
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.
Maria, I’d love to help you create the best skincare routine for your needs. You can book your consultation here: https://www.beautifulwithbrains.com/skincare-consultation/