blank'/> A LITTLE BIT OF LACQUER: How to Get Rid of Dark Spots

March 13, 2015

How to Get Rid of Dark Spots

Ever since letting you all in on the fact that I'm going into dermatology, the number one question I have gotten by far is how to get rid of dark spots! Anyone with a little pigment to their skin knows exactly what I'm talking about - the dark spots left over from healed pimples, bug bites, or even scratches. And those who are more pigment challenged I'm sure are also familiar with this, more likely in the form of redness. These spots are annoying to have and annoying to treat, but there are definitely things you can do to get rid of them! So let's get to it!

Control. These spots are known medically as post-inflammatory hyperpigmention (different from melasma which is another disorder I won't address much in this post). In clinic we see lots of patients who want to get rid of their dark spots, but still have very active acne, which will only lead to more spots! The number one priority for these spots should be to get whatever is causing them under control. Here's a list of a few common causes and treatments:
- Acne: This is probably the biggest offender, especially in teenagers and young adults. Try over the counter treatments like face wash with salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide (or glycolic acid, which I'll talk about more in a bit), and a spot treatment containing either of those ingredients as well. For more stubborn acne see a dermatologist who can prescribe you something like a retinoid, oral contraceptive pills (most helpful for hormonal acne), or even antibiotics (something I used for my skin while wedding planning and cleared me right up)!

- Eczema/dryness: This is another big offender. Try keeping moisturized with Aquaphor (see this post for more on dry skin). Many people need more than just moisturization, though, and for this a mild steroid cream can be a huge help! Most people don't find hydrocortisone (what you can buy at the drugstore) helpful enough, so see your PCP or dermatologist to get something a little more potent!

- Itching: This frequently is due to dryness, but the scratching itself also leads to inflammation that can cause darkening of the skin. Figure out the source, whether it's dryness, allergies, or some other type of sensitivity, and try your best to keep from scratching!

- Bug bites: I feel like all summer my legs are riddled with dark spots from previous bug bites - try your best to wear insect repellant when outdoors!

Exfoliate. Now that you've addressed the root of the problem, we still have spots to deal with! So the first step will be to exfoliate to increase cell turnover and get to newer skin more quickly! I'm not a huge fan of mechanical exfoliation (using scrubs or rough poufs, etc.), as this can sometimes lead to more inflammation. I prefer chemical exfoliation, and think using it in a face wash is one of the easiest ways to do it! Washes with glycolic acid are some of my favorite; retinols and salicylic acid can also do the trick. Most chemical peels use glycolic acid (at much higher concentrations than what you'd find in a face wash), and many people find these effective as well.

Treat. These spots are due to increased melanin (the stuff that gives our skin its color), so treatment should target this! Hydroquinone is the classic ingredient here, since it blocks the enzyme that makes melanin. You can find it in low concentrations over the counter and higher concentrations by prescription. Pairing this with an exfoliator like a retinoid makes it most effective! It's usually best to use treatment creams at night, although some people (with less sensitive skin) can get away with twice a day treatment in the AM and PM. I would definitely start with only once a day and see how your skin reacts.

Prevent. Melanin's role is to protect us from the sun, and our bodies are smart - when we're exposed to sun, the body makes more melanin to protect us. This is nice if you want a little tan, but if you have any dark spots (or acne), the sun will only make these spots darker and take much longer to fade. Sunscreen is your BEST FRIEND! You really should wear a face cream with at least SPF 30 every single day, even if it's cloudy or even if you think you'll be inside all day. No exceptions.

Hide. Even with the strongest prescription creams and chemical peels, these spots still just take time to fade. All of the things mentioned will certainly help them fade faster, but none of them work magic. Some people like to hide their spots as they continue treating them, and that's absolutely fine, but the key is to use a product that won't make the spots worse - anything not labeled as non-comedogenic can potentially make things worse by causing more breakouts! This is the cycle I find lots of women stuck in - they can't get the spots to go away so they cover them with tons of foundation, but then breakout because they're clogging their pores and get more inflammation that leads to more dark spots! I must say that I really think the most effective regimen for clearing up sots leaves out any makeup, but I know that's hard for many people! One of my favorite light foundations is this one by Neutrogena that is made specifically for acne-prone skin and even has salicylic acid (the concealer is an even better option since you can just spot hide instead of covering your whole face).

So with all of these steps in mind, the perfect combination for treating those dark spots would look something like this:
Morning //
1. Face wash with glycolic acid
2. AM face cream with SPF 30
3. (optional) non-comedogenic foundation or concealer

Evening //
1. Face wash with glycolic acid
2. Hydroquinone spot treatment and retinol cream

1 // 2 // 3 // 4 // 5 }

As with any other skin product, make sure sure to read the labels for instructions on how to use, and make sure to start slow and work your way up. If you have particularly sensitive skin make sure to introduce one new product at a time (as opposed to starting them all at the same time) so that if anything causes a reaction you can identify it!

I hope you all found this post helpful and can find some direction in treating those pesky dark spots!! Have a great weekend and as always thanks for reading! 


  1. LOVED this post, Laura! My dark spots from acne are my number one complain with my skin, so I will definitely be ordering a few of these products (plus I of course love reading the reasons behind it, although I have to tell you, we are doing derm right now and it's not my favorite haha). Next post request: best anti-aging creams for us 20 somethings. I just don't know where to start!!

    Can't wait to hear how everything goes next week for you two!!!!

    1. Acne or Pimple is a BIG Problem that crosses the borders of age, gender, race and social status. Benzac AC is a topical water-based gel wiyh its active ingredient benzoyl peroxide perfect for the treatment of acne. Benzac AC aparts from its acne-treatment counterparts is that it does not contain alcohol and it is fragrance free. Read more at:

  2. Very informative -- I seem to have a lot of problems in my chin area. It has always been my only problem area but I've noticed lately that the outbreaks are more frequent. I don't exfoliate often and I have sensitive skin, so I'll take your advice into consideration.

  3. I have read that salycilic acid and benzoyl peroxide in face wash was not very effective because it was the wrong pH. Also it seems silly to rinse it off. Can you explain why you don't recommend these products in a lotion or gel since it seems it would be more effective. Also the term non-comedogenic is not a regulated term so any makeup can use it.

    1. SA and BP in face washes are both very effective, most are made at the right pH (although things like pads in jars or any other formulation that frequently gets exposed to oxygen definitely alters pH). And although it seems silly to rinse off, just that amount of contact definitely is enough for most people (just ask anyone who has experienced dryness from a SA wash and can only use every other day). But I never said I don't recommend them in a lotion or gel, just that wash is the easiest. Especially because I feel that using a cream or gel with a retinoid is more effective than using a cream with SA or BP. And yes non-comedogenic is unregulated, as is pretty much every term in skin care products, but it's better than nothing, since there are plenty of makeups that still aren't noncomedogenic (and don't advertise themselves as such) - these are an easy product to say no to.

  4. Been wanting to try that foundation ever since it came out, but they don't have shades for darker skin tones. Any other suggestions in the drugstore aisle?

  5. these are great tips, laura!
    i have very sensitive skin and find that SA and BP and the like burn my face.
    saddest of times.
    i've recently been using ceptaphil (with or without my clarisonic) and organic honey and have found my dark marks disappearing.
    i am also drinking a lot more water, so maybe that's it.
    i do want to try that cerave face wash but the price (the priceeeeee, lol).


  6. Yes, Laura this is very helpful! I've been struggling with dark spots for far too long and not knowing what to do.
    Thanks for posting! (don't know if my first comment went through lol)

  7. I am fighting with the dark spot on my face around 1 year. I have do home remedies to get rid of dark spot. But there is no effect. Please give me some suggestion.
    best face cream for dark spots

  8. Retinoids are a powerful form of vitamin A proven to speed up cell turnover - which you need to get rid of dark spots. It helps your complexion looks smoother and diminishes the appearance of fine lines. The most potent form I use is in the Lady Soma Renewal Serum - I buy it online. Anything stronger, you will need a prescription from your dermotologist - but anything stronger will make your skin flake. The Lady Soma Renewal Serum does not make my skin flake, and in about 3- weeks, I have way less dark spots.

  9. Dermalmd Anti Aging Serum seems to have helped three dark spots on my face lighten up a little. I like the idea that it has Peptides in it. I know they are suppose to be great for your skin.

  10. Find the best skin care and facial spa products for your skin type from Advanced Spa in New York. Our products offer solutions for every skin issue.

  11. Despite of this fact that pimple is a curable condition this is very uncomfortable problem. This is a very common condition but when I face this situation then the first question that strike in mind is how to get rid of acne . Then one of my friends suggested me to use natural treatment. After using that treatment for 3 weeks, now my skin is far better than before.

  12. I have been facing the problem of dark spots and pimple for a long time because of my oily skin. As my skin is very sensitive so I started using Ayurvedic creams for pimple and acne. And had worked wonders for me

  13. Great job for publishing such a beneficial web site. Your web log isn’t only useful but it is additionally really creative too. There tend to be not many people who can certainly write not so simple posts that artistically. Continue the nice writing
    facial serum

  14. Many skin care product manufacturers, over the years, have come up with pigmentation creams for face. These creams for dark spots on face have natural ingredients that help restore the former shine of the skin. Many people believe dark spot is not preventable. The truth, however, is completely opposite to this believe. Use Melblok products that reduces excess pigmentation at the root and makes skin naturally bright and even-toned.

  15. I have been using age spot remover for about 10 days and my age spots are already fading. Very excited to see what happens in a few more weeks.

  16. Yes, Laura this is very helpful! I've been struggling with dark spots for far too long and not knowing what to do.


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