Treating Dark Spots Naturally At Home — Without Damaging The Skin In The Process
Dark spots, age spots, sun spots, whatever you want to call them, they can be tricky to treat.
In some cases, they will require professional intervention (a dermatologist may recommend IPL laser, LED therapy, or a professional-grade chemical peel). But there are many treatments you can do at home that will fade their appearance—albeit more gradually but also in the comfort of your own home.
When addressing age spots at home, it's really important that you don't go overboard. People think that if they just treat the issue aggressively, it will fade faster—but in many cases this just increases inflammation, further damaging the skin and potentially worsening the marks.
Here, what to do instead:
Gentle, well-tolerated exfoliation.
Exfoliation is a useful tool for addressing many signs of aging skin, including fine lines, dullness, and yes, age spots. However, exfoliation is all about balance. "You want to exfoliate just enough to increase cell turnover and reveal fresh new skin, but be sure to not scratch or damage your skin by overusing these devices or products," says Ife Rodney, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Eternal Dermatology, about exfoliation frequency.
So you really need to find exfoliators to suit your skin type. Those with sensitive and dry skin will benefit from gentle options like mandelic or lactic acids (look for ones further buffered with soothing ingredients). Those with dull or mature skin may need something a bit stronger, like glycolic acid (which can even promote collagen production). And for those with oily and acne-prone skin, salicylic acid will not only fade post-inflammatory dark spots, but it will help stop breakouts from forming in the first place.
Brightening botanicals or ingredients.
While exfoliation usually isn't a daily endeavor, there are topicals you can use regularly to help fade age marks. These come in a wide variety of options that can address other skin concerns as well. If you're dealing with sagging and fine lines (in addition to dark spots), look for vitamin C serums to help support collagen production while brightening the skin. Niacinamide is an excellent choice for those looking for skin barrier support. Allantoin soothes inflammation and brightens at the same time, making it great for those with sensitive skin.
For those with particularly stubborn dark spots, arbutin has impressive capabilities.
"Arbutin is a naturally occurring compound in the leaves of a variety of different plants, including pear trees and the bearberry plant, that prevents the formation of melanin," says board-certified dermatologist Keira Barr, M.D., noting that the overproduction of melanin in certain areas is what makes up dark spots and melasma patches. "It functions as a tyrosinase inhibitor to provide skin-brightening effects. This happens because when your skin and these cells come in contact with UV light, the tyrosinase enzyme is activated. Arbutin blocks this."
Internal antioxidant support.
When treating any skin condition or concern, your most effective route is to tend to it through many avenues—topical, technical, lifestyle, and internal. In terms of internal support, certain antioxidants have actually been shown to help reduce age marks.
"There's actually clinical trials showing that if you drink pomegranate juice or take a certain dose of pomegranate extract, it actually has a UV protective effect against the sun—essentially it can help your skin repair from sun damage—which we know is the leading cause of brown spots," says board-certified dermatologist Whitney Bowe, M.D., in an episode of Clean Beauty School. "There's another that shows that it can actually help brighten dark spots from the past and help with hyperpigmentation."
While these steps will certainly help you fade dark spots, they're not the only options you have available. For intel on treating age marks, check out our full guide.
Alexandra Engler is the beauty director at mindbodygreen and host of the beauty podcast Clean Beauty School. Previously, she's held beauty roles at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com. In her current role, she covers all the latest trends in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as lifestyle topics, such as travel. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.