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2022's Top Dark Spot Correctors for Post-Acne Marks

See the best spot correctors for discoloration leftover from acne to reveal clearer, even-toned skin.

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After acne has run its course, it can leave behind dark spots known as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH). This can make us feel self-conscious and less attractive, especially if there’s a cluster of acne-related dark spots.

Unfortunately, it can take up to a year or more for post-blemish marks to go away—often leaving us with no choice but to cover up with makeup.

"Some of the other treatments that people may use… could be really expensive, like lasers or peels," says Dr. Nikki Starr MD. "Whereas with a (spot-correcting) serum, it's really affordable and you can achieve the same results in a safer way," continues Dr. Starr.

That's why dark spot correctors are popping up online and in retail stores everywhere, promising skin that looks refreshed, radiant and even-toned.

A Quality Spot Corrector Can Reduce The Look Of:

Acne-related dark spots on your face, neck, back, or chest

Brown, light-brown, or tan spots—even if it’s stubborn

Dark spot clusters or patches on your cheeks, forehead, or jawline

Acne scars leftover from pimples, blackheads, or whiteheads

However, some brands add cheap fillers and unnecessary ingredients to their formulas, which can be potentially harsh on your skin and health.

Dr. Nikki Starr MD explains, "Some of the side-effects that I've seen can actually be discoloration, peeling of the skin, redness, dryness, and itching, especially for sensitive skin—and even burning in some formulas that are too strong or not high quality."

To avoid these side effects, we’ll show you what to look for in a quality post-acne dark spot corrector that will brighten and even out the appearance of your skin.

High-quality dark spot correctors typically contain a combination of antioxidants and exfoliants that work together to fade the look of discoloration from acne.

Dr. Nikki Starr MD says, "Whenever choosing any of your skincare products, it's so important to read the label. Look for science-proven ingredients that (...) visibly reduce dark spots."

Key Ingredients To Look For

Niacinamide

This vitamin not only helps diminish the look of post-acne dark spots, but also helps maintain a smooth-looking complexion.

Vitamin C

A widely-known ingredient that lightens the appearance of acne-related hyperpigmentation for an even-toned look.

Hyaluronic Acid

After constant use of acne solutions that can dry out the skin, this powerful ingredient deeply moisturizes the skin.

Brightening Acids

A group of skin-smoothing ingredients that gently exfoliate for a dewy complexion. Look for a formula that lists some or all of Glycolic acid, Lactic acid, and Phytic acid.

White Shiitake Mushroom

Nature's answer to hydroquinone, white shiitake is a kojic-acid rich brightener that gently exfoliates to minimize the appearance of dark spots and redness from acne.

Making sure your post-acne dark spot corrector contains the ingredients above will go a long way to help even out your complexion. But there are also some things you should watch out for before making a purchase.

Ingredients to Avoid

Hydroquinone and its Derivatives 

Prolonged use of hydroquinone can result in irreversible skin discoloration. This is why it's banned in some countries. Although some hydroquinone derivatives aren’t as harsh, these similar chemicals have caused side effects for some.

Polysorbate 20

Historically known to be harsh, it now has stricter manufacturing regulations. But there are still concerns about this ingredient being controversial  and causing an allergic reaction.

Silicone and its Derivatives

Silicone and its derivative, dimethicone, are controversial ingredients that have been blamed for clogging pores and causing irritation.

What Else To Consider

Naturally-Derived Ingredients

Avoid spot correctors that have synthetic ingredients. Although some artificial ingredients are relatively safe, a number of them carry the risk of side effects and some can even be toxic when used for long periods of time.

Money-Back Guarantee Duration

Many brands offer insufficient guarantees that are too short in duration. Even a high quality spot corrector is unlikely to show significant results in a single month, so make sure the guarantee is at least 60 days.

2022's Top 5 Post-Acne Spot Correctors

After extensive research, we put together a list of the best dark spot correctors available right now—based on ingredients, safety, return policies, projected effectiveness, and customer satisfaction.

1. Spot Check: Post-Acne Spot Corrector

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a bottle of red liquid

Total Ranking

9.6/10

A

Overall Grade

PROS

  • Naturally derived ingredients that help brighten and fade the look of discoloration
  • Made in the USA with imported ingredients
  • Clear list of ingredients & Cruelty-free
  • Noticeable results
  • Niacinamide, vitamin C, hyaluronic acid, brightening acids, and white shiitake mushroom for youthful skin
  • No hydroquinone & its derivatives, silicone & its derivatives, polysorbate-20, sulfates, fillers, or synthetic components
  • 60-day, risk-free, money-back guarantee

CONS

  • Only sold in the U.S. & Canada
The Bottom Line

Named "Best New Brand" by Teen Vogue Acne Awards, Tru Alchemy’s Spot Check is our #1 pick. Its naturally-derived formula brightens the skin while minimizing the appearance of dark spots from acne.


It contains a patented, multi-molecular hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, vitamin C, white shiitake mushroom, polyglutamic acid, and a blend of 3 brightening acids—phytic, lactic, and glycolic—as well as other ingredients that work together to visibly even-out, smooth, and hydrate the skin.


Spot Check is also free of hydroquinone and its derivatives, silicone and its derivatives, polysorbate-20, mercury, synthetic dyes, synthetic fragrances, petroleum, sulfates, and other harsh chemicals. And, Tru Alchemy offers a 60-day money-back guarantee, no questions asked, which shows us they stand by their product.*

*Results are based on the Smarter Reviews Ranking System and do not necessarily reflect typical results from the use of these products. Please visit product websites for more information.

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2. Clinical Grade IPL Dark Spot Correcting Serum

graphical user interface, text, application
packaged goods

Total Ranking

9.2/10

A-

Overall Grade

PROS


  • Well-known name brand
  • Vitamin C, niacinamide, sodium hyaluronate, and 2 brightening acids
  • Vegan, cruelty-free, paraben-free and fragrance-free

CONS

  • Contains hydroquinone derivative and polysorbate 20
  • Limited 30-Day Return Policy
  • High price point at $92
The Bottom Line

Dr. Dennis Gross’ Clinical Grade IPL Dark Spot Correcting Serum comes in 2nd place on our list because its formula contains 2 brightening acids: kojic acid and lactic acid. However, at $92, this post-acne mark treatment is expensive.

While our researchers appreciate the addition of Vitamin C (ascorbic acid), consumers have complained that they received rancid, discolored products due to improper packaging and frequent oxidation after only a few uses.

It’s also important to note that Dr. Gross offers a limited 30-day return policy for unopened or gently used products only, so this is quite inconvenient if the product doesn’t work for your skin type.

Despite these concerns, all of Dr. Gross’ products are vegan, cruelty-free, paraben-free, and fragrance-free. For those reasons, Dr. Gross landed our #2 spot.*

*Results are based on the Smarter Reviews Ranking System and do not necessarily reflect typical results from the use of these products. Please visit product websites for more information.

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3. Resurfacing Retinol Serum

graphical user interface, application
packaged goods

Total Ranking

8.8/10

B+

Overall Grade

PROS


  • Well-known name brand
  • Niacinamide
  • Developed with dermatologists

CONS

  • Contains polysorbate 20, silicone derivative, and synthetic ingredients

  • Limited 30-Day Return Policy
  • May not be suitable for sensitive skin
The Bottom Line

Cerave’s Resurfacing Retinol Serum ranked #3 in our list of top five spot correctors. Our researchers like that it was formulated by dermatologists and that it contains niacinamide.

But it contains many potentially harmful fillers and synthetic ingredients, like polysorbate-20 and dimethicone. So people with sensitive skin are recommended to avoid this product.

Even with a limited 30-day return policy, Cerave came in at our #3 spot.*

*Results are based on the Smarter Reviews Ranking System and do not necessarily reflect typical results from the use of these products. Please visit product websites for more information.

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4. Clinical Discoloration Repair Serum

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packaged goods

Total Ranking

8.4/10

B

Overall Grade

PROS

  • Well-known name brand
  • Niacinamide
  • Cruelty-free
  • 60-day, risk-free, money-back guarantee

CONS

  • Contains a synthetic ingredient
  • May irritate skin
  • Takes 8-12 weeks of consistent use to see visible results
The Bottom Line

Coming in at #4 is Clinical Discoloration Repair Serum by Paula’s Choice. It’s an award-winning product that contains Niacinamide and is cruelty-free. With its 60-day return policy, it’s one of the best guarantees among spot correctors.

Users felt that it took too long to see results, if any. So people are recommended to buy 2 or 3 to potentially see visible results.

Despite this, we decided to put Paula’s Choice Clinical Discoloration Repair Serum in 4th place on our list.*

*Results are based on the Smarter Reviews Ranking System and do not necessarily reflect typical results from the use of these products. Please visit product websites for more information.

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5. Advanced Pigment Corrector

number
packaged goods

Total Ranking

8.2/10

B-

Overall Grade


PROS

  • Formulated for all skin types
  • 3 brightening acids
  • Noticeable results

CONS

  • Contains a hydroquinone derivative, silicone derivative, and synthetic ingredients
  • Limited 30-Day Return Policy
  • High price point at $135
  • Customers had to make multiple purchases to see results
The Bottom Line

The Advanced Pigment Corrector by Skinceuticals came in at #5. We like that it contains three brightening acids: salicylic acid, hydroxyphenoxy propionic acid, and ellagic acid. But it only has a 30-day return policy which is not enough time to see dark spots from acne fade.

The main complaint about this product is the high price point. At one fluid ounce, Advanced Pigment Corrector costs $135. A few customers ran out of the corrector and needed to repurchase before they saw their results.

Though it's expensive, Advanced Pigment Corrector by Skinceuticals earns the #5 pick for its quality formula.*

*Results are based on the Smarter Reviews Ranking System and do not necessarily reflect typical results from the use of these products. Please visit product websites for more information.

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CITATIONS

  1. American Academy of Dermatology. https://www.aad.org/media/news-releases/dermatologist-shines-light-on-natural-ingredients-used-in-new-topical-treatments-for-hyperpigmentation
  2. Oregon State University Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Information Center http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/health-disease/skin-health/vitamin-E
  3. US National Library Of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. Short, RW. Department of Dermatology, Malcolm Grow Medical Center, MD, USA. 2007 Jan;32(1):88-90. Epub 2006 Nov 27. PMID:17137484. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17137484