Hydroquinone is often prescribed to help lighten dark spots, but it can be irritating, potentially worsening the pigmentation you are trying to lighten. Besides that, it can only be used for three to five months at most and the effects can plateau. These options offer an alternative if you want to get spot-free without prescription-strength products.
What It Is: A mushroom-derived skin brightener that inhibits the enzyme tyrosinase. Kojic acid works best when it’s used in conjunction with glycolic acid. Some doctors suggest using kojic acid after hydroquinone for continued lightening.
Find It In: The oil-free Image Skincare Ageless Total Skin Lightening Serum addresses the needs of aging and pigmented skin by helping to lighten freckles, melasma and age spots. $31, imageskincare.com
Alphahydroxy Acids (AHAs)
What It Is: Exfoliating acids (glycolic, lactic and mandelic acids) that release the buildup of dead surface cells where pigment may be trapped.
Find It In: Packed with 5 percent glycolic acid plus hydroquinone and kojic acid, Glytone Fading Lotion exfoliates dead, discolored skin and limits the activity of tyrosinase to stop spots before they start. $46, glytone-usa.com
What It Is: A B vitamin that halts the transfer of pigment from the melanocytes to the skin cells.
Find It In: Niacin, a key ingredient in NIA 24 Rapid Depigmentation Serum, helps to slow and normalize the transfer of melanin throughout skin for a more even toned complexion. $75, nia24.com
What It Is: An antioxidant that evens out discoloration and creates healthier, stronger skin.
Find It In: The moisturizing Epicuren CxC Vitamin C Complex formula relies on a high level of vitamin C to brighten and improve skin tone. $36, epicuren.com
What It Is: An AHA that brightens sans irritation by gently exfoliating the outermost layer of skin. It also does not instigate melanin levels to increase in the skin.
Find It In: Philosophy The Microdelivery Triple-Acid Brightening Peel combines the lightening power of mandelic acid along with glycolic and phytic acids in presaturated peels to reduce the look of dark spots and discoloration. $69, philosophy.com