Treat with a Twofer
Hydroquinone is the gold standard for diminishing brown spots, but it can be irritating. Nonsensitizing (though less potent) options include kojic acid, alpha-arbutin, licorice extract, and vitamin C, says Scottsdale, AZ, dermatologist Jennifer Linder, M.D. She suggests you look for a combo of two or more, because each plays its own role in halting spots. Try: Dr. LeWinn by Kinerase Skin Tone Perfecting Serum XK ($34, Walgreens), with kojic acid and licorice.
Brighten All Over
For complexions mottled by sun damage or hormonal conditions (like melasma), spot treatments are too limited. "They can create a halo effect — areas of lightness on a dark background," says New York City dermatologist Paul Jarrod Frank, M.D. For all-over skin clarity, use a full-face brightener like Kiehl's Photo-Age Corrector Intensive Corrective Moisturizer ($42, Kiehl's) with vitamin C, either on its own or paired with a spot treatment.
Rub on Retinol
The anti-ager does more than just fight wrinkles — it also targets hyperpigmentation. "It's excellent at speeding cell turnover. As brown spots start to form, retinol keeps them from reaching their full maturity," explains Dr. Linder. Find it in Specific Beauty Night Treatment Complex ($19, Walmart). And apply broad-spectrum sunscreen daily; otherwise spots will return, no matter which fading treatment you use.
Use a Booster
For a one-two punch, choose a lightening product that also contains a chemical exfoliant like glycolic or salicylic acid. They gently slough off dead cells, instantly brightening skin. The less obvious benefit: "Removing this top layer improves the penetration of active ingredients, making the lightener more effective," says New York City dermatologist Gervaise Gerstner, M.D. One to check out: Vichy ProEven Total Dark Spot Corrector ($42.50, select CVS stores), with exfoliating salicylic acid and vitamin C.
Don't Forget Your Neck
Your face treatment will work just as well on the spots on your neck and chest, says Dr. Frank. But ease into it gradually, as the skin in this area may be more delicate. Start by applying the product every other day to help minimize irritation, particularly if it contains potential sensitizers like retinol or glycolic acid.