Pesky discoloration is common, especially as we age.
woman in car
Credit: Getty / Thomas Barkwick

When it comes to your complexion, a dark spot can be as frustrating as a cystic blemish. They are stubborn, slow to fade, and put our concealer skills to the test. Ultimately, these small areas of hyperpigmentation are caused by a myriad of things, from aforementioned nasty zits, sun damage, and the general aging process. Some may fade on their own, but they typically require a targeted approach to fully resolve—which is why we turned to leading dermatologists to explain exactly why this pigmentation occurs, how to treat it, and, most important of all, how to prevent it.

Two Types

There are two types of dark spots associated with the aging process, specifically, explains Dr. Loretta Ciraldo, M.D., FAAD, a Miami-based board-certified dermatologist. However, these are actual skin growths as opposed to hyperpigmentation, which is an accumulation of extra pigment. "Flat age spots are called solar lentigos, better known as freckles or liver spots," notes Dr. Ciraldo. "Solar lentigos are the result of sun exposure. Although we had always blamed dark spots on UVA, newer research shows that visible blue light, also called HEV, can contribute to dark spots, as well." As for the second type? These are raised, scalier, and called seborrheic keratoses, she continues: "These are genetic, and their distribution is not limited to sun-exposed areas like the solar lentigos are."

Root Cause

Ultimately, the majority of dark spots—including age spots, liver spots, and sun spots—are all caused by excess sun exposure. "They are a direct result of spending too much time in the sun when you were younger; there is a time delay between the damage beneath the skin and its visibility on the surface," explains Dr. Dennis Gross, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist, and dermatological surgeon. "With age spots, that deep damage is brought to the surface."

Ingredients to Note

Turn to brightening ingredients to reduce dark spots' prominence, say our experts. "Use products that contain fat-soluble vitamins, particularly vitamin A and C, super ingredients that have many benefits—including slight lightening and brightening of age spots," explains Dr. Brian Keller, Chief Science Officer of b.Glen skincare

SPF, Always

If you notice that you're prone to dark spots over time, make sure you're slathering on sunscreen each and every day: It's crucial to use a daily broad protection SPF 50 or higher on your face, neck, and hands to protect and to prevent their formation. "Another great option is SPF clothing and gloves for activities like driving, since UVA and HEV rays come through window glass," notes Dr. Ciraldo.


Wearing sunscreen regularly will prevent most dark spots from developing in the first place. But if you already have them, an in-office treatment can help. "There are some fractionated resurfacing laser treatments, like the Fraxel or Clear and Brilliant," notes Dr. Joshua Zeichner, the Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. "They work to improve skin texture, whereas treatments like IPL (intense pulsed light) can improve brown spots and address redness, as well."

Derm Consult

"If an age spot changes in any way, please consult with a dermatologist," encourages Dr. Ciraldo. "Many people believe that for something to be precancerous or cancerous, it needs to be raised or bleeding—this is not true. If a dark spot becomes more varied in pigmentation, grows, looks asymmetrical, gets itchy, or seems different, get it checked."

Comments (2)

Martha Stewart Member
January 25, 2021
Vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin.
Martha Stewart Member
January 25, 2021
Vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin.