The bad news: Dark spots can be brought on from past breakouts (AKA post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation) and ultraviolet (UV) exposure—both of which can happen to just about anyone. The good news: These darkened patches are fairly easy to treat, meaning you're not stuck with them forever! Follow the tips below and you'll start to diminish the appearance of spots in as little as four weeks, while preventing spots from popping up in the future.
1. Do Not (I Repeat, Do Not) Pick That Zit
Yes, it's hard to resist. But if you've given into temptation in the past, you know the ugly aftermath: an inflamed red or brown mark (that can stick around for months) as a result of skin trauma. Instead, treat your pimples with a one percent hydrocortisone cream multiple times a day (which you can pick up at any drugstore). The hydrocortisone inside is an anti-inflammatory, so it'll soothe redness and swelling. It's a better bet than traditional zit zappers that use salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide to dry out pimples, which can potentially irritate skin and lead to more hyperpigmentation.
2. Invest in a Skin-Cleansing Brush
Using a powered cleansing brush three times a week not only cleanses your skin more deeply than your fingertips can, it also gently gets rid of dead skin cells that can sit on your complexion. Sloughing away dead cells also removes the top layer of skin that's ready to be exfoliated away, making your skin better able to absorb the spot treatment you'll then apply to help eradicate any dark spots. Just remember to take good care of your brush head, washing it after each use and swapping it for a new one every month, so that you don't introduce new bacteria into your skin.
3. Brighten With a Serum
Spots, whether from your handiwork (i.e. picking your skin) or the sun, take weeks to fade. But committing to a brightening serum—look for one with ingredients like vitamin C, niacinamide, kojic acid, and/or retinol—can significantly speed up the process.
4. Wear SPF 30 Daily
If there's only one thing you do, make it this: Use broad-spectrum SPF 30 daily, a guideline recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology. Not only does regularly using sunscreen help prevent skin cancer, it shields your complexion from harmful UV rays—the culprit behind most dark spots. In response to the sun's UV rays, our cells send out protective pigment (or melanin) to naturally keep your skin from getting burned. This is what you know to be a "tan," but it's really your skin trying to protect itself.
So while you might be into your glowing bronze color, deep in the layers of your skin, the damage has occurred and will later surface as tiny brown spots. Also important to know: post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation is 100 percent made worse by the sun, so wearing SPF is a must for keeping the vicious cycle from occurring.