best skincare routine for sun and dark spots

“Come out and play under my warm rays,” the sun invites you.

It’s a promise full of light, warmth and carefree fun. How can you resist?

What that sneaky sun never tells you is the price you have to pay for it: premature wrinkles and sun spots. They appear one day completely out of the blue. You’re caught off-guard but you know who to blame.

Pointing the finger now is useless. Save your energies to get rid of them. It’s not easy but it can be done – if you know how. Here’s the best skincare routine to fade dark spots away:

Morning Skincare Routine

Step 1: Cleanser

Let’s start with the basics: if you want your dark spots treatments to fade away the damn things, you need to help them penetrate deeply into your skin.

The easiest way to do it? Cleansing. Remove all that dirt and grime that’s sitting on your face and those actives won’t find anything blocking their path.

It doesn’t matter much what cleanser you choose. As long as it cleanses everything and doesn’t leave your skin feeling tight afterwards, you’re good.

Best picks:

  • Corsx Low PH Good Morning Gel Cleanser ($11.00): available at Sokoglam and YesStyle
  • Neutrogena Fresh Foaming Cleanser ($6.49): available at Ulta
  • Paula’s Choice Skin Recovery Softening Cream Cleanser ($17.00): available at Dermstore and Paula’s Choice

Related: How To Choose The Best Cleanser For Your Skin Type

Don’t know which skincare products you can mix and match together and which ones deactivate each other? Download your FREE “How To Layer Actives Like A Pro” cheat sheet to get the most out of your skincare products:

Step 2: CEF Serum

CEF stands for Vitamin C + Vitamin E + Ferulic Acid.

One of the most powerful antiaging combos you can use on your skin. This trio:

Yep, CEF helps fade away the dark spots you already have AND prevent new ones for forming.

Best picks:

Related: Why You Should Add Vitamin C To Your Skincare Routine

Paula's Choice C15 Booster 02

Step 3: Hydroquinone Cream

Love it or hate it, hydroquinone is still the best treatment for sun spots. It works in two ways:

  • It inhibits the activity of tyrosinase (the enzyme that controls the synthesis of melanin)
  • It increases the cytotoxicity of melanocytes (cells that produce melanin)

It’s true it’s pretty harsh but then all the most powerful antiaging actives are (retinol, anyone?).

It’s also true it can cause ochronosis (a bluish black discolouration), especially in people with dark skin. But it’s rare.

Instead, it DOESN’T cause cancer. That’s just a rumour science has debunked a long time ago.

For best results, use it in 4 months cycles. That means 4 months on hydroquinone, 4 months on another skin-lightener, then back to hydroquinone again.

If you’re really not comfortable with the idea of using hydroquinone, you can use another skin-lightener all year round. Just be aware they may work more slowly.

Best picks:

  • Alpha Skin Care Dual Action Skin Lightener ($10.99): available at Ulta

Related: 10 Ingredients That Fade Away Dark Spots

Step 4: Sunscreen

Here’s the truth: you can do everything else I tell you to do in this post but if you don’t wear sunscreen religiously every single day, nothing’s gonna work.

CEF, hydroquinone and whatever else you throw at your dark spots may fade them a little but all that unprotected sun exposure will bring them back with a vengeance.

By the way, it’s not enough to apply a thin layer in then morning. You need to apply a whole glass shot for your face and neck every few hours.

A pain, I know. But you’re sabotaging all your efforts if you don’t.

Best picks:

  • Drunk Elephant Umbra Tinte Physical Daily Defense Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF 30 ($36.00):available at Cult BeautySephora, and SpaceNK
  • EltaMD UV Pure BroadSpectrum SPF 47 ($24.50): available at Dermstore and Walmart
  • Shiseido Ultimate Sun Protection SPF 50 Sunscreen + WetForce For Sensitive Skin & Children ($42.00): available at  Nordstrom and Ulta
drunk elephant tlc framboos glycolic night serum

Night Skincare routine

Step 1: Cleanse skin

We’ve already covered this, so I won’t bore you again. I’ll just tell you that you can safely use your morning cleanser at night too, unless it’s not powerful enough to remove every last trace of makeup. You want those skin-lightening products to penetrate deep into the skin, so cleanse it well!

Step 2A: Glycolic acid

This is where your skincare routine gets a bit tricky. To get the best results, you’ll have to throw more than one active at those dark spots. But all those actives are harsh. You can’t use them all at the same time.

One trick is to use some of them in the morning and others at night. Another its to use them on alternate nights. That’s what I suggest you do here.

One some nights, use glycolic acid. It’s a powerful exfoliator with a very small molecular structure that allows it to easily penetrate skin and do its magic.

Those dead cells on the surface of your skin are the darkest, most sundamaged. Remove that layer and you’ll uncover the one underneath, which is brighter and more even-toned. This takes time but, after a few months of this cycle, your dark spots will start to fade.

Bonus points: glycolic acid also hydrates skin and boosts collagen.

Best picks:

Related: The Complete Guide To Glycolic Acid

peter thomas roth retinol infusion pm night serum 01

Step 2B: Retinol Serum

On the nights you’re not using glycolic acid, opt for retinol. This antiaging superstar speeds up cellular turnover, i.e. they skin’s exfoliating process. That alone makes your dark spots less visible overtime.

Bonus points: retinol also boosts collagen production and destroys the free radicals that cause wrinkles. It’s an all round antiaging powerhouse.

Just don’t go overboard! Retinol is harsh so a bit of irritation at the beginning is normal. Start with a small concentration and increase the dose gradually.

Best picks:

Related: The Complete Guide To Retinol

Step 3: Moisturizer

It’s time for the last step: moisturizer. Pick one with plenty of antioxidants to help keep wrinkles at bay for longer. But make sure it’s packaged in an air-tight, opaque tube, or they won’t be effective for long!

Best picks:

The Bottom Line

With the right skincare routine and products, you can get rid of dark spots and achieve the brighter, smoother skin you deserve.