We develop dark spots for a multitude of reasons. Aside from hormonal changes and marks from breakouts, the most common factor is excessive UV exposure. When our skin is exposed to UV rays (which mainly consist of UVA and UVB rays), the UVB rays penetrate the layer of our skin where melanocytes are. These melanocytes rush to defend the skin from harmful UV rays by producing melanin which is the pigment that gives skin colour. This also explains why people who are extremely fair tend to burn easily compared to people who have naturally darker skin tones or more pigment. To transfer the melanin produced deep within skin layers to skin cells that are closer to the surface, melanocytes pass on these melanin pigments.With age, our cellular turnover becomes irregular, which is why melanin is not evenly distributed over all skin layers and causes dark spots.

To effectively fight dark spots, you have to ensure that the melanin production is regulated, the melanin transfer is intercepted, as well as the cells containing melanin at the skin surface are eliminated. Since most ingredients are unable to target all three, skincare products often contain a mixture of several ingredients for a synergistic effect. Here, the top ingredients to look out for and the products to buy to banish dark spots.

Vitamin C 

One of the most widely researched ingredients in the world of skincare, vitamin C has proven results in terms of fighting free radicals, controlling melanin synthesis as well as stimulating collagen production for a global anti-ageing effect. Yet, it is one of the trickiest ingredients to stabilise as it is highly reactive when it comes in contact with water and air. To combat this problem, many skincare brands have devised various methods to stabilise the compound and it is most commonly found as magnesium ascorbyl phosphate, L-ascorbic acid or ascorbyl palmitate on the ingredients list.


Try Kiehl’s Clearly Corrective™ Dark Spot Solution, $92 for 30ml. It contains Activated C, a next-generation version of vitamin C which works to inhibit melanin production while breaking up existing melanin clusters for a more even-toned complexion. Or try SkinCeuticals’ C E Ferulic, $248 for 30ml, which combines L-ascorbic acid, vitamin E and ferulic acid to improve the appearance of spots, reduce dullness as well as target fine lines and wrinkles.


It’s a fact that retinol is one of the most effective ingredients when it comes to fighting signs of ageing like fine lines and wrinkles. But due to its ability to regenerate skin from inside out, cellular turnover is optimised and this in turn, also helps even out skin tone so dark spots look less noticeable. Try Verso Dark Spot Fix, $275 for 15ml, which contains the highest concentration of its signature retinol compound known as Retinol 8. In addition, it is also supplemented with niacinamide (another spot-buster), vitamin E to soothe and hyaluronic acid to moisturise.


You might have heard of hydroquinone as an effective anti-dark spot ingredient. However, chances are, you would also be familiar with its common side effects including redness, dryness and peeling. But what if we told you there’s another ingredient that provides the same effect without the harshness? Enter arbutin. When absorbed into the skin, arbutin essentially breaks down into hydroquinone without causing the same irritation. Try Hada Labo Arbutin Whitening Cream, $28.90 for 50g. Formulated with arbutin, vitamin C and hyaluronic acid, it has a three-pronged approach to reduce dark spots, prevent the formation of future pigmentation and keep skin plump.

Kojic Acid 

Widely used in Japanese brightening products, kojic acid is the by-product of rice fermentation and is proven to have good results in combating uneven skin tone. Its ability to penetrate deeply into skin layers to tackle stubborn spots as well as inhibit the production of melanin makes it a popular ingredient for Japanese brands like KOSE. And if you’re also concerned with skin sensitivity, try INFINITY KOSE Perfective White XX, $153 for 40ml. It combines kojic acid and allantoin so that your skin is brightened and soothed at the same time. One thing to note is that kojic acid is highly unstable, which explains why most skincare products that contain kojic acid usually have an opaque packaging.


Also known as vitamin B3, niacinamide is kind of like the hardworking, behind-the-scenes crew member who steadily puts in the work but never gets the spotlight. With the ability to strengthen skin’s barrier function, refine the appearance of pores, plump fine lines, even out skin tone and protect skin against free radicals, niacinamide is also arguably one of the most multi-tasking ingredients out there. If you read the ingredients lists of your skincare products carefully, you’ll notice that it is actually present in many products as it helps amplify the benefits of other ingredients.



When it comes to targeting spots, we like Sulwhasoo Snowise Brightening Spot Serum, $158 for 25ml. On top of using white ginseng extract to treat discolouration, it also contains niacinamide for augmented results. Alternatively, if you’re more concerned with acne and post-acne marks, try Allies of Skin Promise Keeper Blemish Facial, $159 for 50ml. It’s brimming with a host of ingredients that not only boosts cellular renewal, it also keeps bacteria at bay and smooths skin texture while helping to reduce the appearance of scars for a clearer and more uniformed skin tone.

Words: Joyce Cheo; image: