See spot run

Top derms say the secret to turning back the clock could be simply getting even.

A shot of Botox has been the gold standard clock-stopper for over two decades. But recently, derms and skincare mix-masters have switched their focus from lessening fine lines to erasing dark spots. And for good reason: Non-homogeneous skin color alone can add up to ten years to your face, a study in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology shows.

Ironically, melanin’s sole purpose is actually to protect skin from ultraviolet radiation, the main culprit of telltale premature aging. "Sun exposure has two main effects on melanin: Initially, the longer UVA radiation causes oxidative stress and an immediate darkening of the melanin," says Sherry Hsiung, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City and consultant for Kiehl’s Since 1851. "Secondly, UVB causes DNA damage, which then induces melanogenesis by increasing activity of tyrosinase, the molecule needed to form melanin." In other words: As more and more DNA damage ensues over time, the skin savior’s behavior goes haywire — spurring out excess melanin that no longer fades, casting anywhere from an allover dullness to distinct, spotty connect-the-dots.

Of course, not all hyperpigmentation is created equal. Localized dark spots are the clear islands of pigment you can easily pinpoint and most likely either solar lentigo (aka sun spots), post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (caused by a breakout’s healing process went awry), or melasma, a surge of melanin instigated by hormones, typically during pregnancy or from the Pill. A more diffuse, can’t-put-your-finger-on-it unevenness is the result of cumulative damage from UV radiation, stress, pollutants and the normal aging process, explains Dr. Hsiung.

While experts agree that the ultimate anti-aging game-changer is hands down a broad spectrum sunscreen, there are tons of anti-dark spot products hitting the beauty aisle that can help reach your complexion perfection. Click through the slideshow below for our top picks.