Alexandra Engler

mbg Beauty Director

By Alexandra Engler

mbg Beauty Director

Alexandra Engler is the beauty director at mindbodygreen and host of the beauty podcast Clean Beauty School. Previously, she’s held beauty roles at Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and

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Image by Boris Jovanovic / Stocksy

June 12, 2023

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Dark spots are a very normal skin concern that are triggered by inflammation. The inflammation may be caused by UV radiation (i.e., sun spots), as a result of a wound on the epidermis (i.e., post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and acne scars) or as a result of chronic inflammaging (i.e., age spots). 

While these are the primary causes of dark spots, did you know that there are certain skin care habits that exacerbate their formation? Yes, there are many common habits that speed up their formation and make it more difficult to get rid of them. 


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So if you’re struggling with dark spots—be it on your hands, chest, neck, body, or face—make sure you’re not making these all-to-common mistakes. 

Mistake 1: You’re using photosensitizing ingredients 

There are several popular actives that actually make the skin more sensitive to the sun in the long run. Ironically, many of these actives are utilized to fade dark spots in the first place.

So you may be clinging onto your favorite dark spot serum only for it to make matters worse. Don’t worry, you don’t have to ditch your skin care treatments entirely—just keep an eye out for these ingredients and make sure you’re using them responsibly. 

Ingredients that may cause photosensitivity in the skin:


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If you plan to keep these ingredients in your routine, just be sure to use them with caution. A few guidelines to follow: 

  • Only use these ingredients at night.
  • Always wear sunscreen during the day — check out our faves
  • Limit use when on vacation or during times when you know you’ll have heightened sun exposure.

Mistake 2: You’re not supporting your skin barrier

The skin barrier refers to the complex, dynamic, multilayered function of the skin that protects the rest of your body from external aggressors. It’s what keeps you healthy, hydrated, and glowing! 

While the skin barrier is resilient, it’s exposed to a lot of damage, which can weaken it over time. When the barrier is compromised, it’s less able to inhibit and manage inflammation. Chronic inflammation—even low-grade inflammation—can push our pigment-producing cells into overdrive1, resulting in dark spots. 

And there are many things that can wreak havoc on your skin barrier, including:

  • Stripping cleansers
  • Irritating, potent ingredients 
  • Inflammatory diet
  • Pollution 
  • UV damage 
  • Inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema and rosacea 


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To help strengthen your skin, it is important that you prioritize barrier-supporting skin care. Look for skin care ingredients that complement the barrier, including fatty acids and lipids to support the moisture barrier, humectants for hydration, antioxidants for free radical protection, and biotic ingredients to nurture the skin microbiome

Mistake 3: You’re not using antioxidants 

An antioxidant is a molecule that neutralizes free radicals in the body. “Free radicals are harmful unstable molecules that can damage your cells or DNA,” says board-certified dermatologist Zenovia Gabriel, M.D., FAAD. Free radicals can lead to inflammation and oxidative stress in the body—which you guessed it!—can trigger dark spot formation.

Unfortunately, free radicals are pretty pervasive: They come from pollution, UV rays, foods, internal stress, external aggressors, as well as just making them naturally as part of the metabolic process. It’s so important that you look for antioxidant-rich topicals in your skin care routine so your skin can fend off the onslaught of these molecules on a daily basis.

“People often ask how many antioxidants you should be using regularly; the answer is: the more the better,” says board-certified dermatologist Rachel Nazarian, M.D., of Schweiger Dermatology Group. “The more you can help neutralize unstable molecules caused by free radical formation, the longer you can salvage the health of your cells and skin. There’s really no limit to how much you can protect and repair your body!”

Here are some of our favorite antioxidants to look for:


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The takeaway

In the pursuit of clear skin and an even tone, you may be making a few mistakes that contribute to dark spots—rather than clearing them up. Mistakes happen! The good news is that there are often easy fixes to help get you back on track.