Get perfect skin

If you get daily compliments on your perfect complexion, you can probably stop reading now. For the rest of us—who have spent more time in the sun than we care to admit, watched the birthdays tick by, or slacked just a bit (or, heck, a whole lot) on an anti-aging routine—dark patches, a dull appearance, and flushing that won’t go away can be beauty headaches.

“At least 50% of my office visits involved redness or dark spots,” says Jeanine Downie, MD, a dermatologist in Montclair, N.J. The good news? You’re not destined to get splotchier and ruddier over time. With some smart strategies (and well-picked products), it’s easier than ever to reverse the most common issues and reclaim great skin. Let’s get glowing.

Dark spots

Patches on the skin that look darker than your normal complexion, from pin-head-sized to larger than a pencil eraser, are all filed under dark spots, or the technical term, lentigines. Their root cause: the sun. UV rays stimulate melanocytes—pigment-producing cells in the skin—to go into overdrive, producing extra pigment and resulting in pesky spots over time, says Joshua Zeichner, MD, a dermatologist in New York City.

Larger splotches that cover both cheeks, the bridge of your nose, and your chin may be melasma, which occurs thanks to a combination of sun exposure and hormone fluctuations—which is why melasma is common when you’re pregnant, on birth control pills, or going through menopause.

No matter what kind you have, darks spots can show up seemingly overnight. “The damage from the sun’s rays is cumulative,” explains Doris Day, MD, a dermatologist in New York City. That means it can take years for them to form under the skin (remember lying out in the sun with your high school girlfriends?), then one day—poof!—you’ve got a splotch, and then another, and another.

Uneven skin tone

A mottled, speckly look that covers a large area, from your cheeks to your whole face, unevenness can give skin a sallow or tired cast. The sun is, yet gain, the biggest culprit. Years of UV exposure, inadequate SPF, and a genetic bent toward an uneven tone can cause the skin’s melanocytes to crank up their pigment-production, dulling skin all over.

Fix uneven skin at home: Diligent sunscreen use (and reapplication) is a must. Lightening ingredients such as licorice, vitamin C, and niacinamide may help, as can OTC peels, which lift off the surface layers of skin, so the unevenness fades.

Redness

Just what it sounds like: an OMG-I’m-so-embarassed flush…that doesn’t go away, ever, no matter how dark or light your skin is. This uber-rosiness can be caused by two main things: rosacea, a condition of the blood vessels underneath the skin (typically on the cheeks and chin), or—you guessed it—the sun. UV rays can cause vessels to dilate, creating the red squiggles you see on skin (they’re incorrectly called broken capillaries—they aren’t actually broken, they’re just permanently expanded).