An uneven skin tone is a common problem that can affect people of all ages, backgrounds and skin types.
From sun exposure to rosacea, acne scarring and dehydration, a range of issues can give your skin an uneven tone.
The good news is that with the right approach, it’s almost always possible to smooth out your skin tone and give your skin a consistent look in any environment.
We’ve explained how below, with recommendations for specific ingredients, products and habits to prioritize for more consistent, better looking skin.
Maintaining an even skin tone is all about combining healthy habits with proven, science-based skin care products.
Below, we’ve shared 11 ways that you can improve your skin texture, avoid dull skin and maintain an even skin tone throughout the year.
One of the most common causes of an uneven skin tone is sun exposure. When you spend time outside during the daytime, your skin is constantly exposed to ultraviolet radiation that can harm your skin cells and affect your skin’s appearance.
When UV comes into contact with your skin, it causes damage at the DNA level. This damage is a significant factor in your skin aging process.
In fact, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, skin damage from sun exposure is responsible for up to 90 percent of all visible skin aging.
Most of the time, skin damage from UV exposure takes the form of wrinkles, dark spots and skin discoloration.
To prevent your skin from developing dark spots or uneven patches, make sure to keep yourself protected from the sun.
You can do this by limiting your time in bright midday sunlight, covering up with protective closing and applying an SPF 30+, broad-spectrum sunscreen.
Not only will this keep your skin tone even — it will also help you to avoid wrinkles, sagging skin and other common consequences of UV damage.
Moisturizer is one of the most versatile, effective skin care products around. In fact, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, alongside SPF 30+ sunscreen, moisturizer is one of the two most effective anti-aging products available.
While moisturizer won’t change the tone of your skin on its own, it can help to prevent your skin from becoming dehydrated.
As you’ve probably noticed if you’ve ever spent a long day out in the sun without much to drink, when skin is dehydrated, everything from fine lines to dark circles becomes more visible.
On the other hand, when your skin is hydrated and healthy, it tends to take on a smoother texture.
Moisturizing is particularly important if you use products like retinoids or peeling agents, which can often dry out your skin.
If you’re prone to acne, make sure to look for a non-comedogenic moisturizer that’s formulated to keep your pores unblocked and your skin acne-free.
Our Everyday Moisturizer for Men is formulated with moisture-holding ingredients like hyaluronic acid to keep your skin hydrated and smooth around the clock.
Most of the blotchiness and discoloration that can affect your skin is hyperpigmentation — a type of darkening that can occur when certain patches of skin produce more melanin than others.
One way to deal with hyperpigmentation is by using tretinoin, a retinoid that’s commonly used as an anti-aging and acne treatment.
As a retinoid, tretinoin works by speeding up your skin’s production of new cells. By making this process faster, new cells are able to replace old ones more easily, preventing patches of dark or discolored skin from developing.
This acceleration in cell turnover also helps to get rid of clogged pores and reduce the visibility of wrinkles and signs of aging.
Due to its effects on cellular turnover, tretinoin can lighten your skin by a mild amount, making it a useful option for dealing with light hyperpigmentation.
Research shows that it can also slightly lighten people’s natural skin tone.
Although tretinoin is widely used and safe, it can cause side effects, including itching, flaky skin and a temporary increase in acne.
Tretinoin is one of several science-based ingredients in our Anti-Aging Cream for Men, which is formulated specifically to deal with sun damage.
You can also find it as a prescription treatment in many drug stores and pharmacies.
If using a prescription medication like tretinoin doesn’t appeal to you, you may want to consider trying an over-the-counter retinoid.
These medications are chemically similar to tretinoin, but are less powerful and don’t require a prescription to purchase.
Two of the most popular over-the-counter retinoids are adapalene (often sold as Differin® gel) and retinol.
Research shows that both are effective at treating hyperpigmentation — a form of discoloration that can give your skin a blotchy, inconsistent tone.
You can find adapalene and retinol in most drug stores, either in gel form or as ingredients in over-the-counter anti-aging products.
Hydrated skin is healthy skin. When your skin feels dry, it can take on a rough, flaky texture and show fine lines, wrinkles and other imperfections more easily.
Dry skin can develop for many reasons, including use of harsh cleaning products and exposing your skin to hot water for long periods of time.
Your environment can also dry your skin — if you live in a cold, dry region, it may cause your skin to lose moisture easily.
Beyond using moisturizer, making a few simple changes to the way you care for your skin can have a big impact on its appearance.
Try to limit your baths and showers to five minutes and wash using warm water. When you use cleaning products, wear gloves to protect your skin from chemicals.
Finally, choose gentle skin care products that are made using mild, non-irritating ingredients.
Several vitamins play important roles in promoting healthy skin, including vitamin C and vitamin B3, or niacinamide.
Healthy skin is rich in vitamin C, which helps stimulate the production of collagen and protect the skin against UV damage.
Niacinamide, on the other hand, is known to improve the surface structure of the skin and smooth out imperfections.
Research has also found that vitamin C helps to promote the lightening of dark areas of skin due to its effects on melanin synthesis.
To smooth out your skin tone, try applying a vitamin serum such as our Morning Glow Vitamin C Serum in the morning.
Usually known as AHAs and BHAs, alpha-hydroxy and beta-hydroxy acids are ingredients that work by promoting exfoliation, or the peeling of your outermost layer of skin cells.
AHAs and BHAs are commonly used in skin peeling procedures offered by dermatologists and plastic surgeons.
They’re also used in much lower concentrations in over-the-counter products for smoothing the skin and improving blotchy skin tone.
Thanks to their exfoliating effects, many hydroxy acid products are used to treat acne, wrinkles, age spots and discoloration issues such as hyperpigmentation and melasma.
You can find AHAs and BHAs in many over-the-counter cleansers, masks and other products for treating acne and facial aging. Look for ingredients like glycolic acid, lactic acid, tartaric acid and salicylic acid, all of which are popular hydroxy acids.
Like with other exfoliants, AHAs and BHAs can cause side effects, including irritation.
If you have acne or other skin problems, it can be tempting to scrub your face with a cleanser to get them to go away.
The reality is that scrubbing usually does more harm than good. While scrubbing your skin isn’t likely to change its tone or affect its brightness, it can — and often does — contribute to redness and irritation.
Instead of scrubbing, use your fingertips to apply cleanser, facial wash and other products, then wash your face using warm water.
Once you’re done cleaning your face, pat your skin dry using a clean, soft towel.
If you have obvious dark spots that you’d like to lighten, you may want to look into hydroquinone cream.
Hydroquinone is a skin bleaching agent that’s used specifically to treat conditions that affect skin tone.
While the idea of “bleaching” your skin may sound a little scary, hydroquinone is safe when it’s used as recommended and is even available over the counter as a mild 2% cream.
Hydroquinone works by interfering with your skin’s ability to produce melanin. It’s used to treat a variety of skin tone issues, including melasma, age spots, acne scarring and freckles.
It usually takes around four weeks to see a visible change in your skin tone after you start using hydroquinone.
Like with other topical medications, you might experience dry skin, irritation and other side effects during treatment, although these are usually mild.
Make sure to be careful with hydroquinone if you have sensitive skin that’s easily irritated, dried out or prone to rashes.
One thing to be aware of while using hydroquinone is that it can increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun.
As such, it’s essential to use hydroquinone with good sun protection in the form of a hat, sunglasses and SPF 30+ sunscreen.
If over-the-counter products and prescription medications aren’t doing enough to even out your skin tone, you may want to consider cosmetic treatments.
One popular option is microdermabrasion — a minimally invasive procedure that’s used to strip away dead skin cells, smooth your skin’s texture and even out your skin tone.
Microdermabrasion involves carefully sanding the outermost layer of your skin using a special instrument. The procedure is performed by a dermatology practitioner or plastic surgeon and is designed to thicken your collagen, which is responsible for keeping your skin smooth and elastic.
In addition to improving your skin tone, microdermabrasion can also get rid of acne, fine lines, wrinkles and even scarring and stretch marks.
Like with most procedures, the only major downside is the cost. Expect to pay several hundred dollars for most microdermabrasion procedures, although the total cost can vary depending on your location and choice of provider.
Another medical option worth considering is chemical peeling. Unlike microdermabrasion, which involves physically peeling away dead skin, chemical peels are performed using clinical-strength chemical exfoliants that loosen and remove dead skin cells.
Peels can range in depth from superficial to deep. A superficial peel, or “lunchtime” peel, usually involves the use of a mild acid to remove rough skin and get rid of mild discoloration.
A deeper peel might involve penetrating to the middle layers of skin to treat age spots and scars.
Like microdermabrasion, peels treat much more than just uneven skin tone. They can also help to remove wrinkles, tighten up sagging skin and treat common skin pigmentation disorders such as melasma.
As with other procedures, chemical peels have a few downsides. The first is the cost, which can range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars.
The second is the recovery time, which is a few days for a superficial peel or several weeks for a deep one.
During this time, you’ll need to keep your skin covered and protected from the sun to avoid any damage.
Our guide to chemical peels for men goes into more detail about peeling procedures, how they work and what to expect in terms of results.
Getting an even skin tone is a process. You can start by practicing good habits, such as keeping your skin protected from the sun, and by using over-the-counter or prescription products to treat dark spots and other forms of discoloration.
If you have severe skin tone issues, you may want to talk to a dermatologist about in-office skin treatments.
Kate Hagerty is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over a decade of healthcare experience. She has worked in critical care, community health, and as a retail health provider.