Kiehl’s Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Solution Review 2020


Vitamin C is clinically proven to improve the appearance of stubborn wrinkles, acne scars, and hyperpigmentation.

The problem, however, is finding a vitamin C serum that actually works.

Kiehl’s Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Solution is a popular dark spot corrector featuring vitamin C, white birch extract, and peony root extract.

But is it really worth the hype? Find out in our in-depth review!

ⓘ In this post, I’ll provide a complete review of Kiehl’s Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Solution to find out if it’s worth your money!

Related: Best Vitamin C Serums for Hyperpigmentation

Kiehl’s CCDSS Review

Kiehl’s Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Solution helps brightens dark spots, age spots, and uneven skin tone with Activated Vitamin C, White Birch Extract, and Peony Root Extract.

Kiehl's Dark Spot Corrector Review
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Key Features

  • Activated C (Vitamin C Derivative)
  • White Birch & Peony Root Extract
  • No Parabens, Silicones, or Fragrances
  • Suitable for All Skin Types
  • Clear Liquid Texture
  • Dries Quickly (~5 minutes)


  • Vitamin C Is Clinically Proven To Brighten Dark Spots and Hyperpigmentation
  • Additional Brightening Benefits From White Birch & Peony Root Extract
  • Very Positive Reviews


  • Limited Research on Activated C (3-O-Ethyl Ascorbic Acid
  • Expensive


Kiehl's Dark Spot Corrector Review
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Kiehl’s Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Solution is a dark spot corrector that helps fade hyperpigmentation, reduce the appearance of acne scars, and improve skin texture. It also promotes smoother and more radiant skin.

This serum features “Activated C” (or 3-O-ethyl ascorbic acid, a vitamin C derivative). Vitamin C is an excellent ingredient for skincare, however, clinical research on this particular type of vitamin C is limited. 

White birch extract and peony root extract also add additional brightening benefits.

Reviews of Kiehl’s Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Solution are quite positive. Some people reported improvements in their dark spots, acne scars, or hyperpigmentation after several weeks of consistent use (sunscreen is a must!).

This dark spot corrector has a nice lightweight texture and dries very quickly. This makes it easy to wear under makeup and sunscreen.

Overall, Kiehl’s Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Solution is a quality vitamin C serum for fighting hyperpigmentation, wrinkles and fine lines, acne scars, and maintaining skin health.

But be ready to drop some serious dough as this serum does not come cheap!

What is Kiehl’s Dark Spot Solution?

Best Vitamin C Serums for Hyperpigmentation in 2019
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Kiehl’s Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Solution was originally introduced in the Dermatologist-Solutions collection in 2005. 

It is designed to address dark spots, hyperpigmentation, and uneven skin tone. With regular use, this serum can also prevent further skin discoloration.

Kiehl’s dark spot corrector uses a blend of vitamin C (which Kiehl’s calls “Activated C”), white birch extract, and peony root extract.

All of these ingredients have skin brightening properties that help reverse pigmentation disorders like melasma, age spots, and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.

What I like the most about this serum is the lightweight texture. It feels almost watery but not to the point of being runny.

I also enjoyed the light lavender scent as well, but for some people this may cause skin irritation or breakouts. 

The formula is silicone-free, paraben-free, and fragrance-free, with no added colorant or optical diffusers.

What Makes Kiehl’s Different?

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Kiehl’s began as an old-world apothecary (equivalent of a pharmacy today) in New York City. 

Named after John Kiehl, the brand has had several owners since it was founded in 1851.

Some of Kiehl’s bestsellers over the years include: 

If you have a Kiehl’s store nearby, it’s definitely worth a quick visit. Each store is designed around Kiehl’s heritage with brick walls reminiscent of its apothecary days,  a motorcycle on display, and Mr. Bones, the company’s skeleton mascot.

For more information on Kiehl’s, check out their heritage timeline.

Kiehl’s Dark Spot Solution Ingredients

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The key ingredients in Kiehl’s dark spot corrector include:

  1. Activated C (3-O-ethyl ascorbic acid)
  2. White Birch Extract
  3. Peony Root Extract

You can find the full ingredient list here.

Benefits of Vitamin C

Vitamin C is clinically proven to brighten your skin by inhibiting melanin synthesis. This helps reverse pigmentation disorders such as melasma, age spots, and post-acne marks.

Melanin is an important pigment that determines our skin color and protects us from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation. 

Vitamin C also promotes collagen formation. It influences gene expression (i.e. DNA) and provides essential inputs for collagen production. This helps improve the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines as well as atrophic (pitted) acne scars.

Finally, vitamin C protects our skin from the sun’s UV rays. It has antioxidant properties that prevent UV-induced free radical damage. UV rays are known causes of sunburn, dark spots, and skin cancer.


1. Activated C

According to Kiehl’s, Activated C is a “next-generation vitamin C derivative that is proven to effectively fade acne marks and age marks and reduce skin discolorations.” 

But what exactly is this ingredient? 

If you look at the ingredient list, you should see 3-O-ethyl ascorbic acid

L-ascorbic acid is the pure form of vitamin C and 3-O-ethyl ascorbic acid (we’ll call this EAC) is a vitamin C derivative.

For chemistry geeks, 3-O-ethyl ascorbic acid is a form of vitamin C where an ethyl group (C2H6) has bonded to the C3 carbon of ascorbic acid. This form of vitamin C is more stable than L-ascorbic acid which is known to oxidize (spoil) very quickly.

What about the clinical evidence for using EAC?

As with anything “next-generation”, there isn’t a lot of research yet on this vitamin C derivative. But I did find a few promising studies.

Researchers at the Chang Gung University of Science & Technology in Taiwan found that EAC has strong anti-tyrosinase capabilities and antioxidant properties

The researchers also determined the optimal conditions for EAC stability is around 36°C (close to our body temperature) at a pH of 5.5. 

This is great because our skin’s natural pH is 4-5.5 thanks to the “acid mantle” that protects us from bacteria and fungi. Since EAC is stable at a pH of 5.5, it is less likely to disrupt our acid mantle (which is important for skin health).

Conversely, L-ascorbic acid requires an acidic pH (<3.5) to penetrate the skin, which can sometimes cause irritation and sensitivity.

How does EAC compare to other vitamin C derivatives? 

According to a 2012 paper in The Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, EAC is better at penetrating our skin’s lipid barriers (i.e. oily layers) due to the molecule’s lipophilic properties (it is fat-soluble).

The study shows that EAC has better permeability than ascorbyl glucoside, another popular vitamin C derivative. 

2. White Birch Extract

White birch extract comes from the bark of the white birch tree. 

According to Paula’s Choice, it has both antioxidant and astringent properties. 

According to Kiehl’s, this extract works synergistically with Activated C to promote more even skin tone and restore hydration and nutrients to the skin.

3. Peony Root Extract

Peony root extract is an antioxidant used in traditional Chinese medicine (also called the “king of flowers”). 

According to Kiehl’s, peony root extract works with activated C to prevent oxidative damage and encourage the reversal of skin discoloration.

Kiehl’s Dark Spot Solution Reviews

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“Helped fade very old acne scars…”

“I have very old (20 years at least) acne scars on my neck. I’ve tried other dark spot removers and they never really faded or did anything. I got a small sample size of this in a whole set of Kiehl’s. I’m only halfway through the tiny bottle and the spots are gone. I also had redness on my cheek and chin and those are considerably faded as well. I don’t understand how it works so fast and so well. It’s not like I haven’t tried this with other brands. This is an excellent product. I’m very tempted to buy another bottle just so I can use it on my whole face and see what else it can do.”

Sephora Reviewer

“Works well on scars and acne…”

“This product works really well on my skin, for a serum that only claims to fade scars, I was surprised to see that it also prevents acne. I usually get a lot of pimples during my period but when using this, I only got a couple of them. It also did fade most of my scars and it isn’t too harsh on my skin. The downsides of this product is the packaging and the price. It’s just difficult to bring around when travelling because the serum would leak if I leave it in my luggage bag. Super pricey in my country too. But I’d still repurchase it because it’s the only serum that has ever proven to work well on my skin.”

MakeupAlley Reviewer

“Worked at first but stopped after second bottle…”

“When I first started using it, it worked like a miracle. My acne scars were fading noticeably faster than if I didn’t use the serum, so that I bought a second bottle even before I finished the first one. Unfortunately, eventually it just stopped working on me. I no longer see much effects of the serum, and I suspect that it has to do with the fact that the vitamin c is not preserved well in a clear glass bottle. The smell is citrus-y and I like having a dropper because it’s more sanitary but that’s about it.”

Influenster Reviewer

My Verdict on Kiehl’s Dark Spot Solution

I hope you enjoyed our in-depth Kiehl’s Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Solution review. 

This is an excellent addition to your skincare routine that helps brighten dark spots, fade acne scars, and protect skin from UV damage.

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