Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Solution
1 fl. oz. for $49.50
Last Updated:12.02.2014
Jar Packaging:No
Tested on animals:Yes
Review Overview

This water-based serum is said to lighten dark spots with vitamin C. Although there’s vitamin C in this serum (a novel form, explained below), the formula contains a potentially problematic amount of alcohol and also comes in clear packaging that won’t keep the vitamin C stable during use (see below for details). What was Kiehl’s thinking? Alcohol causes dryness, free-radical damage, and hinders skin’s ability to look and act younger.

Vitamin C, either as pure ascorbic acid or as the derivative that Kiehl’s uses (3-O ethyl ascorbic acid, which breaks down to pure vitamin C on skin) is a wonderful antioxidant and there’s a good amount of research showing how it helps reduce dark spots and other brown discolorations on skin, most of which comes from sun damage. But because all forms of ascorbic acid are susceptible to deteriorating in the presence of light and air, opaque packaging is a must. A clear bottle just doesn’t cut it. The China-based company that supplies this form of vitamin C to cosmetic lines has their own research showing this ingredient is stable after 90 days of light and air exposure but without seeing the study, it's difficult to know the control factor, not to mention that the company selling this ingredient to cosmetic firms likely won't go on record claiming it's unstable.

This somewhat tacky-textured serum also contains fragrant lavender oil, a plant oil that even in small amounts can cause irritation that hurts skin’s ability to repair itself and generate healthy collagen. The citrus extracts this contains aren’t good news for your skin, either.

As for the peony root extract that Kiehl’s promotes for this skin lightening product, it has no established benefit for skin. Even if it did, the amount this serum contains is minuscule.

Clinique, Philosophy, and Paula’s Choice are among the brands that offer superior skin lightening products that stand a great chance of lightening dark spots. You can find them all on our Best Skin-Lightening Products list!


A highly-concentrated, prescription-strength treatment which is clinically-demonstrated to rapidly correct dark spots and clarify skin tone.


Water, Propylene Glycol, Glycerin, Alcohol Denatured, PEG/PPG/Polybutene Glycol-8/5/3/ Glycerin, Hydroxypropyl Tetrahydropyrantriol, 3-O Ethyl Ascorbic Acid, PEG-6 Decyltetradeceth-30, Phenoxyethanol, Salicylic Acid, Xanthan Gum, Hydroxyethylcellulose, Potassium Hydroxide, Citric Acid, Sodium Citrate, Tocopheryl Acetate, Lavandula Angustifolia Oil/Lavender Oil, Disodium EDTA, Linalool, Citrus Tachibana/Citrus Aurantium Tachibana Peel Extract, Paeonia Suffruitcosa Extract/Paeonia Suffruitcosa Root Extract

Brand Overview

Kiehl's At-A-Glance

Strengths: Kiehl's staff is generous when it comes to providing samples and product information; some good cleansers; a couple worthwhile serums.

Weaknesses: Expensive for what you get; the Blue Herbal and Facial Fuel products are terrible; no products to successfully address skin discolorations; the toners are disappointing; the self-tanner should be avoided; jar packaging weakens several of the formulas.

This line has been around for quite some time, and has its origins in a family-owned pharmacy based in New York City. Perhaps its neighborly beginnings with a big-city heritage are what propelled Kiehl's to its long-standing status as a popular product line. Considering that Kiehl's doesn't advertise (at least not in the traditional sense, though their products get frequent press), their brand identity and status in the minds of consumers are impressive.

What gets lost in all the fashion magazine hype and company claims of "excellence" and "quality ingredients" is that almost all of the Kiehl's products hardly warrant excitement or even mild enthusiasm. Most of them are surprisingly ordinary, with a dusting of natural ingredients almost always at the very end of the ingredient list, well after the preservatives. That amounts to little more than a token attempt to make the products appear more natural to those who want to believe a plant or vitamin must somehow be better for the skin than something that sounds more chemical. Nevertheless, that token amount is enough to allow Kiehl's to brag about how its products nourish the skin or are more environmentally friendly, when they're not.

Aside from the allure of the natural, this line consists of totally ordinary and often completely unnatural ingredients. More disheartening for skin is that many of the ingredients are of questionable benefit for those with sensitive, oily, or blemish-prone skin. In some instances product ingredients are irritating for any skin type, while half of the sunscreen products are a serious problem for reliable sun protection. If you can't resist the allure of Kiehl's, just know that the product assembly will work best for those with dry to very dry skin and that, for the money, most of the formulas aren't knock-your-socks-off thrilling.

Note: Kiehl's is categorized as a brand that tests on animals because its products are sold in China. Although Kiehl's does not conduct animal testing for its products sold elsewhere, the Chinese government requires imported cosmetics be tested on animals, so foreign companies retailing there must comply. This requirement is why some brands state that they don’t test on animals “unless required by law.” Animal rights organizations consider cosmetic companies retailed in China to be brands that test on animals, and so does the Paula’s Choice Research Team.

For more information about Kiehl's, owned by L'Oreal, call (800) 543-4572 or visit www.kiehls.com.

About the Experts

The new Beautypedia Team proudly and unequivocally maintains the commitment to help you find the best products possible for your skin. We do this by relentlessly pursuing and relying on published scientific research so you will have unbiased information on what works and what doesn't-and the sneaky ways you could be making your skin worse, not better!

The Beautypedia Team reviews all products using the same research, criteria, and objectivity, whether the product being reviewed is from Paula's Choice or another brand.

Member Comments
Summary of Member Comments
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So far so good

I bought the very pricey Lytera for $125 and it did absolutely nothing. Meanwhile I have been using this for 10 days and already see a significant result! Definite lightening. A little goes a long way and I think it will last me a long time. I also love the glass bottle with glass dropper. So chic. I prefer it to tubes like Paula's Choice.

Reviewed by
A good product

I bought this on recommendation. It feels very nice on the skin. I bought it because of the spots I was developing on my face due to the sun. This is the only product I've used for this problem which is why I only gave it "3"'s and not "4"'s. I ran out; didn't have the money to buy again. I noticed quite a difference after a while. Spots were developing again, so yes, the product works. I've since bought the largest bottle.

Reviewed by
Linda, G
Thumbs down

I am in Canada, I bought this really at a really expensive price.I notice I tend to go for products that is very light and I believe it is alcohol that is doing it. This product feels nice on skin as it is light and not oily, however it did nothing for me. It is just now sitting there as one of my "crappy" skin care. What do I do with the skin care products that is not suitable but at a great cost? I really do not recommend this product at all!

Reviewed by
Bonnie L.
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