I’ll be honest: I was a pimply teenager, as every yearbook I’ve ever been featured in can prove. But despite my zit-tastic adolescence, by the time I got to college and into a semblance of a skin-care routine, my acne graciously cut me some slack. Once I hit my mid 20s, however, it came back with a five-alarm-fire vengeance. We're talking painful hormonal cystic craters that took up residence, one by one, across my forehead and cheeks.

I waged a good fight against them, and once the war was won (with the help of dermatological expertise, a newly dairy-free lifestyle, and a prescription topical), I was left with nary an outbreak. The only trace that remained was a growing collection of dark spots, which I exfoliated into oblivion over the course of years — yes, years.

“Dark spots — aka, hyperpigmentation — most commonly occur on the skin after skin trauma such as a pimple or a rash like eczema or psoriasis,” says board-certified Atlanta dermatologist Tiffany Clay. “Trauma causes inflammation, which then increases the production of melanin in the area of injury and makes it appear darker.”

I still get flare-ups every now and again — and I know how to treat them. But what continues to leave me defeated is the hyperpigmentation I can never seem to expel. This is doubly true now that I've transitioned to non-toxic, plant-based skin care. With the exception of a small handful of topical potions, I haven't yet found a truly efficacious dark-spot treatment that gets the job done without hydroquinone, a controversial bleaching agent that's banned for use in cosmetic products in the European Union. (Though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has deemed it safe for topical application, studies have found evidence of carcinogenicity in rodents when hydroquinone was orally administered.)

Needless to say, I was intrigued when Versed's new Out of Sight Dark Spot Gel landed on my desk. I've been a devotee of the cruelty-free, clean skin-care range since it debuted two years ago, and I was optimistic the formula in the pistachio-green tube would be able to get the job done safely. I'm a sucker for skin care that's chic enough to display on my countertop, and the 51% post-consumer resin (PCR) packaging — which includes recycled materials from existing plastic bottles — is all that and then some.

But it's what's on the inside that counts, after all, so I did what any good dark-spot obsessed would do: I put the Out of Sight Dark Spot Gel to the test on a stubborn new batch of hyperpigmentation.

Let's start with the application. The concentrated brightening treatment goes on smoothly, with a precision applicator that makes it easy to dot a thin layer onto targeted areas of clean, dry skin. The crystal-clear gel is thick but seemingly mess-proof: Just two to three minutes is all it takes to sink in, freeing you up to layer on the rest of your skin care. I like to keep mine stored in a cool, dark place, so it lives in the fridge where it's in good company beside my small army of sheet masks.

The Versed Hydroquinone-Free Dark Spot Gel Is a Gentle, Yet Effective Skin-Care Dream

I've been battling my hyperpigmentation ever since side parts were cool, so trust me when I say: This stuff works. And it's not just me, either. In an eight-week trial, 85 percent of people agreed the product minimized the appearance of dark spots, while 70 percent found it corrected uneven-looking skin tone.

So, what sets the Out of Sight Dark Spot Gel apart? It's all in the formula — gentle, grand-slam ingredients that both impede melanin production and slow the transfer of pigment, all without drying the problem spot to Saharan levels.

That's thanks in no small part to kojic acid, a chemical derived from mushrooms that's jam-packed with antioxidants. "Kojic acid is a botanical ingredient that blocks activity of the enzyme involved in the production of melanin, which is our bodies’ natural pigment," explains New York City dermatologist Joshua Zeichner. According to Clay, it's also one of the most heavily favored ingredients to fight dark spots. “It’s gentle on the skin and can be used in pregnancy and breastfeeding patients, which makes it a favorite especially when combined with other dark spot treatments.”

The Out of Sight Dark Spot Gel also contains tranexamic acid, which one might call a dermatologist's secret weapon. "Tranexamic acid is one of the hottest ingredients in treating hyperpigmentation," says Zeichner. "Its mechanism of action is unclear but may provide anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects." The synthetic amino acid derivative can also be used to treat melasma, a common, harmless skin condition characterized by pigmented patches or freckle-like spots.

Niacinamide comes next: A form of vitamin B3, it reduces the appearance of discoloration and blotchiness while simultaneously strengthening the outer layers of skin. It's also a skin-care all-star: "This is an ingredient that's very well tolerated and used for a lot of skin conditions," adds Robert Finney, a cosmetic dermatologist at Entière Dermatology in New York City.

Finally, the stuff is rich in licorice root extract, which Clay says “also helps to reduce free radical production,” molecules in our atmosphere that can be responsible for breaking down our skin's collagen. And with a breakdown of collagen, which keeps our complexions looking healthy and even, comes no shortage of skin-care woes, including dark spots. “This is another gentle ingredient that works well with others to treat dark spots.”

Together, the ingredient foursome divides and conquers, safely and effectively reducing dark spots without irritation. The Versed Out of Sight Dark Spot Gel claims to clear new hyperpigmentation in just a few weeks, fading and evening out old spots in two to three months. My own at-home test followed that timeline: My latest batch of post-acne scarring looked marginally more even-toned in just a week's time.

Finney tells me that spots that have been around longer take more time to clear, but I'm in it for the long haul, dark spots be damned. There are also ways we can stave them off from the start, of course. “If anyone has dark spots, the number-one preventive product they should be using is sunscreen, preferably a mineral-based sunscreen with SPF 30 or greater,” says Clay. (As it turns out, Versed has a pretty great option itself: The Guards Up Daily Mineral Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 35 features an oil-free formula that rubs in quickly and easily without a tint or white cast on deep skin tones.) “Adding pigmented products, called iron oxides, on top of, or with, sunscreen adds even more protection against UV and blue-light exposure.”

In the meantime, I can take comfort in knowing I have a safe, results-driven option in my arsenal. And at just $16.99, the Versed Out of Sight Dark Spot Gel is a small price to pay in my quest for clear, healthy skin.