Tranexamic Acid: What It Is And How It Can Help Fade Your Dark Spots

Lena Weib

In the quest for brighter-looking skin with a more even tone, there’s a new ingredient taking the spotlight that may be one of the most effective options out there. You may not have heard much about tranexamic acid (TXA) yet, but that’s about to change, as a new flurry of products start turning up in serums, peels and other skin products that promise to illuminate and balance out your skin tone.

With so many cool new ingredients out there, how do you know which ones to choose? Let’s start by talking about what this one does.

“TXA is an ingredient that helps lighten dark spots, reduce hyperpigmentation and lessen the appearance of acne scars,” dermatologist Jeannette Graf, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, told HuffPost. In addition to its effectiveness on trouble spots, it provides that much sought-after “all over” boost as well. “One of the key benefits is its ability to brighten overall skin complexion while fading discoloration,” dermatologist Uchenna Okereke said.

Are you a good candidate for TXA? “It’s an excellent ingredient for anyone with discoloration concerns,” dermatologist Rebecca Marcus said. “It’s usually very well tolerated, even in those with sensitive skin.”

How An Off-Label Drug Made Its Way To Skin Care

Just when you were getting a handle on ingredients like polyglutamic acid, hyaluronic acid and niacinamide, here comes another look-at-me darling in your skin care lineup. Where did this stuff come from, anyway? Turns out, it’s been used by doctors for quite a while, but its dermatological value has been put it in the spotlight of late.

“It’s a compound that has been prescribed by mouth to help encourage clotting,” said dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, an associate professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital. “The oral medication was found to improve pigmentation in the skin, even in resistant cases. There are theories that it may have antioxidant effects or may help minimize heat and inflammation in the skin.” Still, there are cautions. “It shouldn’t be prescribed in its oral form to people with clotting disorders or in people at risk for clots, and avoid it if you’re taking oral contraceptive pills.” For this story, though, we’ll focus on the topical version of the ingredient.

Dermatologist Seemal R. Desai said that TXA is FDA off-label for the treatment of dermatologic disease, but that research on its effectiveness as a skin remedy has been promising. “A variety of studies have shown that it can be effective in patients suffering from hyperpigmentation, particularly melasma,” he said. Melasma is a condition in which patches or freckle-like spots appear on the skin, usually on the face.

Here’s How It Works

Basically, TXA blocks melanin production, which is often the underlying issue of skin discoloration. Desai explains the science behind it: “In essence, it’s almost like an anti-inflammatory. It helps block the production of prostaglandins and arachidonic acid, inflammatory mediators that are involved in driving melanogenesis and tyrosinase enzyme activity.”

Dermatologist Sumayah Taliaferro told HuffPost about what science knows about TXA — and what it doesn’t. “The exact mechanism of action of tranexamic acid in the treatment of hyperpigmentation and melasma remains unclear, but we do know that plasmin activity, which might increase from UV light exposure, is suppressed by tranexamic acid.”

However it works, the results are impressive. “It’s just as effective as other skin lighteners and brighteners, but it comes with lower risk of irritation,” Marcus said. “Another commonly used skin lightening ingredient, hydroquinone, comes with a risk of ochronosis, which is darkening of the skin, if used for too long. Tranexamic acid doesn’t carry that risk, and it’s a safer alternative that can be used for a longer period of time, perhaps indefinitely.”

How To Get Started

“While TXA is generally safe for almost all skin types, those with sensitive skin or eczema should proceed with caution, since it can cause dryness, peeling and irritation,” Okereke said. Just to be safe, do a patch test on your jawline to see how your skin reacts. Also, take care of how you mix and match. “Mixing too many acids can lead to drying out the skin,” Graf said.

“It’s been studied in concentrations of between 3% and 5%, so I recommend looking for a product with a concentration in this range,” Marcus said. “Start applying it once a day to ensure there’s no irritation, and if it’s well tolerated, then apply it twice a day. It can be combined with other ingredients such as niacinamide for brightening and vitamin C or retinol for collagen stimulation. Sunscreen should always be applied on top, since any skin lightening efforts will be reversed by exposure to the sun.”

“More studies need to be done, including work on long-term safety side effects, but this is certainly a very exciting option for my patients,” Desai said.

The following products were recommended by the dermatologists we interviewed:

HuffPost may receive a share from purchases made via links on this page. Every item is independently selected by the HuffPost Shopping team. Prices and availability are subject to change.

Naturium

Naturium Tranexamic Acid 5%

This product was recommended by Marcus. The leave-on acid contains TXA, kojic acid, niacinamide and licorice, which work together to help fade the look of dark spots and hyperpigmentation.

SkinCeuticals

SkinCeuticals Discoloration Defense

This was the product mentioned the most among the dermatologists we interviewed. “It’s an elegant serum with a blend of 3% TXA, 1% kojic acid and 5% niacinamide,” Okereke said.

SkinMedica

SkinMedica Lytera 2.0 Pigment Correcting Serum

“This is a good overnight product, and with consistent use, it can help with dullness and dark spots,” Graf said. Marcus also mentioned this serum as a good choice.

Murad

Murad Resurgence Replenishing Multi-Acid Peel

“This liquid tranexamic acid peel soothes and brightens the skin,” Graf said. The product claims to help combat dullness, rough texture and uneven skin tone by giving you a brighter, more vibrant complexion.

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