It would be a fib to say I’ve heard about tranexamic acid before working in the beauty industry. But as I dived deeper into the world of skincare ingredients, I read a lot of good things about it, and what I found colored me impressed.
Firstly, don’t be like me and get tricked by the acid in the name because this one is not like the AHAs or BHAs you’re used to and doesn’t work by exfoliating your skin. Instead, it acts gently on the skin to even out the tone and banishes those stubborn blemishes left by sun damage and acne. Aham, this means if you’re dealing with forms of discoloration and your goal is to achieve a brighter complexion, this one might be for you. As a skin expert who actually read every clinical study about this dark spots fighter, I’m here to answer all of your questions surrounding tranexamic acid in skincare—what it is, what it does to the skin, and who can benefit from using it.
What is tranexamic acid?
Tranexamic acid (TXA) is a synthetic derivative of lysine amino acid commonly used in medicine to stem bleeding and alleviate heavy periods when taken orally. But lately, this ingredient has made its way onto our vanity countertops in all sorts of skincare products that address dark spots, sun spots, and post-acne marks. And for good reasons—tranexamic acid has everything it takes to reduce hyperpigmentation and brighten the skin.
How does tranexamic acid work in skincare products?
Tranexamic acid works by slowing the production of melanin, the pigment that darkens the skin tone. It does this by blocking the activity of an enzyme called plasmin, which can trigger an inflammatory response and stimulate cells to produce more melanin. TXA also decreases the activity of tyrosinase—the main enzyme involved in the synthesis of melanin.
That means tranexamic acid can help reduce the appearance of all major forms of skin discoloration, such as melasma, sun-induced dark spots, and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation caused by acne. Moreover, it has anti-inflammatory effects that can be effective in reducing redness and acne breakouts.
What got me hooked about tranexamic acid is its multifaceted approach—it does the job from both the inside out and the outside in. In simpler words, it expresses skincare benefits not only when taken orally but when it’s topically applied as well. So whether you prefer to pop a pill or slather on a cream, tranexamic acid is one of the best ingredients to fix your uneven skin tone.
How effective is it?
Tranexamic acid has been gaining a lot of attention as a promising treatment for melasma, a condition that causes brown or grayish-brown patches on the skin, often as a result of sun exposure, pregnancy, or hormonal treatments. In fact, recent studies have shown that it can be just as powerful—yet with fewer side effects—as hydroquinone, known as one of the most potent skin-lightening agents.
Sun-induced dark spots
Sun damage is a major culprit that causes dark spots and freckles, and guess what? Tranexamic acid appears especially effective in correcting them due to its ability to suppress melanin. In a 2021 study, a 2% tranexamic acid serum applied twice daily for eight weeks considerably improved the overall facial tone and the appearance of sun-damaged skin. But that’s not all. It also turns out to be superior to an emulsion containing 3% magnesium ascorbate phosphate, a stable form of vitamin C.
Did you know your favorite cosmetic procedures, like laser treatments, microneedling, or chemical peels, can leave you with post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation? This can also happen after acne, burns, and other injuries. Well, doctors have successfully used TXA to counteract this issue and consider it an optimal preventative treatment to reduce the risk of hyperpigmentation after dermatologic procedures.
Tranexamic acid is an all-in-one solution for acneic skin prone to blemishes. In addition to diminishing post-acne marks, it provides anti-inflammatory benefits that can decrease breakouts. Proof? In a clinical study, topical 10% tranexamic acid effectively reduced the number of papules and pustules (forms of inflammatory acne) in as little as four weeks.
However, I must mention that 10% TXA can’t be found in OTC products, as it exceeds the maximum concentration allowed. While a 2% serum with TXA may improve the appearance of pigmentation caused by acne, it’s unclear if it’s suitable for treating active breakouts. Therefore, it’s best to stick to proven acne treatments (think salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide) and use TXA to support the results.
Tranexamic acid has been shown to relieve inflammation, flushing, and redness, which are common signs of rosacea. Additionally, it may help to reduce the formation of blood vessels in the skin, which can contribute to persistent redness. However, before giving it a try, it’s best to consult with a dermatologist to find the right treatment for your specific needs.
Tranexamic acid is a mild ingredient and is generally considered safe for topical use in concentrations as high as 3%. Nevertheless, as with most skincare actives, tranexamic acid may cause side effects such as irritation, dryness, and scaling, especially on sensitive skin.
However, most adverse effects caused by TXA go on their own once your skin adjusts to it, and they can be treated by simply applying a moisturizing cream. I suggest performing a patch test to see how your skin reacts before using your tranexamic acid-infused skincare products. Also, you shouldn’t apply tranexamic acid without consulting your doctor if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.
How to use tranexamic acid skincare products
TXA pops up in a bunch of skincare products, from serums to creams and face masks, and how you use it largely depends on the product on hand. I know it’s a cliche answer, but that’s the truth.
However, most of the time, tranexamic acid products are suitable for daily use. Since TXA doesn’t make skin photosensitive, you can apply it at any time of the day. Of course, that also depends on what other actives the product has. For instance, you shouldn’t use a TXA serum in the morning if it contains retinol.
The best part about tranexamic acid is that it’s mild enough to be mixed with other potent actives, including brightening agents like niacinamide, kojic acid, and vitamin C. It’s also well-tolerated when used together with treatments such as tretinoin or hydroquinone.
A good example of integrating tranexamic acid into your beauty routine is to apply a serum containing it in the morning and follow up with a lightweight moisturizer and sunscreen. Ideally, use a serum that packs vitamin C too, for added antioxidant protection and brightening effects.
Here are our favorite tranexamic acid serums that we’re willing to stake our reputation for. We’ve handpicked a range of products from milder to stronger, with various price points and, most importantly, with formulas that deliver on their promises.
I say YES to tranexamic acid—it’s tried-and-true and the kind of ingredient where evidence speaks for itself. It’s potent enough to deliver results for dark spots, post-acne blemishes, and anything in between. For the best results, I suggest a serum that blends TRX with the MVPs of skin brightening, aka vitamin C, niacinamide, retinol, and azelaic acid.
Women’s Concepts uses reliable sources, including dermatologists’ insights, clinical trials, and scientific journals, to find accurate information and support all the facts shared in our articles. All statements and claims have clear and legit references. Read our editorial policy to learn more about our sources of information, our process of researching and fact-checking the content, and how our team strives to keep all articles updated, completed, and trustworthy.
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