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A couple of months ago, I finally found my skincare happy place. My previous nonstop cycle of hormonal breakouts had finally pumped the breaks, I had honed a realistic and sustainable skincare routine (thank you, Renée!), and I felt confident and comfortable in my skin. Finally. With my angry red bumps having abated, the one and only war I still wagered was against that inevitable residual pigmentation and scarring. Sure, I may have finally been able to call a ceasefire, but there was still a lot of collateral damage to address. The skin around my chin, mouth, and nose (where my hormonal breakouts had wreaked most of their havoc) was red and splotchy, and my cheekbones and jawline were riddled with purplish remnants of the bumps that had previously resided there. Thus, there was only one category of skincare to call upon—acids—and, as I soon discovered, one under-the-radar member in particular: tranexamic acid.
Fast-forward a few weeks, and I'd found myself sitting atop the plush blue sofas of the Clique lobby discussing (aka gossiping about) all the newest and most noteworthy product innovations in the realm of skincare. My sidekick sage? Helen Koo, senior marketing manager of Dermstore and an all-knowing saint when it comes to the latest and greatest happening in the world of good skin. When she slyly passed me the then-just-launched SkinCeuticals Discoloration Defense ($98) telling me it would likely change my skin in as little as three weeks, I was intrigued, if not a tad skeptical.
"It contains tranexamic acid, which is pretty uncommon right now, but I think it's about to be the biggest up-and-coming acid in skincare," she told me. Interesting, I thought to myself. A brightening powerhouse, tranexamic acid is said to boast some of the most superhuman benefits in terms of addressing discoloration. Therefore, it's heaven-sent for anyone dealing with melasma, hyperpigmentation, acne scarring, or purple-y red-splotched complexions—AKA me. So, taking my role of guinea pig very seriously, I brought home my bottle and began a daily ritual of adding three to five drops to my morning skincare routine—post-toner and pre-SPF. Drumroll…My skin did change. In fact, it beat Koo's timing prediction; I began noticing a difference in the intensity of my scarring and the overall brightness of my face in just a few days.
Tranexamic acid sure seemed like a miracle ingredient, so I had to find out more about it. We chatted with doctors Gary and Kristina Goldenberg of Goldenberg Dermatology and Ron Robinson, cosmetic chemist and founder of Beauty Stat cosmetics, about the benefits of tranexamic acid and exactly how you can incorporate it into your skincare routine.
Type of Ingredient: Acid
Main benefits: Fades discoloration, brightens skin, reduces the appearance of acne scars.
Who should use it: Generally, tranexamic acid is safe for all skin types. Those with super sensitive skin or eczema should do a test on the inside of the wrist before use, just to be safe.
How often you can use it: Ideally, tranexamic acid would be applied twice a day, but some suggest starting with one application per day to see how it reacts with your skin.
Works well with: Vitamin C, SPF, hyaluronic acid, retinol.
Don't use with: Multiple different acids, stick to only using it with one or two others to avoid dryness.
What is Tranexamic Acid?
After doing some research, I quickly discovered Koo hadn't been kidding when she said tranexamic acid as a topical skincare ingredient was rare and rather on the cusp. What I did find was lots of hard-hitting research commending its effectiveness. And while only a handful of notable skincare brands (like SkinCeuticals, Joanna Vargas, Shiseido, and SkinMedica, to name a few) have infused it into certain game-changing formulas, I don't doubt many others will quickly follow suit. As Robinson explains, tranexamic acid "helps to reduce the look of hyper-pigmentation." In other words, it helps heal dark spots. A synthetic derivative of the amino acid lysine, tranexamic acid is described by the skincare wizzes at SkinCeuticals as "a powerful ingredient recognized for its ability to brighten skin complexion and improve the appearance of discoloration."
Benefits of Tranexamic Acid for Skin
"Listed in the World Health Organization's list of Essential Medicines, tranexamic acid was originally used to reduce blood loss in patients experiencing menorrhagia and during open-heart surgery," SkinCeuticals explains on its website. "However, in 1979, physicians accidentally began noticing that patients who had been treated with tranexamic acid were seeing visible improvement in skin discoloration." Plus, unlike some acids, which play nicer alone, it pairs beautifully with other brightening and skin-repairing saviors like vitamin C and your favorite SPF (which will help prevent damage and ensuing discoloration from the get-go).
"Everyday elements—including UV exposure, prescription drugs, and some professional treatments—can trigger the skin discoloration process by activating inflammatory mediators within the skin," the brand warns. "This results in a chain reaction that causes skin to produce melanin, the naturally occurring pigment that gives skin its color. While the purpose of melanin is protective, when produced in excess, it can form deposits in the skin that manifest as dark patches, isolated spots, or an overall darker facial appearance."
Side Effects of Tranexamic Acid
Although tranexamic acid is safe for most skin types, it's always important to consult with a dermatologist before incorporating a new ingredient into your skincare routine. According to Robinson, tranexamic acid "is compatible with many other skincare ingredients." He cautions, however, that "it can be irritating to those with very sensitive skin."
Gary suggests adding possibly irritating ingredients, like acids, one at a time. Starting too many new products at once can do more harm than good, overwhelming your skin and causing redness or flakiness.
How to Use It
Since tranexamic acid is gentle on its own, you can combine it with other skincare ingredients to maximize the benefits. "I like combining this with a retinol, I like combining it with a chemical peel, it's definitely a good adjunct to treating melasma, but it's not enough on its own," Kristina says. Combining it with vitamin C or kojic acid maximizes its brightening power, ensuring you get the most out of the ingredient.
The best way to apply tranexamic acid? "I think the best vehicle is the one that's formulated by a good manufacturer," Gary says. "I do love using acids in a serum," he continues. Essentially, whatever your skin most agrees with is best. Just remember to always follow up with a moisturizer, like the CeraVe AM and PM moisturizer ($30) or the Goldenberg's own moisturizer, Intense Recovery, which is available in their office.
The Best Products With Tranexamic Acid
With tranexamic acid as one its starring ingredients, this brightening eye mask from celebrity esthetician Joanna Vargas is one of the best for resurrecting lifeless, shadowy under-eyes. The stellar ingredient roster also boasts matrixyl, allantoin, and licorice root extract to pump extra hydration into skin while simultaneously diminishing puffiness.
Aptly named, this pigment-correcting concentrate from SkinMedica is highly effective if any kind of discoloration is the bane of your existence. It's a brightening powerhouse (niacinamide is another heavy hitter here) and works skin-improving wonders regardless of skin type. In addition to supporting a healthier and happier skin barrier, it also prevents the formation of future spots and discoloration.
As one of SkinCeuticals' newest and buzziest launches, this elixir comes in clutch for anyone suffering from lingering sun damage, acne scarring, melasma, and/or hyperpigmentation. With its strategic melding of pigmentation-busting acids (like tranexamic and kojic) plus an extra dose of niacinamide for good measure, it's one of the best serums on the market for combating unwanted discoloration.
Price-tag wise, this heavy-duty serum from cult-loved skincare brand Clé de Peau Beauté isn't for the faint of heart. If you're seeking results by way of ultra-luxurious means, though, then you've met your match. Chock-full of lust-worthy fare like peony, cinnamon extract, hyaluronic acid, mangosteen, raspberry, black tea, and, yes, tranexamic acid, it'll provide major bang for your buck.
Meant to combat dullness and uneven texture, this Murad peel utilizes tranexamic acid along with an AHA blend. It works in two phases, improving the clarity of skin over time.
Swap it in as your daytime moisturizer and you'll be left with a vitamin C–packed potion designed to ward off environmental precariousness (like UV pollution and dehydration) while supporting cell turnover and hydration.
This intensive formula employs a 15 percent active brightening complex, to lessen the look of dark spots and post-blemish marks.
For those who want to try out tranexamic acid without spending too much, this formula by Good Molecules is a budget-friendly option. It pairs tranexamic acid with hyaluronic acid for moisture and niacinamide for both brightening and hydration. This triple-threat combo helps fade discoloration, moisturize dehydrated skin, and brighten a dull complexion. Simply apply a few drops before your other oils and moisturizer and you're good to go.