A couple of months ago, I finally found my skincare happy place. My previous nonstop cycle of hormonal breakouts had finally pumped the breaks because I had honed a realistic and sustainable skincare routine (thank you, Renée!). I felt confident and comfortable in my skin. Finally. With my angry red bumps having abated, the one and only war I still waged 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 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, then a senior marketing manager for 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.
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 tranexamic acid-containing product 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 BeautyStat cosmetics, about the benefits of tranexamic acid and exactly how you can incorporate it into your skincare routine.
Meet the Expert
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-containing products 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 a combination of one or two additional acid products to avoid dryness.
What is Tranexamic Acid?
After doing some sleuthing, I found some research commending its effectiveness. Several notable skincare brands (like SkinCeuticals, Joanna Vargas, Shiseido, and SkinMedica, to name a few) have infused it into certain game-changing formulas. As Robinson explains, tranexamic acid "helps to reduce the look of hyper-pigmentation." In other words, it can help lighten 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
Tranexamic acid is on the World Health Organization's list of Essential Medicines because it has historically been used to treat or stop excessive loss of blood in various situations including major trauma and surgery. In 1979 however, a medical professional accidentally discovered the skin benefits of tranexamic acid, when a patient of his taking the medication for chronic urticaria also experienced lightening of skin discoloration. The ingredient 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 production of melanin in the skin's lowest epidermal layers," SkinCeuticals warns on its website. "This excess melanin rises to the surface of the skin, causing visible skin discoloration. Discoloration can manifest in a range of ways, including post-acne marks and stubborn brown patches on the cheekbones, forehead, and upper lip."
Side Effects of Tranexamic Acid
Although tranexamic acid is probably safe for most skin types, it's always important to consult with a dermatologist before incorporating a new ingredient and product into your skincare routine. Some reported side effects of using tranexamic acid-containing products include irritation, dryness, and flaky skin. While tranexamic acid "is compatible with many other skincare ingredients," Robinson cautions 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 fairly 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).
The Best Products With Tranexamic Acid
With tranexamic acid as one its starring ingredients, this "brightening" eye mask from celebrity esthetician Joanna Vargas might work well to resurrect lifeless, shadowy under-eyes. The ingredient roster also boasts peptides that may help plump skin, allantoin, and a licorice root derivative to combat inflammation.
Aptly named, this pigment-correcting serum from SkinMedica may help if any kind of discoloration is the bane of your existence. It's a brightening powerhouse (niacinamide is another heavy hitter here) and works to improve skin regardless of skin type. In addition to supporting a healthier and happier skin barrier, it also aims to prevent the formation of future spots and discoloration.
As one of SkinCeuticals' 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. The combination of the two acids helps to improve skin clarity over time.
Apply after your day or night moisturizer to help protect your skin from environmental damage, like UV radiation, 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.
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