As far as brightening skincare ingredients go, vitamin C is an A-list star. However, there are other effective ingredients that can treat post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation from acne, sun damage, or melasma that deserve some time in the spotlight, too.
Tranexamic acid is one such ingredient having a moment, with more and more skincare influencers and beauty brands shining light on its benefits and including it in product formulas. While tranexamic acid can be effective on its own, it works even better as an ensemble with other dark spot-fighting ingredients such as vitamin C, kojic acid, niacinamide, and more.
We checked in with a top dermatologist and cosmetic chemist to get a full breakdown on the trending ingredient, along with the best tranexamic skincare products to try.
What Is Tranexamic Acid?
"Tranexamic acid is a synthetic form of lysine, which is an amino acid needed to make proteins," says Dr. Shari Marchbein, board-certified dermatologist in NYC. "It works by decreasing the production of melanin and we know that the oral form is much more effective at treating melasma than topical form. That being said, serums and other products that contain this ingredient have a lot of potential to help improve hyperpigmentation."
The ingredient originally was used as a hemostatic agent to help blood clots, but recently has been utilized as a brightening ingredient to help minimize hyperpigmentation as well as melasma.
What Are the Benefits of Using Tranexamic Acid?
One of the major benefits of tranexamic acid is that it plays nice with other brightening ingredients, so you can really zero in on hyperpigmentation.
"There are many treatments for dark spots and these often work well together including licorice, niacinamide, kojic acid, tranexemic acid, retinoids, chemical exfoliants [such as glycolic acid, an alpha-hydroxy acid], and more," Dr. Marchbein says. The dermatologist often recommends serums with tranexamic acid and other brightening agents be used in the same routine for the ingredients to work synergistically to improve post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and melasma.
Tranexamic acid is also a safer, effective alternative to hydroquinone, a potentially irritating bleaching ingredient. "There aren't many options when it comes to safe, effective skin lightening bioactives," says Krupa Koestline, clean cosmetic chemist and founder of KKT Consultants. "Hydroquinone is banned in the EU and restricted in many countries due to its safety concerns. Tranexamic acid has shown promising evidence as a plasmin inhibitor and therefore an effective treatment for UV induced discoloration, dark spots, and redness."
What Are the Side Effects of Tranexamic Acid?
All skin types can use tranexamic acid, but like adding any other new ingredient to your skincare routine, it's best to do a patch test to ensure you won't experience irritation.
It's also important to wear SPF when using tranexamic acid, along with other brightening ingredients, because the sun can make hyperpigmentation darker.
"Remember that before you spend your money on antioxidant serums, brightening ingredients, and retinoids to improve the tone of your skin and hyperpigmentation, the most important and first step is diligent daily sun protection," Dr. Marchbein says. "It is key to reduce the appearance of brown spots (otherwise you are literally throwing your money away)." The dermatologist recommends a broad-spectrum SPF 30 or higher should be applied to the face, neck, and ears every day — even in the winter.
How Do You Add Tranexamic Acid to Your Skincare Routine?
Dr. Marchbein says to use tranexamic acid once or twice a day. "I also layer tranexamic acid containing serums over Vitamin C serums and under SPF in the morning and under retinoids at nighttime, so this can safely and effectively be combined with multiple other actives.
The active can be found in serums, moisturizers, and toners, so it's entirely up to you what step of your routine in which you want to incorporate it.
That being said, Koestline says serums are a popular way to go. "Most people do like using actives in their serum layer since you're applying it before other products."
VIDEO: When You Apply Sunscreen in Your Skincare Routine Actually Matters A Lot
Shop Tranexamic Acid Skincare Products
SkinCeuticals Discoloration Defense
Dr. Marchbein is a fan of this serum by SkinCeuticals, which she often recommends to patients treating post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and melasma. It's infused with tranexamic acid, along with kojic acid and niacinamide, another two tried-and-true brightening ingredients.
To shop: $98; skinceuticals.com
Peter Thomas Roth PRO Strength Niacinamide Discoloration Treatment
In addition to niacinamide, the all-star cast of Peter Thomas Roth's discoloration treatment includes tranexmic and kojic acids, alpha arbutin, and pentapeptide. The lightweight cream can be applied twice a day on clean skin and is best followed by a moisturizer.
To shop: $88; sephora.com
Joanna Vargas Bright Eye Hydrating Mask
Puffiness? Dark circles? Dryness? Crow's feet? This eye mask by celebrity facialist Joanna Vargas checks all the boxes. It's powered by brightening tranexamic acid, collagen-boosting matrixyl, soothing allantoin, and hydrating licorice root extract.
To shop: $60/5; dermstore.com
La Roche-Posay Glycolic B5 Serum
In this dark spot-fading serum by La Roche-Posay, tranexamic acid is paired with exfoliating glycolic acid to even out skin tone. Use it alone or add a few drops to your favorite moisturizer.
To shop: $40; amazon.com
The Inkey List Tranexamic Acid Night Treatment
If post-breakout dark spots, hyperpigmentation, or dullness are your main skincare concerns, try swapping your usual moisturizer for this overnight treatment. Powered by tranexamic acid, vitamin C, and acai berry extract, it targets areas of discoloration and boosts overall radiance.
To shop: $15; theinkeylist.com
SkinMedica 2.0 Lytera Pigment Correcting Serum
Dr. Marchbein says SkinMedica's Lytera 2.0 serum is another great option for treating discoloration. It combines tranexamic acid with niacinamide, phytic acid, phenylethyl resorcinol, and a marine extract blend to improve the appearance of hyperpigmentation without drying out skin.
To shop: $154; dermstore.com
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