Tranexamic Acid Is the Beauty World's Best-Kept Secret for Fading Dark Spots

Whether you're dealing with post-breakout hyperpigmentation or melasma, tranexamic acid can help lighten discoloration and brighten complexion.

As irksome as it is to have angry, red pimples crop up on your cheeks and forehead, you likely have a rough idea of when they'll disappear and you'll be able to get on with your zit-free life. Maybe those blemishes that pop up during your period last just through the week, and your stress-induced ones usually go away after a few days of spot treatments and chilling.

What's arguably worse is the dark spots that linger in each breakout's place for what seems like an eternity. Your frustration may even be compounded by any other forms of unwanted discoloration you're already dealing with, whether it be from sun damage or a skin condition such as melasma. Ugh.

Luckily, you're not SOL if you're dealing with hyperpigmentation or discoloration, as tranexamic acid can help solve your woes. The lesser-known skin-care ingredient might sound like something you'd find in a lab, but tranexamic acid is actually a gentle, hassle-free addition to your skin-care routine.

Here, dermatologists break down everything you need to know about tranexamic acid for skin, including just how effective it is at brightening and lightening — plus, the tranexamic acid products worth adding to your lineup.

What Is Tranexamic Acid, Anyway?

Dubbed TXA in the medical community, tranexamic acid is a derivative of lysine (an amino acid) and is often used in oral medications to help blood clot and stay that way, says Melanie Palm, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and the founder of Art of Skin MD in San Diego, California. More specifically, tranexamic acid inhibits plasminogen, a protein that dissolves beneficial blood clots (which, ICYDK, stop you from bleeding everywhere) when activated, she explains. That's why it's often prescribed to treat hemorrhages and heavy menstrual bleeding, says Dr. Palm.

Aside from all the blood benefits, science has — perhaps surprisingly — shown tranexamic acid can also perk up your skin. The prescribed oral medication is sometimes used "off-label" in the U.S. — meaning it's being used for conditions it hasn't been approved by Food and Drug Administration to treat — to manage melasma, says Dr. Palm. Tranexamic acid itself is also incorporated into the formulas of over-the-counter topical skin-care products to act as a brightening agent, she adds.

Tranexamic Acid Is a Magic Skin-Care Ingredient to Erase Discoloration
Getty Images - Design: Alex Sandoval

The Benefits of Tranexamic Acid for Skin

When applied topically, tranexamic acid can help treat a range of dermatologic issues, including lightening discolorations from post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (those dark marks on the skin after a pimple heals), says Hadley King, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and AcneFree'sconsulting dermatologist. The acid might also help ease up freckling and sunspots, adds Dr. Palm. But primarily, you'll find tranexamic acid being used to brighten the discoloration associated with melasma, a skin condition that predominantly affects women and is marked by brown patches on the face, she explains. (See more: What Is Melasma and What's the Best Way to Treat It?)

It's not totally clear why tranexamic acid has this lighteningeffect on skin, but there are a few theories, says Dr. Palm. Tranexamic acid seems to block interactions that would otherwisetransfer pigment from melanocytes (cells that produce the skin pigment melanin) to keratinocytes (the main type of cell in the skin's epidermis), she explains. And since the acid interferes with the body's clotting mechanisms, it may also regulate any abnormal blood vessel behaviors (i.e. the dilation or widening of blood vessels)that can worsen melasma, she says.

While published medical literatureshows that taking tranexamic acid orally is more effective at lightening skin discolorations than applying it topically, the serums containing the ingredient are still great options to treat your troubles, says Dr. Palm. Plus, there aren't many potential side effects of working it into your skin, she says. At the very worst, "an allergy or sensitivity to TXA or to any ingredients in a topical skin-care product containing TXA could cause skin irritation or rash," she explains. (

How to Topically Use Tranexamic Acid for Skin

If you're itching to erase any dark marks, your best bet is to choose a product that contains tranexamic acid and a skin-care ingredient that inhibits the enzyme tyrosinase, says Dr. Palm. The enzyme is needed to produce melanin, and these ingredients block it from forming, effectively preventing melanin from being created in the first place, adds Dr. King. "Combining it with other brightening ingredients, like vitamin C, niacinamide, kojic acid, and phytic acid, may improve results," she explains. (Spot-fading superstar alpha arbutin might help boost TXA's effects, too.)

One of the top tranexamic acid for skin products is SkinMedica's Lytera 2.0 Pigment Correcting Serum (Buy It, $154, Recommended by both Dr. Palm and Dr. King, the serum contains tranexamic acid and skin brighteners phytic acid, phenylethyl resorcinol, and niacinamide. The reason it's so highly praised by the experts: It's one of the best-studied topical tranexamic acid skin-care products available in the U.S, says Dr. Palm. "[The brand's] studies showed that it was able to reduce the appearance of hyperpigmentation across diverse skin tones and concerns," adds Dr. King. "Optimal results were seen at about 3 months, [but] in some cases visible results were seen as early as two weeks." (

01 of 03

SkinMedica's Lytera 2.0 Pigment Correcting Serum

SkinMedica's Lytera 2.0 Pigment Correcting Serum

Dr. King also suggests Skinceuticals Discoloration Defense (Buy It, $98, "It contains a great combination of tranexamic acid and kojic acid — both ingredients that are effective for lightening discolorations," she says. "It also contains niacinamide, which is helpful for tone and texture." And if you're ballin' on a budget, consider Paula's Choice Clinical Discoloration Repair Serum (Buy It, $46,, which boasts tranexamic acid, niacinamide, retinol-alternative bakuchiol that decreases wrinkling and hyperpigmentation, and antioxidant vitamin E to fight off damaging free radicals. (P.S., there are plenty of extra benefits to adding an antioxidant serum to your routine.)

02 of 03

Skinceuticals Discoloration Defense

Skinceuticals Discoloration Defense
03 of 03

Paula's Choice Clinical Discoloration Repair Serum

Paula's Choice Clinical Discoloration Repair Serum
Paula's Choice

Once you score a tranexamic acid skin-care product, feel free to incorporate it into your regimen right away. The ingredient is usually well-tolerated, so you don't have to slowly ease the new item into your beauty routine, says Dr. Palm. That said, "those with very sensitive or eczema-prone skin should try a test patch before applying more liberally," adds Dr. King. In other words, try it out on a small area of skin on your face or on the inside of your forearm before you smear it all over.

If you do patch test and your skin is reaction-free later that day, go ahead and apply the tranexamic acid product to cleansed skin — before you slather on moisturizer, sunscreen, and makeup — twice daily, says Dr. Palm. Again, if your skin freaks the eff out (think: developing dryness or irritation) when you make any change to your regimen, it's okay to apply tranexamic acid less frequently in the beginning. "It should ideally be used twice daily, but starting once per day to see how your skin reacts is a reasonable start," notes Dr. King.

Since melasma can be stubborn AF and may require a multi-pronged treatment approach, Dr. Palm says you'll likely need to use the tranexamic acid product in conjunction with other skin-brightening ingredients (such as those mentioned earlier by Dr. King) if you're dealing with the condition. You'll also need to wear sunscreen, as even a small amount of sun exposure can make melasma return after fading, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. (FTR, both Dr. Palm and Dr. King recommend anyone using a tranexamic acid product slathers on SPF, as sun exposure can cause the discoloration the ingredient is working to erase.)

Stick to this morning-and-night tranexamic acid routine every single day, and you might see some visible results in as early as two weeks, says Dr. King. Most often, though, it will take two to three months of consistent use to notice any major changes, adds Dr. Palm. And research backs this up: A study of 50 individuals with melasma found that more than two-thirds of participants had "excellent" or "good" improvements in their discoloration after using a topical tranexamic acid solution twice daily for 12 weeks. (

Unfortunately for those dealing with melasma, there's a catch: A tranexamic acid skin product can make a noticeable difference in your brown patches, but it likely won't be a cure-all. "Topical skin care with TXA is great, but proper management of melasma requires a visit with a board-certified dermatologist experienced in the management of melasma," explains Dr. Palm. "There are many topical skin care products, oral medications, peels, and a few select lasers that may be appropriate for the management of abnormal pigmentation related to melasma."

Of course, even the slightest improvement is better than none, especially if it finally squashes the skin frustration you've had for years. So no matter if you've got a dark, post-pimple mark smack dab in the middle of your forehead, sun spots from your days exercising outdoors, or a case of melasma, consider giving tranexamic acid a shot — you might end up having brighter days ahead.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles