Anytime a new skincare ingredient hits the market, I have to restrain my excitement. What if this one is the one to solve my skincare woes? And trust me, I have a laundry list. So when I first saw the words “tranexamic acid” on a product label, it was no different: I had to know more. I reached out to FACILE dermatology + boutique co-founder Nancy Samolitis, MD, FAAD to get the expert scoop on this lesser-known hero ingredient.
So what is tranexamic acid? As it turns out, it wasn’t initially developed for skincare at all. “Tranexamic acid is traditionally used to prevent excess bleeding,” says Dr. Samolitis. This means everything from postpartum bleeding to heavy menstruations to nosebleeds. However, it was soon discovered that there was a pretty desirable side effect to the med. “It works by blocking the activity of a molecule called plasmin, which incidentally is also an active component of the mechanism of development of the excess pigment in melasma.” Once that connection was made, the medication made the jump to skincare. “Studies showing significant and rapid improvement in melasma with oral tranexamic acid have made it the new gold standard for treatment,” says Dr. Samolitis. Sorry hydroquinone, there’s a new kid in town.
This is awesome news for those battling melasma, but is this a useful ingredient to others? “So far, large studies have only been done regarding melasma specifically, but it most likely is also effective for post-inflammatory inflammation like red or brown marks left from acne breakouts,” says Dr. Samolitis. Anyone working on hyperpigmentation, acne scars, or skin discoloration, or who are looking for an overall brightening effect should definitely look into it.
Tranexamic acid comes in topical, oral, and injectable forms, with the latter two options requiring prescriptions, since there are some risks. “Someone who has any possible risk of blood clots, including having a personal or family history of clots or taking a medication that increases the risk of blood clots like birth control pills would not be a good candidate for an RX prescription,” says Dr. Sam. Check with your dermatologist to see if these more intensive therapies are a good fit.
“Topical tranexamic acid can easily be incorporated into your skin care regimen.”
Luckily, there are other ways to reap the benefits. “Topical tranexamic is not irritating and has a very low side effect profile, so it can easily be incorporated into your skin care regimen,” she says. “I recommend using it twice daily and combining it with other ingredients that we know to be effective in treating pigmentation such as vitamin C, retinol, azelaic acid, and kojic acid.” An acid that plays well with other actives? What a dream. If you’re interested in a lower potency (but very effective!) starting point, Dr. Samolitis recommends a formula like Lytera 2.0. “This one specifically does not contain retinol so it is safe to use during pregnancy,” she says, “and if you are not pregnant, you can apply a retinol along with it to boost results.” And just like that, a new ingredient has found it’s way into my skincare repertoire.