Your Complete Guide to Tranexamic Acid for Skin

Your Complete Guide to Tranexamic Acid for Skin

Anytime I see a new skincare ingredient getting a lot of street cred, I want to do my due diligence to understand it before I decide whether I’ll use it. While I have used tranexamic acid for my own melasma, it’s important to look at alternatives that don’t require a prescription.

“While tranexamic acid might work, there are other gentler ways you can achieve an even skin tone without the need for a dermatologist’s prescription.”

  • Shani Darden, esthetician

In this article, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about what this ingredient is, where it came from, and what it does. Spoiler alert: It didn’t start off as a skincare ingredient. 

What Is Tranexamic Acid?

It sounds like something out of a science project, and that’s not too far off base. Tranexamic acid was discovered by a husband and wife team of Japanese scientists shortly after World War II. Originally, it was used to help blood clot properly. In fact, it was even used to help alleviate the symptoms of heavy period flow because of its hemostatic properties. 

Tranexamic acid’s discovery as a skin care ingredient was purely accidental. A person using the acid for off-label purposes discovered that it lightened the appearance of their skin discoloration, and boom — tranexamic acid had its seat at the skincare table.

Where It Comes From

Tranexamic acid is a derivative of the amino acid lysine, which is important for the formation of collagen. It is a synthetically derived ingredient, so if you’re concerned with ingredients that aren’t completely derived from plants, that’s something to consider. 

Tranexamic acid is primarily used to treat skin discoloration, but before I explain how it works, let me explain what causes those discolorations to appear in the first place. 

How Do Skin Discolorations Form?

If you’re lucky, you’re born with skin that has a smooth, even texture and tone. Skin cells called melanocytes produce melanin, which gives skin its color and is also responsible for dark spots. There are several different reasons why you might develop dark spots on your skin. 

Sun Damage

Damage from the sun can leave the skin with dark spots. When exposed to UVA (aging) and UVB (burning) rays, the melanocytes produce more melanin, resulting in dark spots in some areas. Sunspots may not appear immediately — in fact, the sunspots you might have now could be due to damage done decades ago.

Breakout Scars

We all know the rules: Don’t pick at your skin when you have a blemish. But despite our best efforts, sometimes we just can’t keep our hands off. 

Even if we do, breakouts are famous for leaving dark spots that can be impossible to conceal. These spots can rob you of your even skin tone and your confidence. 


Much of how our skin behaves, including how many dark spots we develop, has to do with our DNA. If you come from a family with freckles or a line of fair-skinned people that burn easily, you’re more likely to develop issues with your skin tone than others. 

Those with darker skin tones also run a higher risk of developing dark spots. 


Changes to hormones during puberty, menopause, and pregnancy can all change your skin. Most notably, skin can become more oily during puberty and close to your period, while it tends to become drier towards menopause. 

Some women also develop dark spots, also known as melasma, on their skin during pregnancy. Sometimes, these go away once the baby comes, and sometimes, they hang around like an unwanted tattoo. I myself had a flare of melasma after pregnancy, and it has continued to develop as I’ve gotten older. 


If you take certain medications, you might develop more dark areas on your skin. Both birth control and hormone replacement therapy are known to cause melanin production to increase. 

Underlying Illness

There are some diseases that can cause irregularity in melanin production. Certain conditions produce an excess of a particular hormone that stimulates melanocytes to produce more melanin, resulting in dark spots around the mouth and nose. 

No matter where your dark spots come from, you might just want them gone — and tranexamic acid shows some promise. 

How Does Tranexamic Acid Work?

The biggest benefit that tranexamic acid offers is its ability to help lighten the skin tone and help protect against the future development of an uneven skin tone. It does this by interfering with the communication between melanocytes (the cells that produce melanin) and keratinocytes (the skin cells on the surface of the skin). 

Melanocytes create melanin that is then transferred to keratinocytes. The keratinocytes retain it, creating pigment on your skin. 

By interfering with this process, tranexamic acid (and other skin lighteners like hydroquinone, kojic acid, and azelaic acid) can help lessen the appearance of dark spots. Because dark spots form with continuous melanin production, tranexamic acid may be helpful in preventing further spots of discoloration from forming. 

How Long Does Tranexamic Acid Take To Work?

Many people get the most results with continuous use. You may notice some improvement immediately, but most people won’t notice the effects for several weeks. Most dermatologists agree that it needs to be used for at least 12 weeks to see full effects. 

Can You Use It With Vitamin C?

Vitamin C and niacinamide are both natural topical skin brighteners. If you want to use them with tranexamic acid, there shouldn't be any interactions. That said, there are some side effects that can be common with tranexamic acid.

Are There Any Side Effects?

As with many effective skincare ingredients, there are some side effects you should consider if you want to use tranexamic acid. Remember, this ingredient was not originally intended to be an ingredient in skin care products, so it might be a bit more harsh than ingredients that are generally found in skincare. 

The most common complaints from using topical tranexamic acid are dryness, irritation, redness, and flaking of the skin. If you use a tranexamic product in your skincare routine and notice you develop these side effects, discontinue the use and opt for a different formulation. 

You may also want to consult with a board-certified dermatologist before using tranexamic acid. They’ll know your skin type best and can offer personalized advice on which active ingredients can help you combat your dark spots while still protecting your skin.

Important Reminders

When you use tranexamic acid, remember to always use sunscreen for discoloration defense. One I love that works for all skin types is Supergoop Play Everyday SPF 50 lotion

This formula doubles as a lightweight moisturizer that won’t congest your pores and protects against the visible effects of both UVA and UVB rays. It also contains natural oat fraction to soothe the skin, candle bush extract to help naturally minimize the appearance of photodamage, and marine micro-organisms to protect against intrusive light. 

It’s also important to patch-test your tranexamic acid product (as well as any new products in general) on an inconspicuous area of your skin to make sure it is well tolerated. 

If your skin doesn’t tolerate it well, or if you’re looking for a more natural solution that was created specifically to address skin discoloration and uneven skin tone and gives the added benefit of smoothing out visible signs of aging, I recommend lactic acid. 

Lactic Acid vs. Tranexamic Acid

Both lactic acid and tranexamic acid can help with similar skin conditions (like discoloration), but lactic acid has even more benefits for the skin, and you’ll usually find it in products that are specifically engineered and designed to tackle more than just discoloration. 

What Is Lactic Acid?

Lactic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), which is a type of chemical exfoliant. These ingredients can help gently loosen the bonds between skin cells, helping to decrease visible signs of aging and dark spots.

The lactic acid that you find in skin care products most frequently comes from sugar cane. It can also be extracted from some root vegetables, like beets. Lactic acid is my go-to solution for skin brightening. There’s simply something about its hydrating, exfoliating, and brightening properties that helps it truly reveal your most glowing, youthful-looking skin yet.

What Are the Benefits of Lactic Acid?

I love to use lactic acid in my signature treatments and as a daily skin routine ingredient because it does so much to help skin look healthy and even-toned. 

For instance:

  • Lactic acid exfoliates by breaking the bonds between dead skin cells on the surface of your skin and live skin cells. This helps the dead skin easily slough away to reveal new, youthful-looking skin.
  • For fine lines and wrinkles, lactic acid can help diminish their appearance by gently working to invigorate the skin and help support your skin as it ages. 
  • If you struggle with blemishes, using a daily lactic acid serum can help. By exfoliating the skin without causing irritation, it can help reduce visible skin congestion and minimize the appearance of breakouts and blemishes.

Lactic acid may be better for extremely sensitive skin types, which is why I prefer it. You can get great results from using my Lactic Acid Serum and retinol on alternate nights.

How To Use Lactic Acid 

There are two ways I like to incorporate lactic acid.

Lactic Acid Serum

When clients come to me with dull, uneven skin, breakouts, and fine lines, I always recommend starting my Lactic Acid Serum. I formulated my serum with 9% lactic acid to help polish away dead skin cells and transform the skin overnight. 

My serum also contains gluconolactone, an acid that can help correct skin tone and clarify the skin. I also included hyaluronic acid, a molecule that can hold up to 1,000 times its weight in water, to ensure skin is hydrated and never dry when using this product. 

Rounding out the ingredients are aloe vera, green and white tea extract to ensure that it works for even the most sensitive skin types. 

I enjoy using lactic acid at night time on retinol rest nights. My Retinol Reform® Serum is formulated with encapsulated retinol that is slowly released while you sleep to reduce sensitivity. However, if you prefer not to use retinol, lactic acid is a good standalone option. 

Triple Acid Signature Peel

For years, I included a triple acid peel as part of my signature treatments for clients getting ready for big events or just looking to get a quick boost in radiance. I decided to create a product that gives you the same results at home.

My Triple Acid Signature Peel contains glycolic acid, mandelic acid, and lactic acid to help exfoliate the skin, deeply cleanse the pores, and resurface the skin in just one treatment. You can use it every other week for skin that always looks radiant and renewed.

Which Is Better? 

For some people, using tranexamic acid along with other known skin brighteners may be a good solution. However, I don’t believe there’s enough dermatology-related research on this ingredient to say it is definitely better than lactic acid. 

I like to recommend products that are specifically engineered and designed to address the issue, and lactic acid is an ingredient I trust. 

The Bottom Line

There are numerous different skin care acids you can use, and it can be hard to determine which one is the best. I have an entire blog post dedicated to helping you determine which acid to use and for what concern. 


Lysine Information | Mount Sinai - New York

Prehospital tranexamic acid for trauma victims | Journal of Intensive Care | Full Text

Hyperpigmentation: Age Spots, Sun Spots & Liver Spots | My Cleveland

Melanin: What Is It, Types & Benefits | Cleveland Clinic


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