Medically reviewed by Minimalist Health Specialist - Written by Rithi Choudhary (Journalist) on 10th Mar 2021
How is Tranexamic Acid Special for Skin?
The world of beauty has witnessed the rise and popularity of friendly acids such as Salicylic Acid, Lactic Acid, Azelaic Acid, and the list goes on.
We have raved on and on about these acids. Is there anything more to know about the wonders of these skin-friendly acids? We're introducing a fairly new member today - Tranexamic Acid and why it might be your new BFF to treat pigmentation.
To find out what it is and how you should be using it read on.
Tranexamic Acid 101
Tranexamic acid is a synthetic form of the amino acid lysine. Tranexamic acid isn’t a recent discovery (it was first made in 1962 by Japanese researchers Shosuke and Utako Okamoto) and has been around for treating blood loss in people after surgery, reducing vaginal bleeding after delivery, blood loss from injury, or heavy menstruation bleeding. However, it was observed that people on tranexamic acid experienced an improvement in skin discoloration and scarring. It made its way into skincare formulations within no time, even if not as widespread as other skin lightening agents such as Vitamin C.
Did You Know:
Drugs used to slow down bleeding and reduce blood clots' breakdown are called ‘antifibrinolytics.’
What Makes Tranexamic Acid Special
Reduces Dark Spots:
Like several other skin-lightening acids, Tranexamic acid inhibits L-tyrosinase synthesis in the melanocytes (melanin making cells). Tyrosinase is the enzyme required for making the color pigment melanin. More melanin results in a darker skin tone, and less melanin results in a lighter skin tone.
The same tyrosinase inhibiting property also enables tranexamic acid to reduce skin discoloration from sun tanning, hormonal conditions, side effects, etc. It is, therefore, a recommended ingredient for those wanting to treat melasma (a form of hyperpigmentation).
Suitable For All Skin Types:
What makes tranexamic acid even more special is that it is suitable for all skin types. However, a patch test is recommended for those with sensitive skin to be on the safer side.
Safe During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding:
Pregnancy is a stage where the body undergoes tremendous hormonal changes.
However, post-delivery, when the pregnancy glow subsides, the sudden shift in hormones results in acne, subsequent acne scars, and hyperpigmentation. Several skin-lightening ingredients are well-researched, and doubts are raised over their safety during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Tranexamic acid, fortunately, clears the department of safety and is alright to be used by both pregnant and nursing women.
Goes Well With Other Actives:
This has to be the deal-breaker. While several actives like Vitamin C, glycolic acid, retinoids work better on their own and cannot be paired with other skin actives, tranexamic acid, on the other hand, works well with almost all ingredients. Kojic Acid's synergy is especially appreciable, noting how this powerful duo can eliminate skin blemishes within a few weeks of use.
Does Not Exfoliate The Skin:
While other skin lightening agents often bleach or exfoliate the skin to reduce pigmentation, tranexamic acid works by inhibiting melanin's activity. Therefore, it can be used both in the day and night without the associated risk of photosensitivity or over-exfoliation.
Factors Leading to Hyperpigmentation
When excess melanin is produced in some parts of the skin, this condition is generally called hyperpigmentation. As a result, the areas affected look darker than the rest of the skin. This is primarily a cosmetic concern, and people prefer to get it removed.
Our skin consists of three layers- epidermis (the first or the topmost protective layer), dermis (which is the mid-layer that has hair follicles and sweat glands), and hypodermis (which is the innermost layer composed of fat and connective tissue ). Scars form when the dermis (top layer) is damaged from wounds, and the body produces new collagen fiber to repair the damage. The resulting tissue is different in texture and quality than the surrounding tissue. This is why scars are often pitted.
Other factors for hyperpigmentation are:
The first and usual culprit is direct sunlight, that is, prolonged UV exposure. Upon sunlight exposure, melanocytes go on overdrive, and there's more melanin in the skin. This is why people get tanned. Hyperpigmentation almost always shows up in the areas exposed to the sun, such as the face, neck, or arms, especially where the sunscreen has not been used.
Whenever there is any inflammation or wound, our skin's healing process involves a chemical reaction by hyper activating our melanocytes and producing more melanin. This process of darkening of the skin after any inflammation is known as Post Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation. Sometimes, a pimple or acne flare-ups can also leave behind dark spots on the skin, which generally fade away with time.
Dark spots are also likely to develop due to conditions such as melasma. Melasma is a common hyperpigmentation disorder that appears as dark, discolored patches on the skin. It is also known as a "pregnancy mask" since pregnant women are more prone to developing this skin condition.
Skin products, if not chosen wisely, will end up doing more harm than good. Certain chemicals can be skin irritants and lead to hyperpigmentation. Fragrance in skincare, potent acids like glycolic acid (when used by people of color) often worsen or contribute to hyperpigmentation.
Studies have suggested that certain medications can result in hyperpigmentation. This is because they can make our skin more sensitive to photodamage. Medicines containing potent steroids, anti-inflammatory drugs, estrogens, psychotropic drugs, antibiotics, amiodarone, and oral contraceptive pills cause hyperpigmentation.
Side Effects Of Tranexamic Acid
While tranexamic acid is a generally safe ingredient, it can, like any other ingredients have the following side effects, even if rare:
- Blood Clots
- Allergic Reactions (hence patch test is recommended)
- Change in Color Vision
Is Tranexamic Acid The Ultimate Solution To Your Pigmentation?
The answer is both - yes and no. While several studies have proven Tranexamic acid's efficacy in treating age spots, dark spots, hyperpigmentation, and other forms of discoloration, it is not a miracle cure for deep scars resulting from injuries or surgery.
Also, one’s skin type is highly a determining factor in how an ingredient works for it. While some may find their holy grail in Tranexamic acid, others may do well with retinol. However, since tranexamic acid can be layered, it is recommended to be incorporated into your skincare regimen after consulting a dermatologist to boost the removal of blemishes.
What else can you do to fade skin discoloration and hyperpigmentation?
By now, you must know that there isn’t a single miracle ingredient that can solve all your skin woes. Hyperpigmentation and its treatment differ from person to person. While some respond very well to milder options like lactic acid, some may need potent actives like retinoids. A smart combination or layering of various actives is often recommended to make the most out of it and effectively erase pigmentation.
Here are some excellent actives to help fade hyperpigmentation with which Tranexamic acid can be layered with:
Kojic Acid is a chemical compound obtained as a metabolic by-product from various fungi, including mushrooms, fermented foods like soya sauce, and rice wine. It is suitable for sensitive skin and helps in scavenging free radicals. Kojic Acid lightens hyperpigmentation by suppressing the formation of tyrosinase, an enzyme responsible for melanin production.
Retinoids have proven to work effectively in reversing signs of aging. Technically, retinoid is the umbrella term for the family Vitamin A derivatives. Retinoids promote cellular turnover, stimulate collagen production, fade hyperpigmentation, brighten the skin, and soften wrinkles and fine lines. Typical side effects include redness, peeling, and dryness, which is why it is crucial to apply retinoids over a moisturizer that forms a protective barrier over the skin.
Salicylic acid is a Beta Hydroxy Acid very much loved by dermatologists worldwide for treating acne-prone skin. Salicylic acid is an excellent exfoliant that dissolves oil plugs and removes dead skin cells (due to its keratolytic activity), thereby eliminating dark spots.
Vitamin is perhaps the most loved skincare ingredient for the plethora of benefits it holds for the skin - anti-aging, damage repair, fading dark spots, boosting collagen production, etc.