The Dermatologist-Approved Ingredient That Treats Stubborn Dark Spots
Vitamin C, niacinamide, hyaluronic acid—these widely-renowned ingredients have withstood the test of time, continuing to deliver lasting skin results that have earned them a permanent spot within our skincare routine. So when a buzzy new ingredient starts to make its way onto more and more ingredient labels, promising similar (if not better) results to our trusty favorites, our ears perk up. For those focused on dark spots, discoloration, and dullness, that ingredient is tranexamic acid, a hero ingredient in our Out of Sight Dark Spot Gel.
What Is Tranexamic Acid?Tranexamic acid is derived from lysine—an essential amino acid that our bodies cannot naturally produce on their own. Remember: Amino acids are the building blocks of essential proteins, which keep the skin’s moisture barrier strong and better able to defend against intruders (like damaging UV rays and acne-causing bacteria). Tranexamic acid was originally developed as an oral treatment for blood clots and heavy periods, but more recently, it’s become a topical skin staple used to target hyperpigmentation and dark spots.
How Does It Work?
The easiest way to understand how tranexamic acid works is to know how dark spots form in the first place. Skin injuries (like popping a pimple), hormones, and excess sun exposure trigger melanocytes, which are the cells responsible for melanin production—the pigment that makes skin tan and some eye colors dark. This is all part of the skin’s healing process since melanin helps protect the skin from further damage. Excess melanin, however, leaves behind deposits of pigment in the skin—a.k.a. hyperpigmentation.
Tranexamic acid stops this process in its tracks, inhibiting the pathway that allows excess melanin to pass through and cause discoloration. That makes this ingredient incredibly effective at reducing dark spots, evening out tone, and treating melasma, a common skin disorder where hormones trigger discolored patches on the skin.
Despite having the word “acid” in its name, this ingredient is not an exfoliating AHA like glycolic and lactic acid are. It is anti-inflammatory, however, which is a major plus for PIH (post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation) and redness. Use tranexamic acid for:
- Dark spots, age spots, and hyperpigmentation
- Shallow, new acne scars and post-pimple marks
- Uneven, dull skin tone
- Redness and inflammation
How and When to Use Tranexamic Acid
Since tranexamic acid does not increase skin’s sensitivity to the sun as acids and retinol do, it can be applied both morning and night. In fact, twice a day is recommended since consistent use delivers the best results. Because UV rays spark melanin production, you should still apply broad spectrum Daily Mineral Sunscreen—otherwise, you’re less likely to see any improvement. As with all treatments for dark spots, it can take up to two months to see changes so stick with it!
Tranexamic acid plays well with pretty much any ingredient and it’s pregnancy-safe. Many dermatologists even recommend it as a treatment for pregnancy-induced melasma (also referred to as the “mask of pregnancy”). To up its benefits, look for formulas that include both tranexamic acid and other antioxidant-rich, brightening ingredients (such as niacinamide, licorice root extract, and vitamin C) or layer them together within your skincare routine. Hint: Our Stroke of Brilliance Brightening Serum contains all three and can be safely layered with tranexamic acid.
Both physical and chemical exfoliants (like Weekend Glow Daily Brightening Toner) also work well with tranexamic acid, since they help lift away dead, dull skin cells that lead to lingering hyperpigmentation.
Does Tranexamic Acid Work Better Than Hydroquinone?
Hydroquinone is a skin-lightening ingredient found in many brightening treatments and bleaching creams. Unlike some of our other favorite ingredients for dullness, hydroquinone is extremely harsh and irritating to the skin. It contains sulfites that can cause allergic reactions and has been linked to cancer and organ-system toxicity. As if that wasn’t problematic enough, hydroquinone is not safe and effective for all skin types. It’s particularly harmful to those with darker complexions, leading to skin burning and other irritating sensations. It can even worsen existing hyperpigmentation for dark skin tones, which pretty much defeats its purpose. For all of these reasons, hydroquinone is banned in the EU, as well as Australia, Japan, and parts of Africa. While it’s not banned in the US, it is banned here at Versed.
That’s why we use safe, effective alternatives to hydroquinone, such as bearberry extract, fruit enzymes (found in our Doctor's Visit Instant Resurfacing Mask), vitamin C, and, of course: tranexamic acid.
Shop our favorite products for hyperpigmentation below.