Tranexamic acid is a compound used in the medical field for its anti-hemorrhagic activity. Since 2009, it has been officially accepted for inclusion in skincare formulations and is recognized for combating hyperpigmentation. But how does it work?
How does tranexamic acid work on the skin?
- Tranexamic Acid: What is it?
- Topical Application: What is the mechanism of action of tranexamic acid on hyperpigmentation?
- Topical Application: What is the anti-inflammatory mechanism of action of tranexamic acid?
Tranexamic Acid: What is it?
Discovered in the 1950s, tranexamic acid is a structurally similar derivative of the amino acid lysine. It is a molecule composed of a carboxylic acid function and an aminomethyl function, both branched on a cyclohexane (C8H15NO2). It was initially used in the medical field for its ability to inhibit fibrinolysis, a physiological mechanism of blood clot dissolution. Taken orally, it can regulate excessive bleeding induced by events such as severe trauma, surgical procedures, postpartum hemorrhages, and heavy menstruation. This use is based on its coagulating abilities, which help to reduce blood loss.
It is noteworthy that tranexamic acid is listed on the World Health Organization's (WHO) list of essential medicines. However, it was only recently, in 2009, that it was authorized and incorporated into cosmetic product formulations by the Cosmetology Commission. Thanks to its depigmenting action, this acid has the notable ability to diminish the appearance of various forms of skin hyperpigmentation, such as melasma, post-inflammatory hyperpigmented marks, and sun spots.
By acting in this way, it promotes a clearer complexion by limiting the production of melanin. Studies have even suggested that the effectiveness of tranexamic acid could be comparable to that of thehydroquinone, an active ingredient widely used in this context. In addition, this acid is also sought after for its anti-inflammatory properties.
When applied topically in skincare products, thetranexamic acid is generally well-tolerated and does not cause major side effects However, in rare cases, it could cause temporary reactions, such as redness or itching. For this reason, it is recommended to perform a test beforehand by applying the product to a small area of the body during the first use.
Topical Application: What is the mechanism of action of tranexamic acid on hyperpigmentation?
Tranexamic acid possesses properties to combat hyperpigmentation by acting on two levels: on tyrosinase and on plasminogen.
What is the molecular mechanism by which tranexamic acid acts on hyperpigmentation?
The effectiveness of the anti-brown spot activity of tranexamic acid through topical application is partly attributable to its mechanism of action, whereby the activation of melanocytes is inhibited by the anti-plasmin action of tranexamic acid in the skin.
The Urokinase-type plasminogen activator (uPA), which plays a role in the transformation of plasminogen into plasmin, is a naturally occurring double-strand enzyme in human epidermal keratinocytes. These cells produce pro-uPA, a single-strand precursor of uPA without enzymatic activity. Given that cultured human melanocytes generate a limited or even non-existent amount of pro-uPA, research indicates that these melanocytes are stimulated by the action of uPA from epidermal keratinocytes and plasminogen from the dermal vascular system.
This process occurs at the level of the basal layer of the epidermis. Hyperpigmented regions reveal a co-expression of tyrosinase mRNA and pro-uPA, suggesting an involvement of the uPA/plasminogen system at the basal layer of the epidermis in the hyperpigmentation mechanism. Tranexamic acid is capable of forming a reversible and highly specific complex with the lysine binding sites of plasminogen and plasminogen activator, thus inhibiting their binding to the cell membrane. This allows for the inhibition of the conversion of plasminogen into plasmin, inhibiting the production of pro-uPA and thus the stimulation of melanocytes.
Tranexamic acid can also interact with tyrosinase, an enzyme that catalyzes the oxidation of tyrosine to produce melanin. The structure of tyrosinase varies among different species, but it includes a central domain composed of six histidine residues. Its structure is similar to that of tranexamic acid, which can competitively bind to its receptor and act as an antagonist of the enzyme.
Tranexamic acid can block the activity of tyrosinase by acting as an antagonist, but it can also halt its activity through the inhibition of the plasminogen/plasmin system, which results in the blocking of interactions between melanocytes and keratinocytes. Thus, tranexamic acid has a anti-plasmin effect, an anti-tyrosinase activity that can be beneficial in reducing sensitivity to hyperpigmentation.
Topical Application: What is the anti-inflammatory mechanism of action of tranexamic acid?
Plasmin promotes the release of arachidonic acid, a precursor of prostaglandins. However, tranexamic acid is capable of forming a complex with plasminogen and inhibiting the activity of plasmin. Thus, tranexamic acid is able to inhibit the release of arachidonic acid by plasmin.
It has also been reported that plasmin stimulates the activity of interleukin-8 (IL-8) mRNA, which is involved in inflammation. The anti-plasmin effect of tranexamic acid therefore allows the suppression of this interleukin production. Thus, in addition to its activity against hyperpigmentation, tranexamic acid is also effective in combating skin inflammation.
FORBAT E. & al. The emerging importance of tranexamic acid in dermatology. Clinical and Experimental Dermatology (2019).
MAEDA K. Review mechanism of action of topical tranexamic acid in the treatment of melasma and sun-induced skin hyperpigmentation. Cosmetics (2022).