Glutathione for Skin Lightening: Does It Work?
Dr. Kara's Health Insights

Glutathione for Skin Lightening: Does It Work?

by DK Kara MD on Mar 22, 2022

Freckles are one of those things that can be quite polarizing --- they’re either adored or abhorred. For those who aren’t a fan of their freckles, you can thank genetics. Your family line carries a code that tells your skin to develop pockets of concentrated pigment, or melanin.

And while it’s perfectly normal, the idea of an even complexion is often one to be desired. Some see it as a mark of youth, while others hold a uniform complexion as a standard for beauty (8).

It doesn’t have to be limited to freckles, as you go through life, you may have kids. Hormone fluctuations may leave you with darker skin patches called melasma. Or as you age, you get to join the “sunspot here” and “new mole there” club.

If you’re looking for ways to lighten some dark patches on your skin, you’re not alone. Since 2016, consumers and companies have become more aware of what glutathione can do for skin issues such as dark patches or hyperpigmentation.

Popular topical treatments so far typically include vitamin C, retinols, hydroquinone, alpha or beta hydroxy acids, and alpha or beta arbutin.

The main mechanisms behind some of these skin lightening agents are that they are tyrosinase inhibitors. Tyrosinase is an enzyme responsible for the production of melanin, or skin color. If the process is interrupted or prevented, skin conditions like melasma, freckles, or sun spots are less likely to develop.

So if that’s how most of these methods work, how does glutathione lighten skin?  

What is Glutathione

Glutathione is a small, molecular combination of amino acids glycine, cysteine, and glutamic acid. Your liver produces this naturally.

Also called a thiol-tripeptide, it’s a centerpiece in the balance of redox reactions. The term redox is short for “reduction” and “oxidation”, which happens when atoms are changed during chemical processes within the body (2).

As more research is being conducted, it’s becoming more apparent just how important glutathione is to optimal aging. Some of its critical roles include (6):

  • Transports mercury out of your brain and other cells
  • Neutralizes free radicals
  • Helps to regenerate vitamins C and E
  • Crucial aspect of your mitochondria working properly
  • Contains several antioxidant enzymes

 Along the lines of having antioxidant enzymes, research shows that glutathione also has anti-melanogenic properties (1). This has caught the attention of the cosmetic industry in recent years.

Benefits

So when it comes to skin lightening, what is it about glutathione that makes it a potentially good option?

Research finds the antioxidants inside help fight off free radicals, keep the enzyme tyrosinase from being able to complete its function, and skews the formation of melanin (4).

One double-blind study involving 60 Filipino women took 500mg of oral glutathione every day for 4 weeks. The areas of interest (right side of the face and left forearm) at the end of the 4 weeks were notably lighter than before (3).

Not only has glutathione been used to brighten skin complexions, countries around the world have used it to help certain health conditions, such as (1,5,7):

  • Alcohol fatty liver
  • Alcohol hepatitis
  • Alcohol liver fibrosis
  • Alcohol liver cirrhosis
  • Nerve damage
  • Migraines
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Reduce neurotoxicity due to chemotherapy.

 It’s clear that this antioxidant has a lot to offer. But is it safe to take?

Safety

How safe is glutathione for skin lightening? When taken orally or applied topically, it seems to be tolerated well. If you get mild skin irritations when applying a topical cream or serum, wash it off immediately and discontinue use.

While IV administration is very popular, it’s important that it is done under the right circumstances and by health professionals only.

Some rare but severe side effects have occurred due to improper IV administration (1), such as:

  • Air embolisms
  • Kidney failure
  • Thyroid dysfunction
  • Abdominal pain
  • Necrosis of the skin
  • Allergic reactions that lead to skin eruptions, and in extremely rare cases Stevens-Johnsons syndrome

So while the risk is there, glutathione has a fairly good track record of being safe.

If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, there isn’t a lot of research out there on whether it’s ok to take or not. One study showed it actually helped prevent birth complications (9), but more studies are needed.

Procedure

How long does it take glutathione to lighten skin? That might depend on which method you choose.

  • IV: The most popular mode of administration, as well as the most controversial. When receiving IV doses of glutathione, most recommended doses are between 600mg-1200mg, between once and twice per week (10).
  • Tablet: Another popular way to take glutathione is in tablet or other pill form. Supplements may come in a wide range of doses. The most common instructions for oral glutathione is either 100mg every day, or 500mg every day for 4-8 weeks (5).

Conclusion

Beauty is definitely in the eye of the beholder, and what may be attractive to one may not be attractive to another.

Regardless of whether your skin is even or not, a beautiful smile or generous heart will always outweigh perfect facial features.

Even so, there’s no shame in wanting to improve aspects of your appearance. In addition to eating well and taking quality supplements, perhaps adding glutathione would be of benefit. Not only could it help diminish dark spots on your skin, the antioxidants can help keep you young and vibrant now, and in the years to come.

Have you ever heard of glutathione for skin lightening? Who do you know that could benefit from this information? Be sure to share with friends and family!

References & Disclaimer

(1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5808366/

(2) https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/materials-science/redox-process

(3) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20524875/

(4) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18492181/

(5) https://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientreview-717-glutathione?drugid=717&drugname=GLUTATHIONE

(6) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4684116/

(7) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19230029/

(8) https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/595938

(9) https://www.saudijournals.com/media/articles/SIJB_29_237-239_c.pdf

(10) https://ijdvl.com/glutathione-as-a-skin-whitening-agent-facts-myths-evidence-and-controversies/

✝✝This noted statement is based on independent research and is not necessarily the opinion of the author