The skin-whitening market has become a billion-dollar industry worldwide, as lots of people are obsessed to get a fair complexion. In the search to find new skin-lightening products, glutathione has come up as one of the most recent & popular molecule. Leaving apart the ethical question as to whether seeking skin fairness is appropriate or not, this article shall focus on the effectivity & safety of glutathione.

Dr. Nitin Ranjan

MBBS, MD, Consultant dermatologist at Dermacosm Clinic

What is Glutathione?

Glutathione is an anti-oxidant that’s naturally synthesised in our body. As a drug, it was originally used to help cancer patients deal with the side-effects of chemotherapy. When large doses of Glutathione were given to such patients, it was noticed that they began to develop a lightning of skin colour. A long time since then, Glutathione is now far more popular as a skin-whitening agent than a drug used for cancer patients.

How does Glutathione work in skin-whitening?


  • Glutathione inhibits the enzyme tyrosinase, which is a key step in melanin pigment synthesis.
  • It also switches the production of black-brown colored eumelanin towards yellow-red pheomelanin, leading to a lighter skin colour.
  • As a potent anti-oxidant, Glutathione also kills the harmful free radicals in the body.

What are the natural dietary sources of glutathione?


Fresh fruits, vegetables, and nuts are natural food sources of glutathione. Common foods with a good Glutathione content include:

  • Tomatoes
  • Avocados
  • Oranges
  • Walnuts
  • Asparagus
  • Whey protein

Is Glutathione effective in skin-whitening?

Glutathione is used for skin lightening in the form of creams, oral capsules and intravenous (IV) injections.

Are Glutathione creams effective?


In a clinical trial held in 2014, 30 women were treated with 2% Glutathione cream. Progressive and significant reduction in melanin index values were noted at the end of 10 weeks.

Are Glutathione capsules effective?


Glutathione capsulesGlutathione capsules are said to lighten skin tone by two shades after taking them once daily for two to three months. After attaining the ‘desired’ skin colour, daily maintenance capsules for an indefinite duration has been suggested. We could find only two studies that evaluated the effectivity of oral glutathione as a skin-lightening agent. In one such clinical trial held in 2010, 60 medical students were treated with 500 mg Glutathione capsules, & consistent and statistically significant reduction in melanin index was noted after 4 weeks. 

Are Glutathione injections effective?


Intravenous Glutathione injections are said to provide better levels in the blood and skin than oral capsules. The injection are usually given for 10 consecutive weeks, after which people are asked to switch to the capsules for maintenance of their lightened skin tone. It should be noted that while glutathione injections are more effective than oral capsules, the margin of safety gets narrow due to the possibility of overdose toxicity. In fact, there is not even a single clinical trial or any published evidence that evaluates its efficacy & safety as a skin-whitening agent.

Is Glutathione safe for skin-whitening?

Almost all skin-lightening products come with their own risks, and Glutathione is no stranger.

Are Glutathione creams safe?


Glutathione creams are generally well tolerated, with none to minimum side effects reported so far. These include redness of the skin in 1 or 2 patients.

Are Glutathione capsules safe?


Since glutathione is a natural component of human cells, the adverse effects seen with oral capsules are expected to be mild, similar to those with high-dose vitamin supplements. Some potential side-effects include:

  • Lightening of hair colour
  • Hypopigmented patches on sun-exposed areas
  • Long-term supplementation with Glutathione may signal the body to stop its own production, resulting in depletion of natural hepatic stores of glutathione
  • Increased susceptibility to develop melanoma in the long run

Are Glutathione injections safe?


The side-effects of Glutathione injections have been documented by the Food and Drug Administration of Philippines, which notes:

  • Adverse drug reactions ranging from skin rashes to the serious and Glutathione injectionspotentially fatal Steven Johnsons Syndrome and Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis.
  • Thyroid function disturbances
  • Potential for kidney dysfunction, leading even to kidney failure
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Incorrect technique of injection (especially by an untrained person) can result in sepsis, HIV, & other infections

Conclusions

There is no published data for either the safety or efficacy of glutathione injections for skin lightening.There is very little evidence that establishes either the safety or efficacy of glutathione injections for skin lightening. However, there are three clinical trials that suggest that Glutathione capsules & creams may be effective, with no significant side effects. Larger and long-term studies are warranted to generate more evidence.

Based on this limited information we conclude the following points:

  • Glutathione has positive effects on lighting the skin tone
  • The effects of Glutathione as a skin-whitening agent haven’t been well established
  • Glutathione capsules & creams may be effective (& reasonably safe) in skin-whiteninig, but long-term effects are still uncertain & unknown
  • For Glutathione injections, we do not have sufficient safety information. Instead, there are some international reports of serious side effects.
The uncertain benefits and probable side effects of Glutathione injections make them not worth recommending at this moment. Larger and long-term studies are needed to generate more evidence for Glutathione to be established as a safe & effective skin-whitening agent.

Here is a recommended article for you to read:

Why is your skin getting darker?

Darkening of skin is a relatively common problem. It is usually harmless, but for cosmetic reasons, it is a nuisance to those who have it. Increased production of melanin leads to darkening of the skin, known as hyperpigmentation. Here we discuss some common causes of hyperpigmentation.

Read more

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Dr Nitin Ranjan

Consultant dermatologist at Dermacosm clinic
Dr Nitin Ranjan is a consultant dermatologist at Dermacosm clinic. He possesses more than 7 years of experience in diagnosing & treating all skin, hair, and nail diseases.
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