The use of glutathione has become increasingly popular for treating several ailments. While this naturally-occurring antioxidant has many perceived health benefits, one of its primary intended uses today is skin whitening. Its use as a skin whitener, however, is highly controversial.
Glutathione: Master Antioxidant
The Pharmaceutical-Cosmetics industry has commended glutathione as the master antioxidant in recent decades and attributed several benefits to it. In particular, several companies promote glutathione as an effective skin lightener.
Glutathione plays a crucial role in repairing damage in the body from oxidative stress and toxin accumulation. As a result, it is a critical ingredient in many skin products that aim to reduce wrinkles and darkening from skin damage.
Glutathione is a tripeptide or minuscule protein. Three amino acids comprise it: cysteine, glycine, and glutamate (glutamic acid). While the liver produces glutathione, you can also find it in several foods:
Vegetables in the allium family, such as onions and garlic
The substance was first discovered in 1888 by J. De Rey-Paihade in animal tissues and yeast extracts. Since then, researchers have found glutathione in all cells.
Though eating glutathione and supplementing may help increase levels, it’s only partially absorbable through food. Reports of skin benefits from glutathione treatments are largely anecdotal, and more evidence is needed to obtain a clear understanding.
What affects Glutathione Levels?
As you age, glutathione levels can decrease significantly. In addition, glutathione depletion can occur from exposure to oxidative stress, disease, poor nutrition, and certain medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol).
Glutathione exists in two forms: an active or reduced form and an inactive or oxidized form. The active form, GSH, eliminates free radicals from the body and ensures cells remain healthy. After some time GSH can become oxidized and transform into the inactive form, GSSG.
Glutathione is recycled and transformed from the oxidized form into an active one. However, when there are too many free radicals to eliminate, the body accumulates too much of the oxidized form, leading to cell damage.
Glutathione and Skin Whitening
Because glutathione aids in rejuvenating cells and reversing skin damage, many companies include it in a wide range of skin products. The rush to include glutathione in various skin treatments stems from some evidence that it promotes skin elasticity and whitening.
Glutathione as a skin whitener works by deactivating Tyrosinase, an enzyme that produces pigment. By reducing melanin, glutathione helps to lighten the color of skin.
Treatments for skin whitening go beyond topical creams and serums, however. One of the fastest-growing glutathione treatments for skin whitening is an intravenous one. People who seek skin whitening to remove discoloration and improve the overall appearance of their skin can opt for pills or inject glutathione through an IV.
Though intravenous glutathione treatment is more common in Asia, the technique is becoming more popular internationally. Several beauty med-spas in the United States now offer glutathione injections for whitening skin.
Despite its growing popularity, the Phillippines FDA has warned against the use of glutathione IV treatment, citing detrimental health effects.
In the United States, the FDA has also pointed to similar concerns after adverse events following glutathione injectables. Nonetheless, many clients view these treatments as a great way to even out skin pigment.
Reasons For Skin Whitening
Though the top reason there is a growing demand for glutathione treatments is to fix skin blemishes, there are also a few societal reasons.
Just as some people find tanned skin more attractive, many others desire a lighter skin tone. In many cultures, people associate a lighter skin tone with prominent social standing, for example. These reasons are regarded as particularly controversial and are the subject of passionate debate in the U.S.
Statistically, people with darker skin tones are also more prone to discoloration and developing dark skin patches.
Some consumers report seeking glutathione skin whitening treatments for additional health benefits. These include:
Strengthening the immune system
Aiding in fat reduction
Reducing wrinkles and lines
Improving sleep quality
What Causes Hyperpigmentation?
Producing excess melanin can result in hyperpigmentation or darkening of the skin. Often this darker color appears in spots or patches and can be anywhere throughout the body. A few causes are:
Darker skin types prone to pigment changes
Drugs that result in extra sensitivity to sunlight
Skin injuries or trauma
Rare disorders such as Addison’s Disease
Benefits and Risks
While it’s true that glutathione in the body is crucial to maintaining optimal health, it’s unknown whether the benefits of glutathione treatments outweigh the risks. Glutathione in foods is the safest way to increase the body’s levels, but the benefits are dependent on absorption rates. Not all glutathione is bioavailable.
Some risks of glutathione treatments include Zinc depletion and respiratory issues such as asthma attacks in asthma patients. A few reports indicate people sensitive to glutathione treatments may develop other health issues.
Additionally, it is unclear whether there are long-term side effects to receiving glutathione treatment. Anecdotal evidence highlights several health as well as aesthetic benefits. That said, it is always best to speak to your physician before proceeding with a glutathione treatment.
Boosting Natural Glutathione Levels
Many people wonder if it’s possible to boost the body’s glutathione levels without the need for supplements or treatment. Luckily, there are a few supplements that can help boost the body’s natural production of this antioxidant without depositing it directly.
Supplementing the following may help keep glutathione levels healthy:
These vitamins and minerals play a vital role in not only preventing inflammation, but boosting the immune system. By keeping nutrition balanced, you can improve your chances of maintaining normal glutathione levels. It’s unknown whether maintaining healthy levels will help to whiten skin, however.
Glutathione is an essential antioxidant that aids in detoxifying the body and rejuvenating cells. Several new treatments assert that it can also play a role in whitening skin. While several reports make this claim, you should approach skin whitening treatments with caution.