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Role of Glutathione - a Skin Lightening Agent in Dermatology

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Role of Glutathione - a Skin Lightening Agent in Dermatology

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Glutathione, an antioxidant, is produced by the body and helps reduce the effects of aging, stress, and as a skin lightening agent. Read the article to know more.

Written by

Dr. Suvash Sahu

Medically reviewed by

iCliniq medical review team

Published At January 23, 2017
Reviewed AtFebruary 16, 2023

Everyone wants fairer skin complexion, because skin color plays an important role in sociosexual communication. It is a universal desire to retain a flawless fair skin. To attain this, individuals are seeking faster and most effective ways for getting lighter skin tone.

There are many products available over-the-counter like Hydroquinone, vitamin C serum, vitamin E, Niacinamide (Nicotinamide), glycolic acid, arbutin, Kojic acid and a few new products like pycnogenol, marine algae extracts, soy, Boswellia, etc. All are used in the form of local application. These products have variable effects from person to person. As systemic skin lightening agents various products are tried like l-cysteine peptide, Tranexamic acid, different plant extracts. But, glutathione has become more popular due to its fastest skin lightening action and also, because of wide social media coverage.

What Is Glutathione?

Glutathione is a peptide derived from three amino acids glutamate, cysteine and glycine. It is a known antioxidant and detoxifies xenobiotics. Its skin lightening effect was detected incidentally. Skin lightening was noticed in a patient as a side effect of large doses of glutathione, which was given for some other disease and then onwards, it has become more popular as a skin lightening agent.

How Does It Work as a Skin Lightening Agent?

Tyrosinase is an enzyme, which helps in melanin synthesis (melanin is a pigment, which decides color of skin). Glutathione inhibits this enzyme, so less melanin is produced and skin becomes light. Besides this, it also switches production of eumelanin (produce dark brown color) to pheomelanin (produce yellow-red color), which leads to lightening of skin.

Natural Sources of Glutathione

Natural sources like tomato, orange, walnuts, whey protein, fresh fruits and green leafy vegetables are rich in glutathione.

Availability of Glutathione

Various formulations like topical, oral and injectable forms are available.

1) Topical Formulation:

For local application like face wash cream, chemical peels containing glutathione are available. Use of these products show significant improvement in skin complexion.

2) Oral Formulation:

Oral preparations like tablet and solution forms are also available. The tablet if taken sublingual the absorption will be better and requires lower doses.

The required dose is 20 to 40 mg per kg body weight that is 1 g to 2 g per day in two divided doses. The effects become visible within four weeks and the significant effects may need maximum three months. Depending on the skin color, like medium brown skin requires one to three months and dark skin requires more than 2 years of treatment. After attaining desired skin color, maintenance dose of 500 mg per day for a longer duration is suggested

3) Injectable Formulation:

The intravenous dose recommended is 600 -1200 mg once or twice in a week, but various adverse effects are reported with the intravenous route due to the possibilities of overdose toxicities or may be due to additives present in glutathione injections.

Adverse Effects

Oral preparation has been recognized safe by FDA, but intravenous preparation can cause various adverse effects. The adverse effects reported with intravenous routes are thyroid dysfunction, kidney dysfunction and severe abdominal pain. The other adverse effects due to long-term high dose of glutathione supplements include lightening of hair color, light colored patches over the body and increased incidence of peptic ulceration.

For further knowledge about skin lightening agents, consult a cosmetologist online --> https://www.icliniq.com/ask-a-doctor-online/cosmetologist

Frequently Asked Questions


What Is the Role of Glutathione in the Body?

Glutathione is an important antioxidant, and it is also involved in the detoxification of certain compounds. An antioxidant helps fight free radicals. Free radicals cause oxidative cell damage, which can lead to inflammation and various health issues. The following includes some of the roles of glutathione-
- Direct neutralization of superoxide radicals.
- Co-factor for several antioxidant enzymes.
- Regeneration of vitamins C and E.
- Neutralization of free radicals due to the metabolism of toxins in the liver.
- Transportation of mercury out of the cells.
- Regulation of cell cycle.
- Maintenance of the function of mitochondrial DNA.
- Supporting immune function and forming sperm cells.


What Is the Effect of Glutathione on the Skin?

In addition to its antioxidant properties, the discovery of its anti-melanogenic properties has led to its promotion as a skin lightening agent. It may affect skin pigmentation by inhibiting tyrosinase activity either directly or indirectly. It is available in oral, parenteral, and topical forms. But there is no evidence to prove its efficacy.


What Are the Foods That Have a High Amount of Glutathione?

Glutathione taken in oral form is not an effective way to get it into the body as enzymes in the stomach may break it down. It is possible to increase glutathione levels in the body through oral or intravenous supplementation. These supplements include-
- Milk thistle.
- N-acetyl cysteine.
- Superoxide dismutase.
Certain foods high in amino acids containing sulfur may help boost your glutathione levels. This includes-
Lean protein such as fish and chicken.
- Eggs.
- Garlic.
- Broccoli.
- Asparagus.
- Avocados.
- Spinach.
- Flaxseed.


Compare the Benefits of Collagen and Glutathione?

Collagen deals with the esthetics of skin aging, whereas glutathione is an antioxidant that helps fight against free radicals, which can damage your body’s cells and affect many body functions.
Collagen gives the skin its strength and elasticity, replaces dead skin cells, and renews them. It also has a skin-lightening property by deactivating the tyrosinase enzyme that produces the pigment. They keep the skin from sagging, whereas glutathione is a form of antioxidant that naturally neutralizes the free radicals, detoxifies, and helps boost immunity.


Does Glutathione Cause Obesity?

Glutathione helps burn fat and helps the liver remove toxins, leading to losing weight. Several research indicates that low glutathione levels were associated with less fat burning and higher rates of fat-storing in the body.


What Are the Therapeutic Uses of Glutathione?

Glutathione is used in the treatment of-
- Male infertility.
- Plaque deposits in arteries.
- Cancer.
- Chemotherapy adjunct.
- Immunostimulant.
- Liver diseases.
- Lung diseases.
- Memory loss.
- Parkinson’s disease.


How to Take Glutathione?

Reducing toxin exposure and increasing the intake of healthy foods can be helpful in naturally increasing glutathione levels. Researchers say that taking glutathione supplements is not very effective and that the way to increase the amount of glutathione is by taking cysteine supplements or antioxidants, or vitamin C.


What Are the Symptoms of Reduced Glutathione in the Body?

The following diseases occur due to low levels of glutathione in the body-
- Neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson’s disease.
- Pulmonary disease.
- Immune disease.
- Cardiovascular disease.
- Chronic- age-related diseases such as cataracts, hearing impairment, etc.
- Liver disease.
- Cystic fibrosis.
- Aging process.


Are Glutathione Pills Safe?

Glutathione is safe when used in doses up to 500 mg daily for upto two months. There is not much information available about its possible side effects.


What Are the Adverse Effects of Glutathione?

Long-term taking glutathione can lower zinc levels, and inhaling it can sometimes trigger asthma attacks. It might cause a rash when applied to the skin. However, taking supplements may not be advisable for everyone. The possible side effects may include-
- Abdominal cramps.
- Bloating.
- Troubled breathing due to bronchial constriction.
- Allergic reactions, such as rash.
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Dr. Suvash Sahu
Dr. Suvash Sahu



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