Can glutathione really whiten your skin?

Growing up as a morena can be tough when you live in the Philippines. I got a lot of comments like "Gumamit ka ng papaya soap na ganitong brand, effective yan" and "Bakit yung mommy mo maputi pero ikaw hindi?" I heard it so much and so often that I felt pressured to find ways to whiten my skin. I tried papaya soaps and kojic acid soaps and a ton of whitening lotions, just about everything that promised to give me a fairer skin tone. But then a lot of people in forums that I followed kept on saying that glutathione was the best ingredient for effectively and permanently lightening skin. So I couldn't help but wonder about this so-called miracle ingredient. What is glutathione really?

Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant that you can find in abundant amounts in our bodies. Our bodies naturally produce it, but it’s also found in the food we eat. Fresh fruits, vegetables, and meat all contain glutathione.

Because of its antioxidant properties, glutathione neutralizes free radicals which cause cell damage, wrinkles, and cancer among other things. However, it can get depleted by toxins, bad diet, stress, certain medications, and aging. That's why treatments for some disease do include being given doses of glutathione.

So medically speaking, our bodies do need glutatione to stay healthy. But why do some people use it for whitening? As it turns out, whitening is the side effect of glutathione. It inhibits the skin from producing melanin, a pigment that causes our skin to tan and helps protect us from the harmful UV rays of the sun. Because glutathione hampers the production of melanin, the skin begins to look fairer.

Glutathione comes in many forms. Topical products like soaps and lotions are widely popular because they're the easiest to access and generally a lot cheaper than other options. Whether they actually work or not is something that's frequently debated about. Some studies claim that the glutathione that's slathered on gets absorbed by the skin but others argue that the skin is actually only being whitened by the other substances it has been combined with. That's why in order to be really effective, the forums I read recommended to also take glutathione orally or as an injectible.

A quick trip to the pharmacy reveals a number of glutathione pills on the market, and sometimes you'll see ads with "before and after" photos as proof that they really work. And yet each one has a disclaimer saying “there are no therapeutic claims” to what they are advertising! The thing is, glutathione is not absorbed by the body when taken orally. It simply gets broken down and digested like the rest of our food.

The best way for glutathione to be absorbed by your body is to have it injected into your bloodstream. It may work effectively in whitening your skin, but be really careful about choosing a clinic that provides this service. The national Food and Drug Administration actually issued a warning to the public about this back in 2011, because a lot of unscrupulous businesses would either disregard safety protocols or turn out to be complete hacks, resulting in adverse effects in their customers. If you're considering taking this route, make sure that the drug is from a reputable manufacturer and has not been tampered with, and only trust a certified medical professional to administer the shot.

Remember that glutathione is only used medically when necessary to treat diseases and certain conditions. While it may truly whiten the skin, that is only a side effect and an off-label use.

Personally, I have learned to reject the notion that I need whiter skin in order to be beautiful. I love my morena skin tone, and have found a lot of great products that look great on me. I'm no longer interested in trying to change its color, and prefer to focus on keeping it clear, moisturized and healthy. But that’s just me. If you think that whitening your skin will truly make you feel more confident and beautiful, then you should go for it! We are living for ourselves and we should do what makes us happy. Just do it with care, research, and guidance from a medical professional.

Have you tried whitening using glutathione? How did it work for you?

Sources: Stafford Pharmacy – Is glutathione absorbed when taken orally?RXList – Glutathione supplementsAsian Hospital – Glutathione, the Body Wonder NutrientNCBI - The Protective Role of Melanin Against UV Damage in Human SkinNCBI - Skin-whitening and skin-condition-improving effects of topical oxidized glutathione: a double-blind and placebo-controlled clinical trial in healthy women