When it comes to skin-lightening, we’ve often heard popular ingredients like Vitamin C and hydroquinone. But there’s a lesser-known ingredient that holds promise – glutathione. This powerhouse antioxidant aids in inflammation, anti-aging, and a host of other health concerns, but does it work to lighten and brighten skin?

First, let’s get to know what glutathione is so we can understand how it works.

What is Glutathione?

Glutathione is a peptide consisting of three amino acids – cysteine, glycine, and glutamic acid. It is an important antioxidant that helps protect our cells from damage caused by free radicals. Glutathione is found naturally in many foods and is also synthesized in the body.

Glutathione is also considered the most powerful antioxidant, defending against molecules that damage DNA and other cells and helps to prevent disease and accelerated aging. 

The body makes the three amino acids that makeup glutathione, but as we age, our production slows down. 

What Causes Skin Darkening and Discoloration?

When the sun’s UV rays penetrate the layers below the surface of the skin, they reach down and activate specialized cells called melanocytes. Melanocytes produce a pigment known as melanin, which not only darkens the skin but also possesses the capability to absorb UV light.

Melanin is a way for the body to protect the skin from sun damage, but it’s also a sign that the skin has suffered the damaging effects of UV exposure. Prolonged and frequent sun exposure can cause melanin to build up, resulting in freckles and age spots and exacerbate a skin condition known as melasma, or dark patches seen mostly on the face, neck, and chest. 

How Does Glutathione Work To Lighten Skin?

Glutathione is thought to potentially help lighten skin by affecting melanin production in the following ways:

– Glutathione may bind to and inhibit the enzyme tyrosinase, which is involved in the first step of melanin synthesis. By slowing down this rate-limiting step, glutathione could reduce overall melanin production.

– Glutathione helps recycle vitamin C and keeps it in its active form. Vitamin C is a necessary cofactor for a later step in melanin production. By keeping vitamin C levels low, glutathione may limit melanin synthesis. 

– Glutathione may help transport the intermediate products of melanin synthesis out of melanocytes, preventing the final polymerization into melanin pigment within cells.

– As an antioxidant, glutathione helps minimize free radical damage to cells involved in melanin production. Unchecked oxidative stress can trigger increased melanin synthesis. 

– By supporting glutathione peroxidase and other antioxidant enzymes, glutathione provides protection against UV radiation from sun exposure. This could mitigate sun-induced tanning.

A summary of four popular studies with different methods of glutathione intake and dosage have all shown significant decreases in melanin over 8-12 weeks. Two of these studies noted that in addition to skin lightening, a reduction in fine lines and wrinkles and improved skin elasticity was observed. 

The four studies [1] included oral administration (capsules and buccal lozenges), a topical cream, and IV. This is surprising, considering oral supplements are not absorbed well by the body.

One thing that caught my attention was that the study that administered IV glutathione resulted in adverse effects in the liver with some of the study participants [2]. IV glutathione is considered safe, but some adverse side effects are reported with IV administration, so it’s important to get an IV from a reputable source. Many reputable IV therapy clinics administer IV glutathione that report no adverse effects. This study administered two high doses of glutathione IVs weekly for six weeks, a much higher dose than the other studies.

How Long Do The Lightening Effects Last?

In all of the studies, the lightening effects gradually disappeared over several weeks after the glutathione was discontinued. 

Other Factors that Influence Skin Tone

While glutathione may play a minor role, many other factors have a large influence on skin tone:

Genetics – The amount and type of melanin your body naturally produces is mostly determined by genetics. This melanin content gives you your baseline skin color.

Sun exposure – Exposure to UV radiation triggers increased melanin production, causing tanning and darker skin. Avoiding sun exposure and wearing an adequate amount of sunscreen can speed up and prolong results.

My Experience With Glutathione for Skin Lightening

I’ve taken glutathione in IV and topical forms and have noticed a marked skin-lightening effect. When taking glutathione, I need to adjust my makeup foundation color by one shade to match my skin tone. 

While I don’t take glutathione specifically to lighten my skin tone, I notice an overall skin brightening. It looks like my skin is glowing from within. I have slightly dark circles under my eyes that disappear when I take glutathione. 

I believe that all skin tones are beautiful and should be celebrated. Whatever your skin shade, focusing on skin health will lead to radiant skin. 

Photo of author


Ann Bertholf

Ann is a skincare geek, product tester and ingredient sleuth. She looks past the marketing hype and searches for effective, evidence based ingredients and formulations. She is a writer and cat mom.