Glutathione for Melasma: The Game-Changing Antioxidant You Need to Know About

Melasma is a common skin condition causing brown to gray-brown patches, often on the face, and glutathione may help by reducing melanin production, potentially lightening these patches.

This naturally occurring antioxidant is gaining attention for its role in melanin regulation, which might help lighten melasma’s visible impact. In conjunction with other treatments, glutathione’s ability to influence skin tone makes it a noteworthy option for those seeking to manage melasma’s appearance.

What is Melasma?

Melasma is a skin condition characterized by dark, discolored patches on the skin, most commonly on the face. The condition is more prevalent among women, especially during pregnancy, when it’s sometimes referred to as the “mask of pregnancy.”

Melasma is more prevalent in certain ethnic groups and skin types. It commonly affects individuals with Fitzpatrick skin types III to VI, typically those of Hispanic, North African, African-American, Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern, and Mediterranean descent. These skin types have more melanin, which can react more to melasma triggers, such as sun exposure and hormonal changes [1].

What causes melasma?

while several common factors can contribute to the development of melasma, the exact cause is often complex and multifactorial [2]. The common causes of melasma include:

Hormonal Changes: Particularly due to pregnancy, birth control pills, hormone therapy, and natural changes in hormones seen in menopausal women.

Sun Exposure: Ultraviolet (UV) light stimulates the melanocytes, which can increase melanin production and lead to melasma. UVA rays, specifically, can trigger or exacerbate melasma. This is important to note because you can go outside on a cloudy day or indoors next to a window and trigger melasma.

Genetics: Family history can play a significant role; those with a genetic predisposition may be more likely to develop melasma. 

Skin Irritation: Harsh skin care products that irritate the skin can worsen melasma.

Medications: Certain medications that increase sensitivity to sunlight (photosensitizing drugs) can trigger melasma.

How Does Glutathione Work On Melasma?

Glutathione works as a melasma treatment by inhibiting the production of melanin through its antioxidant properties, which can lead to a lightening of the skin and a reduction in the appearance of melasma patches [3].

Glutathione corrects melasma primarily through its antioxidant properties and its role in inhibiting tyrosinase, the enzyme responsible for melanin production. By neutralizing free radicals and reactive oxygen species, glutathione protects the skin from oxidative damage that can trigger excess melanin production. 

Additionally, glutathione can convert melanin to a lighter color and deactivate the enzyme tyrosinase, leading to a reduction in melanin synthesis. This process can result in the lightening of the skin and may help diminish the appearance of melasma over time. 

However, the effectiveness of glutathione for melasma can vary, and it is often used in conjunction with other treatments.

Can glutathione get rid of melasma?

Glutathione may help reduce the appearance of melasma by lightening the pigmentation. Still, it is unlikely to get rid of it completely, especially since melasma can be chronic and may require ongoing management with a combination of treatments.

Can glutathione get rid of hyperpigmentation?

It’s important to distinguish between hyperpigmentation and melasma. Hyperpigmentation is a broad term for any condition that causes the skin to darken due to an excess of melanin, while melasma is a specific type of hyperpigmentation characterized by dark, often symmetrical patches on the face. Melasma is more chronic and patterned and often more challenging to treat than other forms of hyperpigmentation.

Glutathione may help lighten areas of hyperpigmentation by reducing melanin production. it is often used as part of a broader skin care regimen and diligent use of sunscreen.

Other Treatments To Enhance Efficacy and Results

Vitamin C

Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, can also help with melasma as it is an antioxidant that can lighten hyperpigmentation by inhibiting the enzyme tyrosinase, which is responsible for melanin production. Additionally, its antioxidant properties help protect the skin from UV damage, which contributes significantly to melasma. It is often included in topical treatments for its brightening effects on the skin.

Vitamin C is a nice complement to glutathione and is best used in the morning as part of your skincare routine to help mitigate the damaging effects of the sun and the environment. 

Kojic Acid

Kojic acid is a by-product of specific fermentation processes, particularly the fermentation of rice for Japanese sake. It helps with melasma by inhibiting the production of tyrosinase, an enzyme involved in melanin synthesis. This can lead to reduced melanin production and a lightening of the skin, making kojic acid a common ingredient in products aimed at treating hyperpigmentation and melasma.

Kojic Acid is gentle, which is very suitable for melasma, but it takes a long time to see results. 

Azelaic Acid

Azelaic acid is a naturally occurring dicarboxylic acid that is used in the treatment of various skin conditions, including melasma and skin discoloration. It works to treat melasma by inhibiting tyrosinase, an enzyme necessary for the synthesis of melanin, which leads to decreased production of melanin and a reduction in the skin pigmentation of melasma patches.

Additionally, azelaic acid has anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce inflammation associated with melasma and has been shown to be effective in treating acne, which can co-occur with melasma. It is often used as a topical treatment in creams or gels.

Tranexamic Acid

Tranexamic acid is a synthetic derivative of the amino acid lysine and is primarily known for its ability to reduce bleeding by inhibiting plasminogen activation and plasmin activity. However, it has also been found to have skin-lightening properties when used to treat melasma.

For melasma, tranexamic acid works by interfering with the interaction between melanocytes and keratinocytes. It inhibits the plasminogen/plasmin pathway, which can indirectly reduce tyrosinase activity, leading to less melanin production. Additionally, it may decrease the vascularization of melasma-affected areas, reducing the appearance of pigmentation.

Tranexamic acid can be administered orally, topically, or through intradermal injections and has been shown to be effective in reducing the appearance of melasma, particularly for individuals who have not responded well to other treatments. However, its use should be monitored by a healthcare professional due to potential side effects and contraindications.

You can get topical creams with tranexamic acid without a prescription in a lower strength, commonly around 2-5%.

Skin Barrier Protection

A common mistake many people make with melasma is over-exfoliating. In an effort to speed up the cell turnover process, it’s common to treat hyperpigmentation with regular exfoliation. But melasma can be easily triggered with heat, sunlight, and aggressive exfoliation, so skin with melasma is very sensitive and needs to be treated with care.

Instead of exfoliating aggressively with harsh scrubs and chemical peels, consider layering humectants like glycerin, panthenol, and hyaluronic acid. This is a more common method in Japanese and Korean beauty, where the emphasis is on hydration and less on exfoliation. This gives the skin a “glass skin” look, where the skin appears smooth and bouncy.

By adding layers of hydration to the skin, the skin cells gently flake off.

Sun protection

This section wouldn’t be complete without a lecture on sun protection. If the sun’s UV rays are one of the leading causes of melasma, wouldn’t it make sense to eliminate the cause? Other treatments won’t be as effective if you don’t eliminate the reason for the condition in the first place.

It doesn’t take much sun exposure to exacerbate melasma, so it’s essential to take a multi-prong approach with sun protection. That means using multiple layers of sunscreen and reapplying regularly. Because sunscreen doesn’t block 100% of UV rays, wear sun-protective clothing and a hat that covers your face, especially the affected area. 

Laser Treatments

Many laser treatments claim to reduce hyperpigmentation. However, they may only temporarily relieve melasma. Many lasers are pretty harsh on the skin and can exacerbate melasma. Many patients complain of melasma reappearing months after an expensive laser treatment. 

Before undergoing a laser treatment, find out how the laser works on melasma, specifically. Be incredibly diligent about avoiding sun exposure because these treatments can make the skin more sensitive to the sun’s damaging effects. 

Conclusion

Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant and effective treatment of facial melasma, but it works best as a combined therapy with sunscreen and other skin lightening topical agents listed here. 

I’ve noticed a very good response in my melasma when adding glutathione to my routine. My dark spots faded and I noticed an overall skin-lightening effect just a few days after receiving an injection. Though the skin lightening effects were short-term, using sunscreen and other treatments listed here has kept dark spots at bay.

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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.

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