Glutathione Benefits for Skin

November 29, 2020 //

Glutathione Benefits For Skin

In the article, Benefits of Glutathione Injections, we covered the general introduction to glutathione (GSH), what it is and how it works in your body. Now that we know the basics, we can talk about some more specialized topics focusing on the specific parts of the human body and see how glutathione benefits them.

In this article you will find out:

  • How does glutathione function in human skin?
  • What skin diseases might be treated or improved with glutathione supplementation?
  • Is glutathione able to fix skin pigmentation issues?

Glutathione and Skin Physiology

Our bodies are exposed to the elements, harmful environmental impacts and pollutants on a daily basis. Apart from those, our own bodies constantly produce reactive oxygen species (ROS) as by-products of the regular mitochondrial metabolism that keeps us alive. These are harmful to our cells and are capable of triggering cell death or cancerous growths, if it wasn’t for the wonderful system of antioxidants and enzymes that protect our cells.

Close Up of Beautiful Woman with Healthy Skin

Skin is the largest organ in human body with the surface area of between 1.5–2.0 square metres for an average adult. This is a large surface area that is exposed to various environmental pollutants. Luckily, skin has its own systems for detoxification and metabolization of everything harmful. Glutathione plays an important part in these systems.

Not only does it act directly as an antioxidant, glutathione is also able to bind heavy metals and expel them from the organism. Similarly, solar and artificial UV light cause an increase of ROS in the skin. In an attempt to neutralize them, the skin increases its glutathione levels (and the levels of other antioxidant systems as well).[1],[2] Skin antioxidants are therefore particularly important for the protection of skin health.

Glutathione S-transferase (GST) is an enzyme that binds glutathione to various toxic substances in an attempt to locate, detoxify and excrete them from the body. It is usually found in the liver (and the plasma GST level is an important liver marker) but significant amounts can be also found in the skin.[3] It is very important for skin detox because many chemicals are able to get absorbed through the skin and into our bodies.

In some cases it is beneficial (e.g. transdermal application of medicines), but especially in urban environment, pollutants such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons from exhaust dust or cigarette smoke behave as photosensitizers, further increasing local production of ROS and increasing the risk of skin diseases.[4]

It is important that our skin maintains its antioxidant and detox capacity, especially if you live in a heavily polluted area.

UV Protection and Skin Cancer

GSH antioxidant system is essential for protecting the skin against UV light-caused stress through maintaining the intracellular balance and detoxifying toxic compounds and oxidants.[5] It has been proven that reduced GST activity is linked to the increased risk of various cancers, including skin cancer.[3]

After exposure to UV light (either sunbathing or tanning beds), the levels of GSH and the activity of GST enzymes in your skin decrease – it is a natural reaction when skin cells need more of these protective compounds to get rid of all oxidizing substances.

However, a prolonged unprotected exposure to UV light might deplete your skin glutathione system completely, leading to uncontrolled levels of reactive oxygen species in the skin that might damage various cell structures and build the base for melanoma and other types of skin cancer.[5]

Happy Woman Applying Sunscreen

Of course, basic protection of your skin with sunscreen creams and lotions should be a natural and normalized part of our daily lives. Apart from that, supplementation of glutathione is one way of helping your skin maintain its antioxidant capacity and protect itself from harmful UV light.[5]

You might consider other beneficial dietary compounds that have been proven to elevate the skin glutathione levels: resveratrol (found in grapes, wine, cocoa and mulberries)[4] and sulforaphane (a sulfur-containing chemical found in cruciferous vegetables: cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts).[6]

Psoriasis

An increase in oxidative stress and decrease in glutathione (GSH) levels have been associated with psoriasis, both locally and systemically.

Obese patients with psoriasis have been shown to have elevated oxidized GSH levels, which means there is systemic inflammation and oxidative stress in their body.

In a small study on seven patients, their psoriasis symptoms significantly improved after taking whey protein supplement, 20 g daily for three months. Whey protein contains high amounts of cysteine, which is one of the building blocks for glutathione (glutathione synthesis is dependant on sufficient cysteine levels and if you don’t ingest enough cysteine, the GSH synthesis stops completely).[7]

Other Skin Diseases

Significantly lower levels of GSH were detected in patients with acne vulgaris,[8] alopecia[9] and vitiligo.[10] If you suffer from these diseases, you might benefit from glutathione supplementation as well.

Skin Pigmentation: Can Glutathione Make Your Skin Lighter?

To answer this question shortly: from the various research publications, seems like it can, but there are limitations.

The role of glutathione as a skin-lightening agent was an accidental discovery when skin lightening was noticed as a side effect of large doses of glutathione.[11]As was later discovered, glutathione interferes with melanin synthesis in various ways.[12] Therefore, supplementation with high doses of glutathione might lead to lighter skin tone.

Glutathione Benefits for Skin

There were three larger, placebo-controlled studies performed on this topic.

One used 2% glutathione lotion applied directly to the skin for 10 weeks,[13] another used 500 mg glutathione capsules daily for 4 weeks,[14] and the last one used 500 mg glutathione lozenge absorbed through cheek mucous membrane daily for 8 weeks.[15]

All three studies reported significantly lighter skin tone in the glutathione group, in skin exposed to the sun as well as in protected skin (e.g. under the arms or on the chest).

Other beneficial effects of glutathione on the skin quality were: increased skin moisture, increased skin evenness and decrease in pore size.

The therapy was generally very well received and tolerated. However, there were some side effects. Glutathione cream caused an erythema of the entire face in one test subject, glutathione capsule caused flatulence in one test subject and glutathione lozenge had complaints from two subjects who dropped out of the study – sour taste, chalky texture and soreness of gums.

From the previous article we know that glutathione taken orally has poor absorption, but it is a good source of the building blocks for your body to create its own glutathione. Buccal application (absorbed through the cheek wall) bypasses the stomach and might yield better results and higher absorption.

However, there is a serious lack of information on how long this skin lightening effect lasts after the test subjects stop taking glutathione supplements. It is entirely possible that the permanent skin lightening requires a continuous use of GSH supplements, which might have some (yet unresearched) serious side effects.

Recently, dermatologists in India and Philippines reported a surge in intravenous glutathione injections used for skin lightening purposes, especially in the population with darker skin tone.

It is still uncertain how safe and effective these injections are for dermatological use – The Food and Drug Administration of Philippines have issued a position paper with a public warning regarding the safety of off-label use of glutathione injection and the adverse drug reactions reported from the use of intravenous glutathione for skin lightening.[16]

Even though parenteral glutathione is approved for severe liver disorders and for prevention of chemotherapy associated neurotoxicity, the lack of statutory laws governing the use of systemic glutathione in most countries has contributed to its unchecked use for skin lightening and the pharmaceutical companies have been praising it as a wonder-drug.[17]

The current clinical evidence of intravenous glutathione for skin lightening is limited to a single study from Pakistan with a dubious study design and insufficient analysis of results, casting doubt on the drug’s efficacy.

Moreover, intravenous glutathione in that study caused multiple side effects – liver dysfunction in 32% (8) patients and anaphylactic shock in 1 patient. The authors of this study themselves admit that their work suffered from multiple limitations, like insufficient facilities and financial reasons.[18]

This is not a reason to completely discard the possibility of using glutathione injections in dermatology, however it is a reason to be very careful.

For now, the oral and topical application of glutathione appears to be the safest and the most effective way to improve various skin pigmentation issues. T

here are various supplements, lotions and scrubs available on the cosmeceutical market, so the availability of these products should not be a problem. You should always make sure that the product you are buying is the highest possible quality and has the glutathione content listed on the packaging.

Summary

Glutathione is one of the most important antioxidants and detoxifyers in the skin. Low glutathione levels have been connected to various skin diseases, mainly inflammatory diseases like psoriasis, acne and skin cancer. Glutathione is in the first line of protection against harmful UV light and environmental pollution.

Recently, glutathione supplements have been used to treat skin discoloration issues and to lighten the overall skin tone. Several studies support the use of topical GSH (in creams, lotions and scrubs) and glutathione supplements taken orally or buccally as a safe and effective way to treat skin discoloration.

After some safety concerns in several Asian countries, the use of glutathione injections is not recommended for skin whitening, as there are not yet any good studies regarding the safety and efficacy of this procedure.

Further Reading:


References:

[1] Richard F. et al. Mechanisms of pollutant-induced toxicity in skin and detoxification: Anti-pollution strategies and perspectives for cosmetic products. Annales Pharmaceutiques Françaises 2019, 77, 446—459

[2] Smith G. et al. Quantitative real-time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction analysis of drug metabolizing and cytoprotective genes in psoriasis and regulation by ultraviolet radiation. J Invest Dermatol 2003, 121, 390—8

[3] Franco R.; Schoneveld, O. J.; Pappa, A.; Panayiotidis, M. I. The central role of glutathione in the pathophysiology of human diseases. Archives of Physiology and Biochemistry 2007, 113 (4–5), 234–258.

[4] Soeur J. et al. Skin resistance to oxidative stress induced by resveratrol: from Nrf2 activation to GSH biosynthesis. Free Radic Biol Med. 2015, 78, 213-223.

[5] Panich U, Onkoksoong T, Limsaengurai S, Akarasereenont P, Wongkajornsilp A. UVA-induced melanogenesis and modulation of glutathione redox system in different melanoma cell lines: The protective effect of gallic acid. J Photochem Photobiol B 2012, 108, 16-22

[6] Mathew ST, Bergström P, Hammarsten O. Repeated Nrf2 stimulation using sulforaphane protects fibroblasts from ionizing radiation. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 2014, 276(3), 188-194.

[7] Prussick R, Prussick L, Gutman J. Psoriasis improvement in patients using glutathione-enhancing, nondenatured whey protein isolate: A pilot study. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol 2013, 6, 23-6.

[8] Ikeno H, Tochio T, Tanaka H, Nakata S. Decrease in glutathione may be involved in pathogenesis of acne vulgaris. J Cosmet Dermatol 2011, 10, 240-4.

[9] Yenin JZ, Serarslan G, Yönden Z, Ulutas KT. Investigation of oxidative stress in patients with alopecia areata and its relationship with disease severity, duration, recurrence and pattern. Clin Exp Dermatol 2015, 40, 617-21.

[10] Shin JW et al. Erythrocyte malondialdehyde and glutathione levels in vitiligo patients. Ann Dermatol 2010, 22, 279-83.

[11] Dickinson DA, Forman HJ. Glutathione in defense and signaling: Lessons from a small thiol. Ann N Y Acad Sci 2002, 973, 488-504.

[12] Sonthalia S, Daulatabad D, Sarkar R. Glutathione as a skin whitening agent: Facts, myths, evidence and controversies. Indian J Dermatol Venereol Leprol 2016, 82, 262-72.

[13] Watanabe F, Hashizume E, Chan GP, Kamimura A. Skin-lightening and skin-condition-improving effects of topical oxidized glutathione: A double-blind and placebo-controlled clinical trial in healthy women. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol 2014, 7, 267-74.

[14] Arjinpathana N, Asawanonda P. Glutathione as an oral lightening agent: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. J Dermatolog Treat 2012, 23, 97-102.

[15] Handog EB, Datuin MS, Singzon IA. An open-label, single-arm trial of the safety and efficacy of a novel preparation of glutathione as a skin-lightening agent in Filipino women. Int J Dermatol 2016, 55, 153-7.

[16] Lazo SH. Safety on the Off-label Use of Glutathione Solution for Injection (IV). Food and Drug Administration, Department of Health, Republic of the Philippines; 2011.

[17] Sonthalia S, Jha AK, Lallas A, Jain G, Jakhar D. Glutathione for skin lightening: a regnant myth or evidence-based verity? Dermatol Pract Concept. 2018, 8(1), 15-21.

[18] Zubair S, Hafeez S, Mujtaba G. Efficacy of intravenous glutathione vs. placebo for skin tone lightening. J Pak Ass Dermatol. 2016, 26, 177–181.