Glutathione injections for skin lightening remain a popular trend in many parts of the world. But are they effective? Or are they simply a waste of money? What about the other forms of Glutathione? You have seen the dramatic changes in skin tone among the hottest celebrities. Beyonce, Mindy Kaling, Nicki Minaj, Azealia Banks, and Lil Kim have all been rumored to have altered their skin color using therapies including Glutathione Injections. Until they speak definitively about it, we can never be sure or know.
What we do know is Glutathione Injections for skin lightening are quite common in many parts of the world, particularly in India, The Philippines, other Asian countries, and African Countries, where lighter skin is associated with higher status and privilege. This is related to colorism, and the influence of colonialism and its social and cultural impact on black and brown people. Whether right or wrong, it is a reality for some people with dark skin to feel insecure about their appearance and it is understandable for some to want to find ways of enhancing their appearance, including skin lightening with Glutathione, particularly Glutathione injections.
Asia and Africa are not the only places where the Glutathione injections are used for the purpose of skin lightening. The therapy can be found in any cosmopolitan, metropolitan area or midsize city in America. Whether in a Medical Spa, Wellness Spa, Beauty Spa or at home, Glutathione injections are being performed widely and Glutathione pills and skin-lightening lotions and skin-lightening creams and serums containing Glutathione are being recommended or distributed.
What is Glutathione?
Glutathione is a natural compound. It is present in most species and in the cells of human beings. The body’s cells not only make it, but the cells rely on it for proper function. It is a tripeptide, composed of 3 linked amino-acid residues, Glutamate, Cysteine and Glycine, each of which are found in the cell and in the bloodstream when proteins and peptides are broken down to the most essential amino-acid units. Unlike the traditional bond arrangement of the amino acid groups found in peptides and proteins, one chemical bond among the 3 groups is different: the glutamate residue is covalently bound to the cysteine residue through its gamma Carboxylate group rather than the traditional alpha carboxylate group. The Cysteine group contains a Sulfur moiety, and because of it, Glutathione is the most significant source and store of Sulfur within the cell.
Glutathione exists in two different forms in the cell: Reduced (GSH) or Oxidized (GSSG). The reduced form (GSH) is capable of providing electrons in a biochemical reaction and when it does, it becomes oxidized. Two oxidized glutathione species form bonds with each other and become a dimer (GS-SG) also called Glutathione Disulfide, as this is the most stable and preferred form. Several biochemical reactions in the cell which need to accept electrons to become reduced rely on the conversion of GSH to GSSG in order to occur. An enzymatic reaction is then needed to reduce GSSG back to GSH to replenish the supply. In the process, peroxide is generated to balance the electron transfer.
Because of its utility in oxidation/reduction reactions or redox reactions (electron-transfer reactions), Glutathione offers a myriad of benefits to the cell. Besides being coupled to some oxidation/reduction reactions in the cells, it also serves as an Antioxidant, an important sink for free radicals and electrons in the cells which cause damage to the DNA and aging. Glutathione can be conjugated to several compounds including drugs, toxic chemicals, heavy metals, and other species, making it possible to be excreted and eliminated from the body.
Although it is synthesized in cells, the levels of glutathione can become depleted. This is particularly true in certain illnesses and conditions including sepsis (blood infection), chronic medical conditions, emphysema, chemotherapy for cancer, stress, other infections, and starvation. In such cases of Glutathione deficiency and depletion, measures should be taken to correct the situation and reestablish optimal levels for health and wellness. Usually, in these situations, Glutathione is not the only deficiency which needs to be corrected. Other nutritional deficiencies coexist with the Glutathione deficiency and must be corrected as well.
What role does Glutathione Play in Skin health and Appearance?
As with any of our body systems, Glutathione is essential for the health of our skin and the way it appears. You can simply ask anyone taking a Glutathione supplement, and they will tell you it makes their skin appear healthier, more youthful, less wrinkled, and brighter. I can personally attest to some of this. For the skin, Glutathione does 2 things: It protects the skin from photodamage and oxidative damage, and it is essential for the formation of the molecules that comprise the skin.
The defense Glutathione provides from the harmful uv-radiation from the sun will allow a person to have the best and healthiest skin imaginable. This means the more optimal that the stores of Glutathione are, the better it is in resisting damage to the DNA in the cells that create the matrix of the skin. This in turn means there will be a resistance to aging. Having enough of the cofactors, like Glutathione which are directly or indirectly involved in the synthesis of collagen, elastin and proteoglycans that form the basis of ideal skin function and appearance makes sense.
So, without elaborating the actual biochemical pathways for each skin macromolecule, you can take our word for it, that Glutathione supplementation for the purpose of enhancing the quality of your skin is neither a bad idea or harmful one. I do it myself, just as I do Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Vitamin D and biotin. Each of those is proven to be critical for the synthesis and maintenance of the biochemical components of skin.
Forms of Glutathione supplementation:
Glutathione can be used, applied or administered in a variety of forms.
Oral Glutathione – This form of Glutathione is the most common version consumed. Reduced or Oxidized forms are available through your local supplement store or can be ordered online. It tends to be relatively inexpensive compared to other nutritional supplements.
The main concern with pill forms is that Orally administered Glutathione has an extremely low bioavailability, meaning not much actually reaches the target where it can be purposefully utilized in intentional manners. It is mostly broken down in the stomach and GI tract into its amino acids before it can be absorbed into the lining cells of the intestine. There is no guarantee that the Glutathione is resynthesized and reconstituted once inside the intestinal cells. The amino acids which compose it are more likely absorbed into the portal circulation of the liver so that it may be used to synthesize other peptides and proteins the body needs, particularly when sufficient Glutathione exists. It is also true that bloodstream measurements taken after oral administration do reveal an increase of Glutathione levels in blood. However, the amount is a small fraction, suggesting oral administration is not an effective way to increase body stores of Glutathione. Small studies have demonstrated long-term administration of oral Glutathione on a daily basis does result in an increase in Glutathione levels. Also, there are studies that show that a chemically modified version of Glutathione, S-Acetyl Glutathione, is resistant to breakdown in the GI like Glutathione and is permeable to intestinal mucosal lining cells and can reach the bloodstream. It retains the biological activity that Glutathione, but it is up to 10-times more bioavailable.
As a result, this is the form that I take and recommend. It tends to be more expensive than Glutathione, but you can shop around online (Amazon, iHerb, PipingRock.com) to find the cheapest one, as I do. And based on how much more bioavailable S-Acetyl Glutathione is, it is the better value even when the price is double that of Glutathione.
Sublingual Glutathione – This form of Glutathione was developed to overcome the low bioavailability of oral Glutathione. When the Glutathione is placed under the tongue or buccal cavity of the mouth, more Glutathione can be directly transferred to the blood, due to the high level of vascularity underneath the mucus membranes of the mouth. It is not clear how much more effective this route of administration is over the oral amount, but a small study has revealed that a Sublingual preparation does increase the levels of reduced Glutathione in the Blood relative to oral pills.
Liposomal Glutathione – This form of Glutathione takes advantage of another motif for enhancing the bioavailability of nutrients and certain medications. Glutathione is inserted in a lipid-bound vesicle as a drug-delivery method. The lipid vesicles containing the Glutathione are able to survive the harsh environment of the stomach acids and proteolytic enzymes (which digest proteins) and travel into the intestine and merge with the intestinal cells. In doing so, they deliver intact Glutathione into the intestinal mucosal cell. The Glutathione can then enter the portal circulation going to the liver completely intact and reach several targets. Some vendors of liposomal Glutathione report that bioavailability of Glutathione approaches. Although that is not validated by any study, it has been shown in small studies that daily administration of liposomal Glutathione will significantly enhance the level of GSH in the body as well as substances whose presence in the body depends on GSH.
Glutathione Suppositories – This form is not a common way to consume Glutathione, nevertheless it is an option. The Suppositories are basically a wax-based delivery system like cocoa butter or coconut oil and glutathione, along with other substances like Vitamin C or probiotics are added. They can be purchased or made at home. Commercially available Glutathione suppositories can be expensive upwards of $200 for a one-month supply. This expense has prompted some people to make the suppositories themselves, which can be done very cheaply.
The suppository is inserted into the rectal cavity. It works in an analogous manner to the way that sublingual Glutathione works. Apposing the medication to the mucosal wall of the rectum allows the Glutathione to be transferred directly to the rich blood vessel network underneath the mucosal cells. Studies about the efficacy of this method to deliver Glutathione to the bloodstream are hard to find, but I presume the findings are analogous to those of sublingual administration.
Inhaled Glutathione – this form involves inhaling a liquid preparation of Glutathione. The potential benefit of this method is that it places the glutathione directly into the lungs, where it may readily enter the blood stream. There are clinical uses of nebulized-administered Glutathione, especially in case where the lung cells are deficient in Glutathione or have suffered oxidative or free-radical damage. As for use for improving the skin, the powdered form of reduced GSH is dissolved in distilled water before it is inhaled through a nebulizer like a person with an asthma attack may do with albuterol treatment.
These treatments require at least 20 minutes and are an inefficient use of time. Of note, Glutathione is poorly soluble in water, but becomes soluble on the addition of small amounts of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) to the solution used in a rough titration. Because this method involves the potential of introducing impurities and bacteria into the solution, this method is not recommended.
Topical Glutathione– Glutathione is a common component of skin care lotions, creams soaps and serums. A key issue is bioavailability. Unless Glutathione can cross the hydrophobic barrier created by the stratum corneum, its presence in topical preparations is limited. That is, unless the skin border is made permeable, by mechanical processes like micro needling or derma penning. In this case, a topical preparation, like a serum containing Glutathione is able to get to the level of the skin where it can exert a biological and beneficial effect. Skinsurrection developed a skin lightening Face Serum and Dark spot correction serum that is compatible with microneedling and dermapenning . It contains reduced Glutathione, and other skin lighteners and nutrients for that specific purpose.
Glutathione Injections – This form has the bioavailability of all the methods of Glutathione delivery. It avoids destruction by enzymes in the stomach and intestine and is injected directly into the blood stream where it can be made available to all the cells of the body, including the skin. Typically, it is offered at Medical Spa as part of a general wellness cocktail containing other vitamins and co-factors that make people feel better and feel healthier. There are no studies which validate that this is beneficial. But there are no studies that show these treatments present great harm in any way to most individuals. There are exceptions to this rule.
Glutathione Injections are also therapeutically. Cisplatin is a medication used in chemotherapy for cancer treatment. Because Cisplatin is designed to kill cancer cell but also harms normal non cancer cells, Glutathione injections are used to mitigate the damage caused by the Cisplatin. It also restores the body’s Glutathione stores which are depleted by this toxic, but lifesaving, compound.
Finally, Glutathione Injections are used to lighten skin.
See Part 2 to find out whether they work, how well and whether or not they are worth the expense!