Glutathione, or "gluta" as it's more commonly referred to, is best known for its skin lightening properties. Women who want to whiten their skin turn to this ingredient wishing to expedite the process. But for the same reason, those who do not wish to lighten their skin tone tend to avoid it altogether.
However, despite the whitening effect being its main selling point in the Philippine market, glutathione actually does a lot more than most think. To give us more insight, Preview reached out to Dr. Gaile Robredo-Vitas of BeautiqueMD for a crash course on everything we need to know about glutathione.
What is Glutathione?
While we usually find it in soaps, lotions, and in the form of capsules found in local drugstores, glutathione is actually a naturally occuring substance in our liver. It's a natural detoxifier that can be found in many fruits and vegetables as well.
According to Dr. Gaile, glutathione is a small, low-molecular weight and water-soluble thiol-tripeptide formed by three amino acids: glutamate, cysteine, and glycine. "It comes in abundant concentration in most human cells and is one of the most active antioxidant systems in human physiology," she adds. In fact, it is so important that glutathione deficiency is linked to the development of many diseases. It can also be prescribed as medication, most popular for patients with liver complications.
What makes it an effective skin whitener?
According to the dermatologist, skin lightening, which is what glutathione is best known for, is not necessarily its strongest feature. "The role of glutathione as a skin lightening agent was an accidental discovery, when it was noticed as a side effect [after taking] large doses," says Dr. Gaile. She further explains that it lightens the skin by affecting our melanin production, or the pigment of our skin, in several ways:
1. It reduces tyrosinase activity.
Tyrosinase is an enzyme that helps produce melanin. Glutathione interferes with the enzyme's processes, hence inhibiting melanin production.
There are two kinds of melanin in our bodies, and the ratio of the pigments determine our skin color. There's eumelanin, which is black-brown in color; and pheomelanin, which is yellow-red. According to Dr. Gaile, large doses of glutathione make our skin produce more pheomelanin, which is usually associated with a lighter skin color.
3. It affects melanocytotoxic agents.
Depigmentation, or the loss of pigment in the skin, can be a side effect of glutathione intake. "Glutathione modulates the depigmenting abilities of other melanocytotoxic agents," the derm expounds.
What are its other skin-related side effects?
Again, glutathione has a long list of effects to its name, and not all targets skin lightening. Dr. Gaile lists two major effects from having ample amounts in our bodies:
1. It improves skin hydration and improves elasticity.
Dr. Gaile quotes a study that reports how glutathione's oral administration showed an improvement in skin hydration, wrinkle reduction, and an increase in skin elasticity.
2. It makes our skin appear more radiant.
Glutathione also has antioxidant and detoxifying effects that can improve the health of our skin cells, which results in a more radiant and glowing appearance.
What are its other biological functions?
According to Dr. Gaile, apart from its skin-related benefits, glutathione serves several functions:
1. Neutralization and prevention of the formation of free radicals
2. Regeneration/recycling of vitamins C and E
3. Protection against oxidative stress, which plays a key role in aging and the development of many diseases
4. Protection against alcohol
5. Inhibition of infection by the influenza virus
7. Assisting successful immune responses in immunologically challenged patients
So what is the proper consumption for glutathione?
When asked if she will recommend glutathione to improve a patient's skin condition, Dr. Gaile answered with a resounding yes. However, she doesn't necessarily recommend buying the first supplement and lotion you find that lists it as an ingredient. There are many ways to increase the glutathione in your body, and here are some derm-approved suggestions:
1. Decrease the toxic load in your body.
Being a natural detoxifier, reducing the toxins your body has to get rid of can diminish the need for glutathione, saving it for other purposes. You can do this by:
a. Limiting your alcohol consumption
b. Decreasing your exposure to organic pollutants
c. Taking other antioxidants that decrease oxidative stress (eg. alpha lipoic acid, which increases internal glutathione levels)
d. Meditating (Studies show that practitioners have 20% higher glutathione levels)
2. Increase the glutathione levels in your system.
You can also intentionally boost it through other means, such as:
a. Taking glutathione supplements
b. Consuming nutrients that promote glutathione production (e.g. selenium, vitamin C & E)
c. Eating types of food that help boost glutathione levels (e.g. unprocessed meat, garlic, broccoli, avocados, asparagus and spinach, alcohol-free beer, almonds)
Dr. Gaile also notes a method that we should be wary of, specifically intravenous (IV) injections. "There is no available data on the efficacy of intravenous glutathione for skin lightening. The data on safety are available, but scarce," she says. The derm warns that receiving a high dose of glutathione via injection could be unsafe, as it can result in an overdose.
The Food and Drug Administration of the Philippines has issued a public health warning regarding glutathione products that should be avoided. This includes several injections with additives that may pose a health hazard.
So who should use it?
"Since our body produces glutathione, no one should theoretically be allergic to it," notes the derm. But, it being derived from torula yeast and being combined with other acids can cause a reaction in some. Hence, always consult your doctor before taking any kind of oral supplement. If unsure, opt for natural ways to increase glutathione levels, like the ones stated above, or opt for other skincare ingredients to address your concerns.