Glutathione in Skin Care: What to Know and How to Use It

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This article first appeared in the Winter 2023 issue of New Beauty. Click here to subscribe

Like collagen and hyaluronic acid, glutathione also depletes in our bodies as we age. But, with the help of science-backed supplements and skin-care products, we can replenish this “master antioxidant” and reap the wellness benefits.

What is Glutathione?

“It’s an antioxidant tri-peptide consisting of cysteine, glycine and glutamic acid that is found naturally in the body and decreases with age,” explains Omaha, NE dermatologist Joel Schlessinger, MD. “It is an important marker in skin aging, and it also has anti-melanogenic properties, meaning it contributes to inhibiting the enzymes that create pigment in the skin. Interestingly, it is also found in many foods, such as broccoli, garlic, avocados, asparagus and spinach.”

It’s not just the next buzzy skin-care ingredient, however. “Its health benefits are abundant, with the primary function being to support detoxification in the body, boost the immune system, and fight free radicals and oxidative stress,” says Dr. Nayan Patel, author of The Glutathione Revolution. “Scientific studies attest to how imperative it is to have healthy glutathione levels in one’s body.” Nutritionist Jennifer Hanway adds that “glutathione is the most abundant antioxidant in the human body and arguably the most powerful antioxidant for both preventing disease and achieving optimum health, as it regulates the effects of oxidative stress.”

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The Benefits of Glutathione

01 It brightens skin.

Praised for its brightening capabilities, glutathione reduces hyperpigmentation by inhibiting the tyrosinase enzyme, as well as switching melanogenesis (melanin production) from the darker eumelanin to the lighter phaeomelanin, Dr. Schlessinger explains. “Essentially, this means that glutathione may ‘tell’ the body to produce lighter skin tones as opposed to darker skin tones, thus brightening the skin.”

It can be taken orally in a pill, tablet or powder form, and can also be found in skin-care products. “Use a minimum of 0.5 percent for antioxidant properties and a nice glow, but at 2 percent, it disrupts tyrosinase,” says cosmetic chemist Ginger King. “Glutathione works well with both vitamin C and tranexamic acid, but I recommend not to use it in conjunction with vitamin B12 or AHA/BHA products, as a low pH may impact its stability.”

02 It possesses other anti-aging properties.

Though the research is still relatively new—studies on glutathione’s effects on the skin only date back around 10 years— a 2017 study published in Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology revealed that it not only brightened skin, but also helped to smooth wrinkles and increase firmness.

Dr. Schlessinger has seen other studies report similar findings, but a 2021 study found that a combination of oral and topical methods might be more beneficial than each treatment alone. “In the U.S., oral glutathione is generally recognized as safe by the FDA, but not fully tested at this time.”

Dr. Patel says everyone can benefit from using glutathione in skin care. “Because our skin has the most exposure to environmental toxins and the least amount of glutathione, it is the first to deplete when we are exposed to toxins. I believe glutathione is critical to the continuous regeneration of healthy skin, and has phenomenal potential for improving elasticity, reducing wrinkles and fighting against signs of aging.”

I believe glutathione is critical to the continuous regeneration of healthy skin, and has phenomenal potential against aging.

Dr. Nayan Patel

03 It’s a potent supplement for immune health.

Taken in supplement form, glutathione delivers widespread health benefits, including immune system support. “As long as sufficient quantities of it are present in the body, it effectively defends our cells by neutralizing the continuous oxidative stress we face, due to emotional and physical stress, environmental hazards and an unhealthy diet,” explains John Carpenter, director of marketing at LivOn Labs. “Studies show that lower glutathione levels in various brain regions are also correlated with diminished cognitive abilities.”

Hanway takes LivOn’s Liposomal Glutathione daily, and likes it because liposomal supplements are more easily absorbed by the body. “Glutathione can also be administered in IV form by a professional and can be beneficial for those who need to upregulate their body’s natural detoxification pathways. Ask your doctor before starting any new supplement, as some medications and health conditions may interact negatively with glutathione, but most people can benefit.”

Level Up

These are five of our favorite ways to add gluthathione to a daily skin-care and wellness routine for big-time internal and external benefits.

1 / 5

Perricone MD Essential Fx Acyl-Glutathione Chia Oil ($98) helps smooth out deep-set lines and wrinkles as it nourishes skin with glow-inducing, moisturizing oils.

2 / 5

Dr. Patel says glutathione is highly unstable in a water-based formula at room temperature, but his patented technology, Auro GSH, which works to power this Auro Skincare G Antioxidant Revitalization Serum ($179), solves the problem.

3 / 5

Irene Forte Lavender Face Cream With Glutathione ($175) proved to offer potent antioxidant properties in the brand’s scientific trials: It delays cell damage to reduce signs of aging, increases moisture levels and helps lighten dark spots.

4 / 5

Packed with glutathione, vitamins C and D3, zinc, magnesium, and blood orange flavor, RESET Bioscience Immunity Shots ($90 for 15 shots) use plant-based, lipid-encapsulated delivery technology for maximum absorption.

5 / 5

LivOn Labs Lypo-Spheric Glutathione ($75 for 30 packets) is a jelly-like liposomal supplement (pour it into water) that provides a better way to absorb glutathione to protect against free-radical damage and support immunity.

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