Gone are the days when we didn’t even glance at the ingredient labels on our skincare products. As skincare enthusiasts, we often carefully read each label and want to learn the purpose of each individual ingredient so that we can choose the right product for our skin type.
One skincare ingredient that you may never have heard of is a promising skincare active called glutathione. What exactly is the role of glutathione in skin care?
Glutathione is an antioxidant that promotes skin brightening and an even skin tone. It consists of three amino acids: glutamic acid, glycine, and cysteine. It is a popular ingredient in skin care products because it helps to reduce the look of dark spots on the skin caused by the excessive production of melanin.
In this post, I’ll discuss what glutathione is and the role it can play in your skin care routine. I’ll also discuss an effective Paula’s Choice glutathione skincare product and glutathione alternatives.
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Glutathione In Skin Care
Glutathione is a bit of a newcomer to the skincare game. While it’s been around for a while, few skin care products have utilized it in their formulas until recent years. But glutathione is here to stay since it has an incredible ability to brighten and protect your skin.
What Is Glutathione?
The first step in understanding how glutathione can improve your skin is to learn exactly what it is. Glutathione is a tripeptide antioxidant with three important amino acids (glycine, cysteine, and glutamic acid).
Glutathione is a compound found in many fruits and vegetables that is also naturally produced in the liver of the human body. It has a wide range of functions, including improving the immune system and building and repairing tissue.
Since it’s an antioxidant, glutathione helps prevent free radicals from damaging your body’s cells (oxidative damage) and promotes overall skin health. Free radicals can bring on premature skin aging, including wrinkles, fine lines, hyperpigmentation, and loss of skin elasticity and firmness.
Glutathione also works to keep your brain functioning well. But glutathione has another impressive ability: it can reduce melanin production and improve skin cell health.
Melanin is the pigment in your skin. When your skin is exposed to the UV rays of the sun or other environmental pollutants, melanin is produced. Melanin is what gives our skin its color and when there’s too much of it, it can result in dark spots, hyperpigmentation, and uneven skin tone.
Glutathione blocks the production of tyrosinase, which is one of the main enzymes involved in melanin production in your body.
Once melanin is over-produced, you may start to notice dark spots on your skin. Since glutathione can help prevent melanin production, using a glutathione-containing skincare product on your skin can decrease the appearance of sun spots, hyperpigmentation, and discoloration.
The Bottom Line: If hyperpigmentation and dark spots are a main skin concern of yours, using a skincare product containing glutathione could be a great addition to your skincare routine.
How Can I Add Glutathione To My Skin Care Routine?
Glutathione is used in a variety of skin care products, ranging from cleansers and serums to moisturizing creams and lotions. Some oral supplements even contain glutathione, but this method of absorbing glutathione seems to be less effective than other methods.
Some dermatologists even offer glutathione injections to speed up the absorption into your body’s cells, for improved energy, immunity, and brighter skin. But please be aware that FDA has not approved glutathione injections, and has even issued a warning that this type of injection may be unsafe, so please avoid this method and stick to topical glutathione for your skin.
As with all changes in your skincare routine, be careful to slowly introduce topical glutathione to your skin. Be sure to patch test a glutathione skincare product and any new skincare product to avoid an allergic reaction.
You should also consult with your dermatologist before adding a concentrated amount of topical glutathione to your skin care regimen. Regularly applying high levels of glutathione to your skin or ingesting it in large quantities can cause unwanted skin lightening.
If you plan on using a glutathione cleanser, moisturizer, or serum, be sure you’re using the recommended amount on your skin.
Is Topical Glutathione Effective?
Topical glutathione can be effective when used as directed. Glutathione is one of only a few skin brightening ingredients that works on most skin types and offers protection against skin discoloration.
Glutathione is effective on its own, but it’s even more potent when combined with other antioxidants and skin-brightening ingredients.
Topical glutathione for skin brightening can be used in conjunction with vitamin E and vitamin C to make a powerful trio for skin lightening and protecting and repairing your skin.
Glutathione In Skin Care: Side Effects
Glutathione skin care products are generally safe and well-tolerated. However, some people may experience side effects such as skin irritation, redness, or itching. If you experience any of these side effects, discontinue use immediately and consult your dermatologist.
Once again, it is important to patch test any new skincare product before using it, especially if you have sensitive skin.
Glutathione Skincare Product Spotlight: Paula’s Choice Resist Super Antioxidant Serum
Paula’s Choice offers an ideal antioxidant skincare product containing glutathione: Paula’s Choice RESIST Super Antioxidant Serum.
This serum is packed with antioxidants that are derived from both plants and vitamins. Along with glutathione, the RESIST Super Antioxidant serum contains vitamins C and E and ceramides.
These powerful ingredients are the perfect mixture to even out uneven skin tone, reduce the visibility of sun spots and acne scars, and improve your skin elasticity.
Ideal for normal to dry skin types, a little bit goes a long way with this powerful serum, as it has a rich and thick hydrating texture.
Paula’s Choice offers an excellent combination of glutathione and other skin-rejuvenating ingredients making it my pick for one of the best antioxidant serums out there.
Here are some of the benefits of the active ingredients in RESIST Super Antioxidant Serum:
- Vitamin C derivatives and vitamin E combine with glutathione to prevent excessive production of melanin in your skin. This helps to reduce the appearance of any leftover acne marks or sun spots on your face.
- Glutathione and vitamin E work together with other antioxidants such as epigallocatechin gallate and superoxide dismutase to protect the skin from environmental stressors.
- The peptide in this serum, palmitoyl tripeptide-5, also known as Syn-Coll, helps improve skin elasticity, firmness, and skin texture. This is perfect for those who have visible wrinkles or are concerned about the visible signs of aging.
- Ceramide NP is a type of lipid that helps to restore the skin’s natural moisture barrier. This ingredient is important for those with dry skin, as it can help your skin to better retain moisture.
- Tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate and magnesium ascorbyl phosphate are stable vitamin C derivatives that in addition to brightening dull skin, smooth wrinkles and fine lines, and offer antioxidant protection.
- Ferulic acid is an antioxidant, that when combined with vitamins C and E, not only stabilizes them but also doubles their photoprotective benefits.
- Coenzyme Q10, also known as ubiquinone or COQ10, helps to reduce the signs of aging, thanks to its antioxidant benefits.
- Beta-glucan moisturizes the skin and reduces redness and irritation.
Apply this serum after your cleanser, toner, and any exfoliating products. It can be used in both your AM and PM skincare routines.
When regularly applied, this serum has skin whitening benefits and can help reduce dark spots, excessive skin pigmentation, and sun damage on your skin while smoothing and soothing it at the same time.
Glutathione vs Other Brightening Ingredients
Glutathione isn’t the only skin-brightening ingredient on the market. In fact, many of these ingredients are much more common than glutathione and easier to find. Let’s take a look at a few other skin brightening ingredients you might find in skin care products.
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) helps to block tyrosinase, much like glutathione. With less melanin being produced in your body, you’ll have fewer dark spots, making your skin tone more even.
It’s also an antioxidant, just like glutathione, so it will help to prevent further damage from the sun’s harmful rays. However, high concentrations of pure vitamin C can cause skin redness and irritation in people with sensitive skin or allergies.
An effective drugstore vitamin C serum is L’Oreal Revitalift Derm Intensives 10% Pure Vitamin C Serum.
The serum leaves your skin soft and smooth and the 10% concentration is what I think is the sweet spot vitamin C concentration to brighten dark spots and reduce wrinkles and fine lines without causing excessive irritation. The serum also contains hyaluronic acid to hydrate and plump the skin.
For more affordable vitamin c serums, please see my post on the best drugstore vitamin C serums.
Niacinamide is also called vitamin B3, and it’s one of my favorite skincare ingredients. It’s most famous for its ability to reduce pore size, balance oil production, and can even help with acne, making it a popular ingredient for those with oily and acne-prone skin.
Niacinamide also smoothes the surface of the skin and can work to brighten the skin and reduce hyperpigmentation and uneven skin tone. Niacinamide helps reduce dark patches from excessive melanin production, and it also helps reduce redness and irritation.
An affordable best-selling niacinamide product is The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%. The formula is super effective and VERY inexpensive. It targets visible shine, enlarged pores, and textural irregularities.
Azelaic acid is derived from grains like wheat, barley, and rye. Azelaic acid is an antibacterial agent, so it helps with acne and P. acnes, the bacteria that causes acne. It’s also an anti-inflammatory, so it can help reduce the redness and irritation
When it comes to skin brightening, azelaic acid helps with the pesky acne scars caused by post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and melasma.
The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 10% is a budget-friendly azelaic acid product that brightens the skin. The cream suspension formula targets dullness, uneven skin tone, and textural irregularities.
Related Post: Best Azelaic Acid Products
Retinol is derived from vitamin A and it’s a gold standard ingredient for anti-aging. It increases cell turnover, boosts collagen production, and improves skin elasticity. All of these benefits work together to reduce the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and skin aging.
Since retinol increases the rate that your skin cells turnover, retinol can help with dark spots and uneven skin tone caused by sun damage or acne scars. Skin looks brighter and more vibrant.
Retinol and other topical retinoids can even help with acne by unclogging pores and reducing inflammation.
One of the most popular retinol moisturizers is Olay Retinol 24 Night Moisturizer.
It is formulated with Olay’s Retinol Complex and vitamin B3 to target skin concerns including fine lines, wrinkles, uneven skin tone, dullness, and rough texture. It hydrates for 24 hours and brightens, firms, and smoothes the skin with its silky smooth luxe texture.
Related Post: Olay Retinol 24 Review
Like other skin brightening ingredients, licorice root, also known as Glycyrrhiza glabra root extract, helps to prevent the production of excess melanin in your skin.
It also reduces redness, inflammation, and skin irritation. It’s safe to use on all skin types as it has minimal side effects. Licorice root is commonly used in conjunction with other brightening ingredients to achieve optimal lightening results.
An example of a product that combines licorice root with other potent actives is CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum.
This retinol serum contains encapsulated retinol, licorice root extract, niacinamide, and three different types of ceramides to reduce the look of post-acne marks and pores, brighten the skin, resurface skin texture, smooth wrinkles and fine lines, and support a healthy skin barrier.
Like other actives in this post, tranexamic acid works to reduce melanin production in the skin. Tranexamic acid is an amino acid that brightens the skin and reduces the look of discoloration, dark spots, and even acne scars.
The Inkey List Tranexamic Acid Serum is formulated to reduce the look of hyperpigmentation with 2% tranexamic acid.
The serum also contains 2% acai berry for an antioxidant boost and improved skin tone and 2% ascorbyl glucoside, a vitamin C derivative that brightens the skin.
Alpha arbutin, derived from the bearberry plant, is a gentle melanin-inhibiting ingredient. It’s much less irritating than other ingredients like hydroquinone, and it’s also more stable.
Alpha arbutin works to reduce melanin production by inhibiting the enzyme tyrosinase, resulting in a more even skin tone and reduced hyperpigmentation.
The Inkey List Alpha Arbutin Brightening Serum contains 2% alpha arbutin to reduce hyperpigmentation, dark spots, and dullness. A 0.5% concentration of plant-derived squalane hydrates and moisturizes dry, parched skin.
Kojic acid inhibits melanin production by interfering with the activity of the enzyme tyrosinase. It also has antioxidant properties that help to protect the skin from damage caused by free radicals.
Kojic acid is generally well-tolerated by most skin types, but be sure to patch test before using any new skincare product for the first time, especially if you have sensitive skin or skin conditions like eczema.
Hydroquinone is well known to be an effective skin brightener but it is not without controversy. This is because, per the FDA, it can cause side effects like skin irritation and swelling.
In some cases, it may even lead to a condition called ochronosis, which causes blue-black patches on the skin. For these reasons, hydroquinone is not recommended for brightening the skin.
Final Thoughts: Glutathione in Skin Care
Glutathione is a naturally-produced antioxidant that contributes to the health of your skin.
Since your skin is susceptible to sun damage and dark spots as you age, especially if you don’t wear sunscreen, glutathione is an excellent skin brightener that you can easily incorporate into your skincare routine.
This is the perfect place to insert my reminder that you should be wearing sunscreen every single day, whether the sun is out or not. Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Here are some very affordable mineral sunscreen options.
Whether you choose a glutathione skincare product like the serum from Paula’s Choice or another brightening active for dark spots and discoloration, be sure to use it as directed, always follow up with sunscreen during the day and be patient—it takes time for skin brightening ingredients to work.
Thanks for reading!