Will this skincare ingredient make me glow like a light bulb?
Let us introduce you to this master antioxidant with a bad reputation
Welcome to the skincare circus, where the quest for radiant skin is a high-wire act, and brands have teamed up with old-school notions of beauty to be the ringmaster. We’ve got jugglers throwing up cleansers, serums and moisturisers in perfect harmony. But there will always be one mischief maker in the mix, and in the Indian context, it’s skin whitening. It’s no wonder things like glutathione creams, glutathione IV, injections and supplements are always trending on Google searches.
It’s as if lighter skin tones became the holy grail, and glutathione is the knight in shining armour, or rather, the knight in radiant, brighter skin. In a society where kaale ghane baal (black, luscious locks) and gore, gore gaal (white cheeks) translate to beauty, the obsession has pushed people to take extreme measures. A change in skin tone is often a side effect of glutathione’s usage. Even as there’s little to no evidence that supports its efficacy and safety, it continues to be the sought-after golden ticket.
Despite many gymnastics rebranding lightening to skin brightening, fairness creams are still a booming part of the beauty industry. According to a report by Business Wire, the women’s skin-lightening category is anticipated to achieve market revenues of more than ₹5,000 crores by the end of 2023. Call it a colonial hangover or unrealistic images imprinted in our minds by the media we consume. It’s given glutathione a bad reputation, but there’s more to this powerhouse antioxidant than we see in the headlines.
What is glutathione?
“Glutathione is a tripeptide, a molecule composed of three amino acids: glycine, cysteine, and glutamic acid. It is a potent antioxidant, which can neutralise free radicals and unstable molecules that damage cells and contribute to ageing and disease,” says Dr Sravya C Tipirneni, a consultant dermatologist and cosmetologist at Manipal Hospitals, Bengaluru. This translates to protection from sun damage, reduced appearance of wrinkles and fine lines, and improved skin tone and texture.
Let’s face it: there’s no escaping stress and pollution that often lead to skin issues like hyperpigmentation, melasma, inflammation and premature ageing.
Glutathione’s increasing popularity could be attributed to the “growing body of research and its availability in various forms,” as Tipirneni says, but also because we’re waking up to the potential remedies we now have to deal with the annoying flipside of having beautiful brown skin – hyperpigmentation.
Since deeper skin tones already produce more melanin, getting triggered and stressed by external factors can easily cause our skin to produce even more melanin than it’s used to.
This ingredient could help reduce the production of melanin, the pigment that gives skin its colour, thereby lightening dark spots and improving skin tone. Its antioxidant properties may help protect skin from collagen and elastin breakdown, contributing to wrinkles and fine lines forming. This could reduce skin inflammation that leads to acne, irritation and redness.
How do you use it?
Glutathione is available in various forms, including:
• Topically, it’s applied directly to the skin as a serum, cream, or lotion.
• Oral glutathione is a supplement taken by mouth.
• Intravenous (IV) glutathione is administered directly into the bloodstream through an IV injection.
Each form of glutathione has its advantages and disadvantages, explains Tipirneni. “Topical glutathione is generally considered safe and effective, but it may not be as effective as IV glutathione. Oral glutathione is less effective than IV glutathione, as the body poorly absorbs it. IV glutathione is the most effective form of glutathione but is also the most expensive and invasive.”
The do’s and don’ts of glutathione, according to Dr Sravya C Tipirneni
Consult a dermatologist to find the right method or dosage, especially if incorporating it into your skincare routine. “There are no specific product guidelines for glutathione, but it is generally recommended to use a formula with a concentration of 2% or higher.”
Avoid glutathione if you have skin conditions like psoriasis, rosacea or eczema. It is also not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women.
Incorporate it into your skincare routine with other ingredients (like vitamin C and retinol) to help combat pigmentary issues. “However, it is important to talk to a dermatologist before using glutathione with other products, as some actives may interact with each other.”
Don’t use it willy-nilly without proper guidance. Glutathione is an ingredient with potential side effects that are mild and temporary, such as itching, redness and irritation. It can, however, have serious side effects, such as allergic reactions, hives and difficulty in breathing.
Discuss all the risks and benefits of a treatment with your doctor. There are no stupid questions; if your specialist makes you feel like there are, find another doctor. Tipirneni also urges users to shop only from reputable sources for good quality product.
“If Sheetal jumps into a well and uses glutathione does that mean you will too?” One of the many things our mothers were right about is not following others blindly. You might feel the skincare FOMO, but don’t force yourself to use something your skin rejects. You could always eat your way to better skin. Stir fry some broccoli and cauliflower doused in garlicky goodness (all ingredients packed with glutathione and other vitamins and minerals). Your taste buds and your skin will both be singing your praises.