If you’ve ever searched for “skin whitening” products, you’ve no doubt come across Glutathione.
It comes in oral and topical forms but is most commonly found in supplement capsules.
Glutathione is most commonly sold in the Asian markets, where lighter and whiter skin is often seen as more desirable than darker skin. This is regrettable because lighter skin is associated with being part of the upper class, while darker skin is seen as a sign of working outdoors in the sun and being part of the lower class.
This ingredient, which is said to have anti-melanogenic effects (i.e. it helps prevent the formation of melanin, the substance in your body responsible for pigmentation), may have been overhyped and used as a means of playing on darker-skinned people’s insecurities and desires to whiten their skin to conform to impossible beauty standards.
Does glutathione whiten your skin?
If you’ve had your eye on a glutathione supplement, you undoubtedly want to know if it works.
We always advise people searching for supplement reviews online to be wary, as the nutraceutical industry has a hideous reputation of deceit; many so-called “product reviews” posted up on websites are nothing more than cons attempting to trick folks out of their hard-earned money with false claims to make a quick buck.
To get to the bottom of this question, we knew we needed to look at the science – so we turned to the National Library of Medicine’s “PubMed database”.
We found the primary critique on glutathione’s usage as a skin-whitening agent, conducted by Dr. Sidharth Sonthalia (et al.) at The Skin Clinic & Research Centre in India – its conclusion is pretty damning, to say the least.
Dr. Sonthalia doesn’t mince words, saying that there is a scarcity of evidence suggesting that glutathione supplements may be effective in the treatment of hyperpigmentation (skin whitening/lightening). 
Where did the idea of Glutathione whitening skin come from?
The idea of using glutathione for skin whitening originates from the discovery of its antioxidant properties and its ability to reduce melanin production in the skin. Glutathione is a naturally occurring tripeptide composed of three amino acids: cysteine, glycine, and glutamate. It plays an essential role in various cellular processes, including neutralizing free radicals, detoxification, and maintaining the redox balance in cells.
The connection between glutathione and skin whitening can be traced back to the 1980s when researchers found that it could inhibit the enzyme tyrosinase, which is responsible for melanin production. Melanin is the pigment responsible for the color of our skin, hair, and eyes. By inhibiting tyrosinase, glutathione effectively decreases melanin production, resulting in a lighter skin tone.
Over time, people in some countries, particularly in Asia and Africa, where fair skin is often seen as a symbol of beauty and social status, began using glutathione supplements and injections as a way to achieve a lighter complexion. The use of glutathione for skin whitening has grown in popularity over the years, but it is important to note that its safety and effectiveness have not been conclusively proven, and it may cause side effects or health risks.
Before Dr. Sonthalia’s scientific critique of Glutathione, the main research supporting the claims glutathione could whiten/lighten skin come from three different studies.
Two of them look at oral consumption of Glutathione (500mg per day) and one looks at topical application (in the form of a 2% w/w cream).
The studies on oral glutathione
As mentioned above, only two studies are looking into glutathione’s abilities to lighten skin at the time of writing this article! And both leave a lot to be desired when you look further into them.
Both studies tested 500mg of glutathione daily for 4 and 8 weeks respectively, and concluded the following:
Oral glutathione administration results in a lightening of skin colour in a small number of subjects. 
Glutathione was safe and effective in lightening the skin of Filipino women. 
Issues with the studies on oral glutathione supplements
Dr. Sonthalia and his team stated that both of the studies have some eyebrow-raising issues that bring into question whether or not their results can be relied upon or not.
The major limitations of these studies include a small sample size and an extremely short study period with an even shorter follow-up.
The studies on topical glutathione cream/lotion
There’s only one study that’s looked into how glutathione performs when applied topically to your skin.
Conducted in 2014, it spanned 10 weeks and involved 30 healthy Filipino women – 15 of them were given a 2% glutathione lotion, and 15 were given a placebo.
The conclusion of the study is as follows:
Topical [glutathione] is safe and effectively whitens the skin and improves skin condition in healthy women. 
Conclusion – results may vary!
We’re always skeptical of products that claim to “whiten” your skin, and urge our readers to be too. If something seems too good to be true, it usually is.
Generally speaking, your skin color is very much genetically coded, and hugely based on the amount of sun exposure you get.
Based on available research, and looking at peer-review of them, the bottom line is: yes, glutathione does have some anti-melanogenic properties, however, the skin whitening effects of glutathione are not guaranteed for everyone, and are likely to be mild at best.
Furthermore, the potential effects are not going to be permanent, and the skin will likely return to its normal pigmentation as soon as you discontinue usage.
If you’re desperate to whiten your skin, you could give it a try, but don’t expect miraculous results; the research into the topical cream application of glutathione seems to be more robust than the research into consuming it orally as a supplement.