What if I told you there was an antioxidant that could protect the body against a plethora of diseases and illnesses, including cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, liver problems, cataracts, free radicals, and even HIV? Sounds pretty good, right? But what if I added that a major side effect to being treated with this antioxidant was a lighter skin color?
This is where glutathione comes in. Touted as the “mother of all antioxidants,” it is an amino acid naturally found in the human body, but whose supply becomes depleted as time goes on. When the body has more than the recommended level of glutathione, it has the side effect of deactivating the melanin-producing enzyme tyrosinase, thereby lightening the skin because the melanin production has been suppressed. This can, therefore, effectively reduce the appearance of dark skin pigmentations, such as freckles, age spots, scars, and dark underarms, as well as lighten the color of the overall skin. Users have also reported that the drug also minimizes pores and wrinkles, smoothes the skin, and even controls acne.
EAST DOES NOT MEET WEST
Opinions on skin color divide. In Western cultures, women might be horrified at the thought of losing their sun-kissed glow, so difficultly gotten by sunbathing or spray-tanning. But in many other cultures, such as those of Asia, where skin lightening is seen as not just a craze but an absolute necessity, glutathione treatments are embraced – not primarily for their health benefits, but for the skin-lightening side effects alone.
If we heard that someone was being judged based on the color of their skin, our thoughts would automatically jump to racism and discrimination. But in areas all over the world, skin color is not a matter of race, but of class. This notion dates as far back in human history as we can remember. Darker skin was seen as the sign of a laborer who had to spend long hours in the hot sun, while lighter skin was perceived to indicate a person who was more privileged and wealthy.
For the West, this all changed in the 1920’s when Coco Chanel came back from a resort with a sun-kissed tan. With the rise of the white-collar worker, darker skin now meant that an individual had the time and means to go out on exotic vacations. Whereas before it had been a luxury to stay indoors while the lower class worked, now it was a luxury to go outdoors and be exposed to the sun.
Asian cultures, however, have not had a reversal in how skin color is viewed, the way the West has. As a result, things are very different. Every skin product has some sort of whitening agent in it, and women carry parasols for fear of tanning their skin. It isn’t so much a matter of prejudice against darker skin color as it is a perception of wealth – in Asia, people with white skin are viewed the same way we view people who drive fancy cars or wear expensive clothes. As a result, it’s no surprise that women in Asia are always searching for the next best thing to make their skin whiter and brighter.
Glutathione is available in U.S. health stores as a food supplement for around $20 a bottle (not subject to FDA approval because it isn’t sold as a drug), promising many health benefits by boosting the immune system. In foreign markets, however, the focus is not on glutathione’s health benefits but rather on its cosmetic applications. There, it is used solely for its side effect of lightening the skin. Glutathione can be found all over Asia as oral supplements, topical creams and soaps, and even intravenous injections.
As glutathione must be absorbed into the bloodstream to take effect, intravenous injections are the most effective form of administration. If taken orally, only about 20 percent is absorbed due to the breakdown by stomach acids, as well the difficulty of absorption across the gastrointestinal tract. Even less is absorbed if applied topically. However, with injections, the drug is released directly into the bloodstream, where all of it is absorbed.
Injections consist of a solution of glutathione, saline, and 500 mg of vitamin C, which is included for long-lasting results. A daily oral supplement of vitamin C can also be taken for maximum efficacy. The cost is around $64 per injection, with about 3 injections needed per week to see results.
We interviewed a woman (name withheld for privacy reasons) about her experience with glutathione injections. The treatment caused lightheadedness which lasted for a few minutes before fading away. Additionally, she reports that she hasn’t had a cold in a long time, which may be attributed to the glutathione, the vitamin C, or both. Although she is still undergoing the treatment and it is too early to see results, she personally knows several people who have achieved significantly lighter skin with glutathione injections.
Glutathione treatments do not work for everybody. Some people do not achieve the side effect of skin lightening even after treatment. Also, there seems to be a general consensus in Asia that Japan-manufactured glutathione seems to be more effective than those that originate from other countries.
Although glutathione seems like a great way to safely lighten skin, there are several risks. Intravenous glutathione injections are not approved for cosmetic use – they are intended to treat cancer. Experts warn that unapproved usage of the chemical may cause serious complications like blood poisoning and kidney failure, even death. In foreign markets where government regulations on drugs and cosmetics are more lax, the glutathione injections may be administered illegally. This stirs up a whole multitude of risks – fake supplements, unknown added fillers, unsafe doses, not to mention other complications that could occur if the injection is improperly done.
In this case, good things do come to those who wait. If you’re looking to brighten your complexion a little, it couldn’t hurt to order a glutathione cream or supplement from overseas. But if you’re looking for a fast-acting injection, it’s definitely best to wait until a tested, FDA-approved treatment hits the US.
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