An Antioxidant Shot That Promises Brighter Skin? I Tried It

Getting shots in the name of beauty.

woman with ombre hair and no makeup
Faith Xue

You would think that my acute fear of needles would have kept me away from trying a beauty treatment involving any type of injection. Instead, I found myself sitting in Dr. Michael Lin’s dermatology office in Beverly Hills on a Wednesday afternoon, about to get injected with something which I had only learned existed a few days before. The substance in question? Glutathione, a naturally occurring antioxidant found in your liver.

Meet the Expert

Dr. Michael Lin is a California-licensed physician and board-certified dermatologist. He has appeared in various media outlets to provide his expertise in the diagnosis and treatment of skin disorders and created over 1000 YouTube educational videos.

Does the idea of getting an injection for better skin sound like something out of a sci-fi novel? Yes. Was I disturbed when I signed a waiver that mentioned the injections were not currently FDA-approved? Slightly. Was my inherent curiosity enough to overcome any qualms I felt about getting injected? Definitely. (Just for the record, I didn’t pass out.)

Keep scrolling to learn all about glutathione injections—from what they are to how they work, and whether or not they’re the answer to your skin woes.

Editor's note: Since Faith's treatment, the FDA has issued warnings about links between certain levels of glutathione and serious side effects, which include kidney failure and a fatal form of skin allergy (according to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Rachel Nazarian).

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What Is Glutathione?

Glutathione is a naturally occurring antioxidant produced by the liver that helps to remove free radicals and toxins.

“Glutathione is a natural compound found in the liver, as well as in many fruits and vegetables, like garlic, onions, avocado, parsley, and squash,” Dr. Lin explains. “In the liver, it’s a powerful antioxidant that is used by your body to help remove free radicals and toxins.” Apparently, taking glutathione orally doesn’t deliver the same detoxifying results, since it just gets absorbed by your digestive system—thus, the injection method.

It's important to note, glutathione injections are not approved by the FDA—in fact, the agency warns that there are absolutely no injectables for skin lightening that are considered safe. And since there are no scientific studies that prove it either way, opting for this injection is at your own discretion.

Purported Benefits of Glutathione

  • Increased energy
  • Brighter skin
  • Stronger immune system

The results promised are more than a little intriguing: increased energy, stamina, body detoxification, and—the thing I was most interested in—clearer, brighter skin. But keep in mind that these benefits aren't scientifically proven.

Dr. Lin says the practice is popular in Asia, where women report results like more energy, boosted immune systems, increased sex drive, and brighter, whiter skin (an appealing prospect in a culture that still holds fairer skin in high regard). Supposedly, it deactivates the enzyme tyrosinase, which is needed in melanin production, though there aren’t currently any studies to prove that.

Here in the U.S, doctors often use glutathione to help patients with cancer, AIDS, Parkinson's disease, and chronic fatigue syndrome feel more energetic. However, the practice of using it on healthy patients for detoxification and well-being is slowly getting more popular.

What to Expect

I was relieved to find that the whole injection process was similar to getting any other vaccine or shot. Unpleasant and slightly painful, yes, but overall, not as traumatic as I had imagined.

Dr. Lin rolled up my sleeves, looked for a fat enough vein, and injected the glutathione into my system. He suggests his patients start with 300 to 600 milligrams of glutathione (I got 300 milligrams) three times a week. After four weeks, treatments can be tapered to just once a week, with skin results expected in six to eight weeks.

Side Effects

Perhaps the most intimidating part of the entire experience was signing a waiver that highlighted the risks and side effects. Other than the expected pain, bleeding, and bruising that might occur with any shot, I was also warned that I may experience rapid detoxification, body aches, nausea, headaches, mild diarrhea, and chills without fever. In my attempt to be brave, I tried to tell myself these hopefully rarely ever happen, signed the waiver, and crossed my fingers that things would go smoothly...and thankfully they did.

Although, I did get a huge migraine the next day in the evening, which could have been a side effect, or the result of trying to drive past the Hollywood and Highland intersection during rush hour.

The Final Takeaway

Since you’re supposed to get a series of treatments and I only went in for one, Dr. Lin told me that most of the benefits I would notice would be in the energy department. He told me to expect an energy rush in a couple of hours since the effect isn’t immediate. Sure enough, around five hours later, I found myself feeling a type of alertness I usually only feel after a cup of my morning coffee. It wasn’t jittery, exactly, but a definite increase in overall energy and awake-ness (especially at a time when I usually start fading and thinking about what I’m going to have for dinner).

As for general detoxification and overall well-being, I can’t say I noticed much of a difference—though I chalk that up to getting just one treatment. I do feel like my skin has been especially soft, clear, and bright ever since I got the injection; a placebo effect, perhaps, but I’m not complaining.

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