An Antioxidant Shot That Promises Brighter Skin? I Tried It

Updated 09/08/17

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. The promised results are more than a little appealing: increased energy, stamina, body detoxification, and—the thing I was most interested in—clearer, brighter skin.

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.  

 

“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. Dr. Lin said 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 promise in a culture that still holds fairer skin in high regard).

Supposedly, it deactivates the enzyme tyrosinae, which is needed in melanin production, though there aren’t currently any studies to prove that. Here in the U.S, doctors often use it 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 to “help detoxify the body and promote well-being” is slowly getting more popular.

Glutathione injections fall under the FDA category of GRAS (Generally Regarded as Safe). However, I did have to sign a waiver that warned me of the risks and side effects. Other than the expected pain, bleeding, and bruising, I was also warned that I may experience “rapid detoxification and hexhemer reactions,” which cause body aches, nausea, headaches, mild diarrhea, and chills without fever. I tried to tell myself this hopefully rarely ever happens, signed the waiver, and waited anxiously.

After I got home, I did some more research and found a statement from 2011 released by the director of the FDA in the Philippines warning against the use of large doses of glutathione for skin-lightening purposes. The statement cites adverse reactions like thyroid problems and kidney problems, but seems to warn only against large doses—from 600 mg to 1.2 grams one to two times weekly. I silently thanked the universe that I didn’t read this statement until after my appointment, mainly because my chances of freaking out and/or passing out during the process would have been exponentially higher.

 

I was (slightly) 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 mg of glutathione (I got 300 mg) 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.

The cost isn’t exactly cheap, however; Dr. Lin’s office charges $120 per treatment, with a package deal of $999 for 10 treatments.

Since you’re supposed to get a series of treatments and I only went in for one, Dr. Lin told me that most of benefits I would notice would be in the energy department. He told me to expect an energy rush a couple of hours later, since the effect isn’t immediate. Sure enough, around five p.m. (I got the injection around noon), 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 the fact I only got one treatment. 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. I do feel like my skin has been especially soft, clear, and bright ever since I got the injection. Placebo effect, perhaps, but I’m not complaining.

Would you ever consider a glutathione injection? Sound off below!

Related Stories