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Can Glutathione Help With Eczema?

Medically reviewed by Kelsey Stalvey, PharmD
Written by Joan Grossman
Posted on May 25, 2023

Many people living with eczema seek out complementary remedies to use alongside medical treatments for eczema. Effective complementary remedies can work together with traditional therapies to improve your overall well-being. Are you familiar with glutathione? This dietary supplement is sometimes taken intravenously (through an IV) in a clinical setting.

Some MyEczemaTeam members have asked about glutathione and wonder how it may help with eczema. One member wrote, “Has anyone heard of using glutathione IV drip as a cure for eczema? I read an article about it. I just want to know if anyone has tried/knows about it?”

Eczema, also called atopic dermatitis, is an inflammatory skin condition that causes an itchy, discolored rash. Depending on the type of eczema a person has, their skin may become dry, scaly, blistered, or oozy during flare-ups.

Although there is no known cure for eczema, in some cases, it may go away over time. But for many people, eczema is a chronic condition that is managed with a variety of topical (applied to the skin) and systemic treatment options — medications that are taken by mouth or through injections. Eczema can also be managed with lifestyle changes and home skin care.

Alternative, natural, and complementary therapies may be effective for some people, but research is often limited on alternative treatments such as glutathione. It’s important to get medical advice before taking any supplements for eczema to be sure you understand potential risks, such as interaction with medications.

It’s important to know that research has not conclusively shown that any dietary supplements can improve eczema symptoms.

What Is Glutathione?

Glutathione is an antioxidant, a type of molecule that can help prevent damage to cells. Vitamin C and vitamin E are examples of antioxidants, among other substances often found in foods such as fruits and vegetables. Antioxidants have anti-inflammatory properties and fight oxidative stress by targeting toxic molecules known as free radicals, which can be produced in the body or found in substances that harm the environment. Oxidative stress happens when there is an imbalance between harmful molecules produced in the body and the body’s ability to get rid of them, potentially causing damage and leading to various diseases. Scientists believe that oxidative stress is linked to several diseases, including inflammatory skin diseases such as psoriasis and eczema.

Glutathione is naturally occurring and can be found in almost all living organisms. It consists of three amino acids, which are molecules that help form proteins and regulate proper cellular functioning. Glutathione is known as a “master antioxidant” because it plays a strong role in detoxification, immune response, defense against viruses, and structuring of proteins. Levels of naturally occurring glutathione in the body can decrease with some diseases and over time with age.

Glutathione is sold as an herbal supplement and is available in oral capsules, topical creams, and injectable forms. It has been used cosmetically to help lighten skin, although it has not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for any medical use.

Glutathione and Skin — What the Research Shows

Research on glutathione and eczema is limited. A small study of people with seborrheic dermatitis — a type of eczema linked to yeast infection — showed that topical treatment with glutathione in combination with hyaluronic acid resulted in a significant decrease in symptoms (and in some participants, complete clearing of skin) with no adverse reactions.

In a dissertation from the University of California San Francisco, researchers reported an association between decreased glutathione function and the development of eczema and increased itching and scratching in mice.

Glutathione has also been studied for other skin conditions besides eczema. For instance, one study from the journal Frontiers in Medicine found that people with psoriasis had significantly lower levels of glutathione. The study indicated that low levels of glutathione caused an increase in psoriasis inflammation. However, the study did not look at the impact of glutathione supplements or examine the use of glutathione on eczema symptoms.

Researchers have also looked into the effects of amino acids on healthy skin. One small study with amino acid supplements, including L-glutamate (which converts to glutathione in the body), showed improved skin hydration and elasticity. The study suggested that increased glutathione levels were likely responsible for improved skin health.

Some research in mice has indicated that lower levels of glutathione are linked to vitamin D deficiency. A lack of vitamin D is associated with a higher risk of immune system disorders and other types of chronic disease. Low levels of vitamin D may also weaken skin barrier function in skin conditions such as eczema.

Although some promising results have been found in studies on glutathione and skin, there is no conclusive evidence on how to use glutathione as an effective treatment for inflammatory skin conditions.

Risks of Glutathione Supplements and Injections

Although many studies with glutathione have not shown serious adverse reactions, mild side effects have been documented with glutathione taken orally including:

  • Itching
  • Temporary small red spots on the skin
  • Macular erythema, a common and nonserious virus in children that produces a rash on the neck and torso
  • Fatigue

Because supplements such as glutathione are not regulated as rigorously as drugs by the FDA, the quality of products sold as supplements can be difficult to verify. One particular injectable form of glutathione compounded by a manufacturer in Alabama has raised concerns with the FDA due to contamination by bacterial endotoxins, which produced life-threatening symptoms that began with:

  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Difficulty breathing

It is important to note that there is currently no FDA-approved injectable form of glutathione in the United States. Any products labeled as such may be imported from another country and are not subject to the same strict sterility and research standards as other injectable medications.

In the Philippines, where glutathione has been widely used for skin lightening, the Food and Drug Association of the Philippines FDA has issued a warning about serious side effects from injectable glutathione, including toxic effects on kidneys, liver, and the central nervous system, as well as a life-threatening skin rash.

Talk to your dermatologist if you are interested in learning more about glutathione. Be sure to get medical advice before taking glutathione for your eczema.

“I’ve been prescribed glutathione tablet form,” a MyEczemaTeam member wrote. “It is supposed to be restorative to the gut, which tends to be compromised in eczema sufferers. It’s had some effect.”

Diet and Glutathione

Antioxidants such as glutathione are found in a diet rich in fruits and vegetables as well as fish, such as salmon, which has omega-3 fatty acids. Citrus fruits and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and cabbage are especially associated with improved enzyme and glutathione function.

Some herbs, including turmeric, rosemary, milk thistle, and ginkgo biloba have been shown to increase glutathione activity in the body. Green tea has also been found to support glutathione levels.

Supplements and Home Remedies

Healthy levels of vitamins B, C, and E, in particular, are linked to increased glutathione levels, along with vitamin D. Fish oil supplements, which contain omega-3 fatty acids, decrease eczema symptoms while improving glutathione levels.

If you take vitamins or supplements or are considering supplements, make sure to discuss proper dosage with your doctor and whether any supplements are not advised for your particular condition. Supplements in high doses can cause unwanted side effects and may interact poorly with the medications you are taking.

Several home remedies have been shown to help improve eczema symptoms in some people. Plant-based natural products have naturally occurring antioxidants such as glutathione, which have been shown to prevent damage to skin cells.

Moisturizing with coconut oil or another essential oil is effective for some people with eczema. Baths that include powdered colloidal oatmeal, which can also be found in creams and lotions, may also help reduce inflammation and itching. Some people find relief by using apple cider vinegar as a topical remedy or added to a bath. Remember, what works to relieve eczema symptoms for one person may not have the same effect for everyone.

If you’d like to try glutathione or have questions about its possible effect on your eczema, speak with your dermatologist first. They can help you evaluate whether a natural remedy might work for you and offer advice on how it might interact with your existing treatment plan.

Find Your Team

MyEczemaTeam is the social network for people with eczema and their loved ones. On MyEczemaTeam, more than 47,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with eczema.

Has your doctor advised trying glutathione? Have you tried it? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

References
  1. Dietary Supplements for Established Atopic Eczema — Cochrane Library
  2. The Role of Glutathione in Protecting Against the Severe Inflammatory Response Triggered by Covid-19 — Antioxidants
  3. Antioxidants: In Depth — National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health
  4. Oxidative Stress and Gut Microbiome in Inflammatory Skin Diseases — Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology
  5. Amino Acids — Cleveland Clinic
  6. Combination of Topical and Oral Glutathione as a Skin-Whitening Agent: A Double-Blind Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial — International Journal of Dermatology
  7. The Effectiveness of a New Topical Formulation Containing GSH-C4 and Hyaluronic Acid in Seborrheic Dermatitis: Preliminary Results of an Exploratory Pilot Study — Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology
  8. Deficiency in a Putative Glutathione Transferase Produces Atopic Dermatitis With Mast Cell-Mediated Histaminergic Itch — U.C. San Francisco Electronic Theses and Dissertations
  9. Effect of Amino-Acid Intake on Physical Conditions and Skin State: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Crossover Trial — Journal of Clinical Biochemistry and Nutrition
  10. The Role of Glutathione-S Transferase in Psoriasis and Associated Comorbidities and the Effect of Dimethyl Fumarate in This Pathway — Frontiers in Medicine
  11. Glutathione Deficiency Induces Epigenetic Alterations of Vitamin D Metabolism Genes in the Livers of High-Fat Diet-Fed Obese Mice — Nature
  12. Get the Facts: Vitamin D — National Eczema Association
  13. Glutathione and Its Antiaging and Antimelanogenic Effects — Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology
  14. FDA Highlights Concerns With Using Dietary Ingredient Glutathione To Compound Sterile Injectables — U.S. Food and Drug Administration
  15. FDA Advisory No. 2019-182: Unsafe Use of Glutathione as Skin Lightening Agent — Food and Drug Administration Philippines
  16. Plant-Derived Antioxidants: Significance in Skin Health and the Ageing Process — International Journal of Molecular Sciences

Posted on May 25, 2023
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Kelsey Stalvey, PharmD received her Doctor of Pharmacy from Pacific University School of Pharmacy in Portland, Oregon, and went on to complete a one-year postgraduate residency at Sarasota Memorial Hospital in Sarasota, Florida. Learn more about her here.
Joan Grossman is a freelance writer, filmmaker, and consultant based in Brooklyn, NY. Learn more about her here.

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