Glutathione vs Hydroquinone: Which is safer for skin lightening

Glutathione vs Hydroquinone: Which is safer for skin lightening
January 14, 2019 Aidee Erhime
Propylene Glycol

Glutathione and hydroquinone are two ingredients used in skin lightening regimens, so this comparison is an interesting one and the first in a lot more other comparisons which I will be doing on skincare ingredients.

Overtime, I have had reason to meet with people whose desire is to achieve much lighter skin tone in the safest possible way. I have also met people who, in doing this, have damaged their skin beyond repair. Considering how much of a desire it is for many people to lighten their skin, these two ingredients have set the pace for others to follow.

What to expect

In this post, we talk about the differences, pros and cons of glutathione and hydroquinone so that, in the end, it is up to you to decide which of the routes you would follow in your skin lightening journey.

Skin Lightening

The usage of substances, medications, cosmetics to lighten the skin color is what is referred to in this post, as skin lightening. There are several reasons why anyone would want to lighten their skin. Sometimes, it could be to rid of hyperpigmentation in some areas of the skin or to achieve an even complexion. Whatever the reason is, the end result can be achieved with a variety of skin lightening agents, including steroids.

How skin lightening agents work

Skin lightening agents work by inhibiting the secretion of melanin – the pigment that is responsible for the color of the skin. As has been stated in our post about melanin, the different skin complexions that we have among individuals is a result of the difference in the amount of melanin in the skin. This means that people with darker skin tone have more melanin than people with lighter/whiter skin complexion.

Hydroquinone as a skin lightening agent

This is perhaps the most popular skin lightening agent known. Used in cosmetics and applied topically on the skin, hydroquinone works by inhibiting melanin synthesis. If you think of melanin synthesis as a party, hydroquinone is the party crasher that disrupts the entire event.

In itself, hydroquinone is a safe and highly potent ingredient to use in skin lightening. There have been concerns, however, about its role in some forms of cancer which is why it has been banned in some countries.

Certain precautions must be taken when this ingredient is used on the skin, one of which is to avoid sun exposure. Hydroquinone exposed to the sun causes a reaction that could lead to irreversible skin conditions including exogenous ochronosis.

The effect of hydroquinone in complexion change can happen as quickly as it could happen slowly. This all depends on the concentration of hydroquinone used in the product.

Because of its potency, it is easily abused and used in higher than required concentrations by people who are desperate to be many shades lighter. Some formulators who want quick money also abuse its usage. Hydroquinone abuse can lead to deadly consequences including skin conditions like Exogenous ochronosis.


Glutathione is a molecule which is produced in the liver and is nicknamed ‘the master antioxidant’. If you think of the body as a nation, you’d understand that many things happen inside our body. These activities range from digestion to excretion as well as other activities that allow for nutrients to be stored in the body. All these make up the word, ‘metabolism’. During all body metabolism, certain things come off as by-products and they include free radicals.

Free radicals versus glutathione

Free radicals are not so nice, they are like rebels that insist on destabilizing the functionalism of the nation. They can cause cancer, some diseases, aging and even heart attacks. The role of glutathione, is to fight free radicals as they come.

This is a tough job to do as every activity done produces free radicals. In countering the effects of free radicals, glutathione saves the body from breaking down by helping the liver take off all the toxins that come in.

What’s even more interesting about this hero molecule is that it replenishes itself in the liver once it is exhausted.

This means that our body naturally produces glutathione! In summary, if there is a battle in the body, glutathione is usually the first defender against invasion.

As a result of some uncontrollable factors such as the environment, aging and sometimes our feeding habits, the level of glutathione depletes overtime. The results of decreased glutathione levels include autoimmune diseases, cardiac arrest, diabetes etc.

Glutathione as a skin lightening agent

When glutathione is produced in excess in the liver, the side effect is skin lightening.  For this to happen, the there has to be so much of an excess that the liver will have its fill first and the rest run over.

There are different types of glutathione but the type that the body absorbs is L-glutathione. This, used in conjunction with vitamin C, hastens the skin lightening process.

Which is better: Glutathione or Hydroquinone?

Medically, hydroquinone is often prescribed as the go-to skin lightening ingredient for melasma and hyperpigmentation. The medically safe percentage of hydroquinone in cosmetics is 4%.

From my experience with clients who take glutathione shots, it is also as potent a skin lightening agent as hydroquinone is.

Therefore, the question of which is better is really not one to answer as it is dependent on individual choice.



To help you choose, here is a summary of all that is stated above.

  • Hydroquinone and glutathione are both effective skin lightening agents.
  • Glutathione is produced naturally in the liver while hydroquinone is not.
  • The side effect of hydroquinone usage includes skin diseases and excessive hyperpigmentation while glutathione side effect when used excessively includes skin lightening.
  • Glutathione works to resist the effect of harmful antioxidants in the body. Hydroquinone does not.
  • The skin lightening effect of glutathione is evenly spread while hydroquinone does not produce as much even toned complexion.
  • Glutathione lightening effect is hastened when used alongside vitamin c treatments.
  • The prescribed dosage for over-the-counter hydroquinone is 2% while the medically acceptable concentration (Prescription hydroquinone) is 4%.
  • Hydroquinone is applied topically on the skin while glutathione can be taken orally or through IV (injections).
  • Extensive research work has not been concluded on the effects of both glutathione and hydroquinone on certain health conditions.
  • The effect of glutathione can only be seen when it is produced in excess. This means that it takes a while for the skin lightening process to happen whereas hydroquinone works faster.

Finally, knowing all these, which of these ingredients would you use in skin lightening? Would you rather use both? Do leave a comment below.

For enquiries, questions and suggestions, please send a mail to or leave a comment below.



1 Comment


  1. […] ingredient has a mechanism of action that is similar to other skin brightening ingredients like hydroquinone and kojic acid. It helps in regulating sebum production while also working to keep the skin […]

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *