The Ultimate Guide to Skin Whitening Supplements (and the Truth About Glutathione)

There are many paths you can take on your journey to fairer skin. But we hate to break it to you: most skin whitening supplements and products that you’re looking at probably won’t give you the results you want.

Every so often, the skincare industry sees a “revolutionary” product that promises you instant results, free from any side effects.

You’ll get excited, thinking this is the saving grace for your dreaded hyperpigmentation problems, only to find out it barely lightens your spots.

Cream after cream, pill after pill, we ask the age old question: do skin whitening products even work?

The truth about skin whitening supplements

The short answer is yes. While they do work, you won’t get the results “as advertised”. Here’s why: Misinformation and insufficient tests.

The Myth About Glutathione

If you’ve searched for skin whitening supplements, you’ll have come across the numerous research articles written about this wonder chemical and the hundreds of glutathione pills available on the market.

But before you jump on the glutathione bandwagon, it’s important you know that glutathione by itself cannot be absorbed by the body. This means, although glutathione is responsible for lightening skin pigmentation, consuming it orally doesn’t help.

So, now that you know why you aren’t seeing your desired results, does that mean skin whitening through supplements is a total lost cause?

For the answer, we need to delve deeper into what glutathione is made from: L-Cysteine.


L-Cysteine is an important amino acid that is found in most protein-based foods. But it’s very difficult to get an adequate amount through your diet. So natural or synthetic supplements are recommended.

Benefits of L-Cysteine

  1. It boosts the liver’s production of glutathione, a major antioxidant in the human body that results in skin lightening effects.
  2. Reduces UV induced DNA damage, helping to preserve youthful looking skin.
  3. Helps the skin to defend against sun damage, reduces pigmentation production and accelerates skin renewal.

How L-Cysteine Helps with Skin Whitening

By stimulating the formation of glutathione, one of the body’s most important and potent antioxidants, it keeps cells healthy by removing free radicals, toxins and heavy metals. 

Now that your body is a glutathione “factory”, you can reap the benefits of skin lightening (in some cases up to 3-4 shades lighter). It’ll also be effective against freckles, age spots, acne scars, and blemishes.

Knowing that L-Cysteine can lighten our pigmentation, it still isn’t good enough. For that white, porcelain-like tone, pair it with CLC.

Colourless Carotenoids (CLC)

Pigmentation problems are partly due to UV exposure, inflammation such as acne, and oxidative stress. CLC promises to act against all these.

These special carotenoids are a class of natural chemicals that primarily function as antioxidants. It was created with research from Israeli scientists who developed a breed of non-GMO tomatoes which are extremely rich in Crystal Tomato® Carotenoids.

Benefits of Carotenoids

  1. Natural sunscreen against UV damage and photo-oxidation
  2. Inhibit melanin synthesis to prevent pigmentation spots
  3. Reduce melanin present in the cells, including dark acne scars, freckles, dark underarms and age spots

How Carotenoids work

Normal tomatoes have high concentrations of coloured carotenoids which can stain the skin (tan-like to orange colour) if consumed in large quantities. CLCs like Crystal Tomato® Carotenoids on the contrary, lightens pigmentation when consumed.

These carotenoids, when consumed orally, also goes preferentially into the skin. They absorb UV and inhibit melanin synthesis (which causes skin to darken).

For maximal results, you should combine your oral supplements, with a skin whitening cream, containing the right ingredients, of course.


A skin whitening cream that works fast to reduce hyperpigmentation

We all want results fast. And we want to do it once, then never worry about our problems ever again.

Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes to skin problems, especially when it comes to pigmentary problems. Not to mention these “fixes” don’t provide permanent solutions either.

Firstly, it took time for the hyperpigmentation and darkening on your skin to form. This could have been from overexposure to UV radiation, or the hormonal changes which is the inevitable of life.

Chances are, this process spanned over months, if not years. If that’s the case, it’s unreasonable to expect your skin to return to its original state within days. As for permanent effects, anything that is permanent is probably dangerous.

We understand it’s frustrating to stare at yourself in the mirror, wondering what works and what doesn’t, what’s safe and what’s not. To make things easier for you, here are the best and worst ingredients that can exist in skin whitening creams.

You may be interested in: The ultimate guide to hyperpigmentation and melasma treatment – dermatologist approved

5 must-have ingredients to look for in a skin whitening cream

1. Retinol

Topical retinol is effective in regenerating new cells and is typically used as an acne treatment. However, because of its effect in increasing cell turnover, it also works well to fade dark spots caused by hyperpigmentation, to reveal a newer, fresher, brighter layer of skin beneath.


  • Stimulates production of new blood vessels in the skin, improving skin tone
  • Sloughs off dead skin layers that give the skin an uneven tone
  • Increases collagen production to help skin achieve a firm, glowy appearance

2. Kojic acid

It works by inhibiting the enzyme necessary in the production of melanin, helping to fade dark spots and discoloration. It also improves the overall skin tone, making it a great anti-ageing product.


  • Helps fade stubborn pigmentation by inhibiting tyrosinase activity
  • Effective for spot lightening, such as visible sun damage, age spots, or post acne spots.
  • Has anti-ageing properties, by counteracting skin-damaging free radicals caused by exposure to UV damage and pollution

3. Alpha Arbutin

The one ingredient that most rivals hydroquinone (more on this later on), with a similar chemical composition, less the harmful side effects. Alpha Arbutin is a water-based serum that is known to safely fade dark spots and hyperpigmentation.


  • Blocks melanin synthesis, resulting in lighter skin
  • Effective in reversing problems like freckles, age spots, melasma and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation
  • Poses minimal irritation and sensitisation risk

4. Citric acid

A commonly used ingredient, citric acid, is a protective antioxidant. Being a member of the alpha hydroxy acid family, you will find that citric acid possesses corrective anti-ageing effects to help reverse visible signs of photodamage.

  • Fights against free radicals
  • Helps to brighten, soften and smoothen the skin
  • Exfoliates to rid skin of dead cells, promoting skin regrowth

5. Niacinamide

For those with more serious skin damage, this one’s for you. Niacinamide is a form of vitamin B-3, an essential nutrient for healthy skin. Its concentration can vary between products, although reports suggest that 5 percent is effective enough to treat hyperpigmentation and damage related to sun exposure.


  • Keeps skin smooth and moisturised by growing a ceramide (lipid) barrier
  • Rebuilds healthy skin cells whilst protecting them from damage caused by ultraviolet rays
  • Lightens dark spots with an increase in collagen production

3 ingredients to avoid in a skin whitening cream

1. Hydroquinone

Bleach for your face. How does that sound to you?

Chemical bleaching agents like hydroquinone work by blocking key enzymes along the melanin (pigment) producing pathway in the body.

Hydroquinone was touted to produce skin whitening results fast, with long term effects.

But about five years ago, researchers began questioning the safety of hydroquinone because users were at risk for developing another condition, ochronosis, that (ironically) darkens the skin.

It was subsequently banned by the FDA for a period of time, and has only recently been reintroduced, but at low concentrations because of its potentially harmful effects.

The recommendation is not to use this ingredient continuously for more than five months. With regulations on dosage, length of use, method of use, reactions with other ingredients and the possibility of adverse skin darkening, it is not a safe ingredient to use.

2. Parabens

Parabens are preservatives often added to beauty products to extend their shelf life. While these tubes sit on your bathroom counter for months, or years in some cases, they may have harmful effects on the body.

When these substances are absorbed into the skin, they remain in the skin’s tissue, which is believed to disrupt natural hormone operation, most notably estrogen.

Common parabens are: Butylparaben, Isobutylparaben, Propylparaben, Methylparaben and EthylparabenHowever, there are no conclusive results that state they cause cancer, developmental disorders or fertility issues.

So are they safe?

Considering how skin pigmentation disorders are largely affected by hormonal changes, perhaps it’s still a good idea to stay away.

3. Mercury

We know that high levels of mercury in seafood is dangerous for our health.

Yet, we don’t realise that the skin whitening cream that we use on our face could be injuring our nerves and kidneys as well.

So, why do some skin lighteners contain mercury?

While mercury can be harmful to your health, it can effectively remove dark spots and lighten your skin tone. Some brands may resort to including this inexpensive skin-lightening ingredient to reduce costs.

If you see the word “mercury” or “mercuric” on the list of ingredients, it means that the product contains mercury. For example, you may see mercuric amidochloride, mercury oxide, or mercury salts.

Finding an Effective Yet Safe Skin Whitening Supplement and Cream

To protect your health and get the results you seek, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends the following:

  1. Learn what can lighten your skin and how they work.
  2. Make sure you get a trustworthy skin whitening product, preferably one that is clinically tested, cleared by authorities and recommended by medical associations.
  3. Check for skin cancer with a dermatologist

The Best Skin Whitening Tip

Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen!

No skin brightening cream can work effectively if you’re not also protecting skin with a broad-spectrum sunscreen rated SPF 50 or higher.

Spending time in the sun not only increases your risk of early signs of ageing like pigmentation, but it also slows down the skin’s healing process and increases the risk of skin cancer. Sunscreen is a non-negotiable if you want healthy skin.