Glycosaminoglycans, known as GAGs, are polysaccharides that exist naturally in the dermis of the skin as natural moisture factors that bind nearly 1000 times their weight in water. The most commonly known GAGs are hyaluronic acid and dermatan sulphate. Studies also show that they may help drugs better penetrate the skin (Skin Therapy Letters, International Journal of Pharmaceuticals).
Does UV-irradiation Create GAGs?
GAGs generally decrease in human skin with age, though they’ve been found to increase in sun damaged skin (Nutritional Cosmetics). UV-irradiation reduced the amount of hyaluranon but overall, GAGs increase.
If that sounds crazy or wrong, it’s not. While sun-damaged skin may have more GAGs, they’re deposited abnormally on elastoic material, not dispersed throughout skin, and their ability to retain water is compromised (PLoS One). So, while they may be increasing, they’re not particularly effective.
For obvious, water-binding reasons, GAGs are often used as moisturizers.
In one four-week, double-blind study, participants used either a placebo cream of a cream with GAGs. Initially, the group members’ skin hydration was not different with the placebo or GAG-containing cream. But after four weeks, those who used cream with GAGs saw a significant improvement in skin hydration (Dermatology Research and Practice).
Of course, hydration can help to temporarily plump the skin and help it look younger, but it takes more to truly be anti-aging. The same study that tested hydration also looked at skin elasticity. There was a marked increase in skin elasticity, though there was no statistical different between the cream with GAGs and the placebo, indicating both worked to improve elasticity (Dermatology Research and Practice).
But GAGs have been shown in more studies to be effective in anti-aging formulas. By supporting and enhancing the connective tissue matrix, it helps with anti-aging as well as wound healing (Hymed). The extracellular matrix involves collagen and since GAGs help rebuild that, they help repair collagen and maintain the structure of the skin. Hyaluronate has been found more effective for penetrating cells (Journal of Cell Science).
GAGs have been shown to help improve collagen production, making them a product that’s been put into many beauty products for anti-aging. They’re also good for wound healing as well as skin hydration. While they’re not as prevalently researched as some ingredients, they’re quite well investigated and they very promising as moisturizers and anti-aging components. Still, to know the full effects and see if the ingredient works as well as those more proven, most studies must be done.
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