What is Glycation? Do You Need Anti-Glycation Skin Care?

Nutrition, Skin Care

I’ve never been much of a sweets girl. It’s always salty — salty chips, salty spicy dishes, you name it.

I used to think that got me off the hook when it came to things like high blood sugar, but it turns out that the vast majority of salty snacks have a high glycemic index score, indicating that they turn to sugar almost immediately after they hit your bloodstream. Even worse, excess of any carbohydrate turns into sugar in your bloodstream. Not only does regularly overloading your body this way lead to obesity over time, but it also leads to a chronically-elevated blood sugar level. This is linked to nearly every chronic condition in the book, from heart disease to diabetes.

The skin is no different. When you are constantly overloading sugars into your system, this causes the collagen in your skin to age faster. It’s a process known as glycation.

How Does Excess Sugar Age the Skin?

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Do me a favor: The next time you see a child, lightly press on her cheek. Almost instantaneously, the skin springs back, light and elastic. It’s a beautiful thing.

Conversely, if you see an elderly person and press on his cheek, you will notice the skin is paper-thin. It does not spring back readily. Some elderly skin is so damaged, it will actually stay imprinted for a noticeable amount of time (say seconds). This is due to damaged collagen. Years of excess sun exposure cause collagen to break down, damaging valuable DNA, and causing what skin cells are rejuvenated to be produced at a slower rate. To a lesser extent, excess sugar will also age the skin, causing cross-links in the collagen that make it less light and elastic.

For those of you who are especially scientifically curious, excess sugar ages the skin in a very specific process:

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1. A blood sugar glycates (attaches to) a protein molecule, forming a Schiff base.

2. The Schiff base either falls apart or forms a more stable product called an Amadori product. Examples of Amadori products include the molecule used to measure blood sugar levels, glycated hemoglobin (Hb1ac), in red blood cells.

3. The Amadori product forms an advanced glycation product (AGE), either directly or through the action of oxoaldehydes, such as methylglyoxyal.

4. The advanced glycation endproduct (AGE) undergoes glycoxidation, a process that is accelerated by the presence of free radicals. This is the super-dangerous part: Through glycoxidation, AGEs cross-link into a second, neighboring protein. These cross links have proven to be responsible, at least in part, for the hardening of cardiovascular structures, improper filtering of the kidneys, and, when the AGE is glucosepane, the hardened, stiffened collagen within aged skin. Cross links of the AGE glucosepane alter the structure of the collagen within the skin and accumulate as you age, progressively making collagen harder and more inflexible.

How Much of a Problem is Glycation?

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It is well-established that the vast majority of skin aging is caused by sun damage. We may associate wrinkles, fine lines, age spots, thinning skin, sagging skin, and a sallow complexion with age; but in truth, these are signs of cumulative DNA damage and slowed cellular turnover as a result of years of sun exposure. This is mostly because the sun causes your skin to release damaging free radicals.

In that light, glycation is not as much a concern. Glycation won’t cause your skin to wrinkle, have age spots, or look less luminous or bright as you age. Glycation will, however, make your skin appear thinner and possibly sag more, due to the damaged state of collagen.

Do You Need Anti-Glycation Skin Care?

do you need anti-glycation products?

In truth, I wouldn’t say anyone “needs” anti-glycation skin care the way I would say they need sunscreen or retinoids. I would, however, say that it certainly can’t hurt. If you’re the kind of person who consumes a high-sugar, high-fat, pro-inflammatory diet with lots of pre-packaged foods that tend to be rich in simple carbohydrates, and you exhibit signs of premature aging, anti-glycation skin care could help. If, on the other hand, you’re the kind of person who consumes low-sugar, low-fat, fruit-and-vegetable-rich foods, then don’t waste your time or money on anti-glycation skin care.

One interesting note: Many people eat “healthy”, but they still eat too much. If you fall into this category, anti-glycation skin care could still help you, because excess carbohydrates are turned to sugar in the bloodstream, increasing the rate and occurrence of glycation.

What is the Best Anti-Glycation Skin Care?

anti-glycation skin care

The cosmeceutical company San Medica is releasing a compound called Theraglycan-3, which is shown in their preliminary studies to prevent advanced glycation endproduct (AGE compound) formation. The preliminary studies look excellent: with twice-per-day use of either a 4 or 8% cream, the subjects were shown to look 8 to 10 years younger (Cosmetics Design, 2013). The cream has not yet been released.

Bottom Line

Whether you have a sweet tooth or simply find yourself regularly overeating, anti-glycation skin care could be a healthy addition to your skin care regime. On the other hand, if you are a controlled and healthy eater, it’s probably not worth your time or money.

Furthermore, don’t expect your anti-glycation skin care to necessarily change your wrinkles, age spots, or luminosity. Do, however, look for collagen-related changes in your skin’s appearance, like less thinning and sagging. And if San Medica is clever about it, they’ll introduce their anti-glycation compound with others proven to fight wrinkles, age spots, and luminosity, so you won’t have to choose.

What are your thoughts on anti-glycation skin care?

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  • Lucas

    Really interesting article! Anti-glycation has been something I didn’t really look into, so this was very informative.

    But shouldn’t you mention other compounds generally thought to inhibit AGE formation, like yerba mate or L-Carnosine? Perhaps compare the science behind them to that proprietary compound that isn’t in the market yet. Because there must be other ingredients out there that do a similar job to Theraglycan-3 (and where is the scientific data for this one?)

    Thank you.

  • yasmin

    oh yes, i was wondering, is there anyway of knowing how much is too much sugar? It’s impossible to live without eating food that contain one since it’s used as perspiration in cells and such, but how do we know the amount of sugars we’re consuming have exceed the necessity of body need?
    i’m asking absurd question am i..

  • yasmin

    personally i think it’s completely waste of money. Unless your job is relating to eating sugary food often, the consuming exorbitant amount of sugar can be prevented by healthy lifestyle. very informative article. I had read couple of articles saying sugar is not good for the skin, but never understood why. thanks for sharing.

  • Violent World

    But will these new skin care products be able to make up for that whole 20 percent or only a bit? I eat a lot of sugary and carby food because I am poor and that is what food bank food is mostly.

  • Holly

    Great article! I am a big fan of the Skinceuticals A.G.E. Interrupter and the A.G.E. Eye Complex to help with glycation, which uses blueberry extract for my thinning skin, crepiness (esp on my neck) & firming around my jawline. Both are wonderful products and I’ve had great results. I am looking forward to hearing more about the San Medica product, as well. Thanks!

  • Eileen

    The art and science of choosing great skincare products lies in knowing our skin’s particular needs and in knowing which ingredients are going to best serve those needs. Your simple, consumer friendly articles make understanding the purpose of certain ingredients, how they function, and who would be best served by them all very easy to understand. I’ve been curious about anti-glycation skincare, but after reading this post, I now know that it is not something I need to deliberately seek out. Someone else; however, might read this same article and realize that it is something they need. I hope you’ll keep helpful and informative articles like this coming.

  • janine

    Great post. And I would like to say how much I love that you are including illustrations/diagrams with some of your more scientifically complex posts! They are truly helpful to those of us who have difficulty getting our heads around some of these concepts (ok, so maybe it’s just me but I sure do appreciate it).

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