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Glycation And How It Affects The Skin

Glycation And How It Affects The Skin

Glycation is the new buzzword in skin care.  Ageless skin isn’t just about products you use on your face or treatments you get in the spa.  It’s also about what you put in your body.  We’ve known for years how bad sugar is for our teeth and waistline, but did you know that it’s one of the leading causes of aging skin?   Sugar can cause a process known as glycation.  Glycation is a relatively new term that you will be hearing a lot more about in the future, not only how it pertains to skin care, but also how it affects the body and contributes to many age related diseases, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and Alzheimers disease.  For this article, we will only be focusing on how it affects the skin.

glycation and skin care
glycation and the skin

Simply put, glycation happens when too much sugar in the bloodstream attaches to proteins and causes a by-product called AGE (advanced glycation end-products). AGEs are not recognized by the body as normal and they produce antibodies that cause inflamation.  AGE’s are one of the key factors in the aging of skin.  AGE can cause die-off of cells, fibroblasts and healthy proteins.  They prevent collagen and elastic proteins from functioning properly and damage the intracellular matrix that forms the structure of the skin.  In turn, there is a deterioration of collagen, thinning of the skin, more and deeper wrinkles and less tone to the skin.  Pigmentation changes occur, skin appears rough and inflammation is present.  AGEs can cause acne and rosacea to become worse and impair the barrier function of the skin.   Due to all of this, our skin becomes mores susceptible to free radical damage from things such as UV rays and cigarette smoke, which in turn causes more AGE.

In cutting sugar out of our diets, we obviously think of candy bars, cakes and donuts, but sugar comes in many forms, including carbohydrates and even the way meals are cooked.  Processed foods that we don’t think of as sweet are typically loaded with extra sugars.  It is important to read food labels and understand how foods are broken down, both in our bodies and when cooking.  Complex carbohydrates, such as brown rice, vegetables, beans and oatmeal are much better than simple carbs such as granulated sugar, anything with white flour, corn syrup or fructose.  Cooking with water, such as boiling, steaming, poaching, stewing or simmering helps reduce the formation of AGEs, while cooking with high heat on a grill, in an oven or a frying pan increases the AGE content of food.

Some skin care ingredients that are used to specifically fight glycation are aminoguanidine HCI, carnosine, alpha lipoic acid, niacinimide and red algae.  Glycated skin also needs anti-inflammatory ingredients, such as tocopherol, white willow, licorice root and green tea.   Proper hydration is also essential with glycated skin, so it is helpful to look for products containing vitamin e, hyaluronic acid, natural oils, and aloe vera.  Finding the proper products is essential to calm, rebuild and hydrate the skin and its supporting structures.

Aggressively treating glycated skin can often cause even more damage.  Glycated skin is typically thinned, inflammed, compromised skin, so treating it with aggressive exfoliations and peels will cause more inflammation, and consequently more damage.  For an effective improvement in the skin’s quality, it is better to have gentler, more frequent treatments.

For more information on how AGE affects the body, the AGE Foundation at has some interesting articles and studies.










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