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Skin Aging and Glycation

Glycation and Skin Aging

The process by which glycation leads to skin aging by mechanisms degrading collagen.

Diagram: sugar reacts with skin.

Rosacea patients are typically of an age where their skin's aging is a concern, however the usual first-line topical treatments for aging skin (such as retinoids and glycolic acid) are almost invariably too irritating to be of use.

Prevention is better than attempts at cure and hopefully most patients are now aware that sunscreens suited to rosacea are not only a prime way to reduce symptoms but are effective in limiting approximately 70% of the signs of visible skin aging (photoaging).

Approximately 20% of the signs of aging are due to a manageable phenomenon called glycation.

The remaining ~10% of skin aging is attributed to natural chronological aging.

What Is Glycation?

Foods which have a high score on the Glycemic Index are those which convert rapidly to sugar in the blood stream.

Frequent consumption of these foods, which are typically highly processed or naturally contain large amounts of simple carbohydrates, are associated with obesity and a broad array of chronic conditions, including diabetes and heart disease.

The skin is not immune to the deleterious effects of high blood sugar levels, suffering under the burden of excess sugar by aging faster.

Principally, glycation is the process whereby the skin's collagen (its most fundamental substance) is degraded and damaged in an environment of excess sugar.

Skin Differences Attributable to Glycation

The effects of glycation mirror some of those of cumulative sun damage (photoaging).

The skin, once dense and elastic, becomes thinner, even sunken in places, and does not spring back as readily as in the past.

The Process of Glycation — In Detail

Sugars in the blood stream glycate (attach to) the proteins in the skin which make up its collagen. This new formation is called a Schiff base. The Schiff base has a tendency to form new molecules, called Amadori products. Under the influence of free radical processes, these molecules become deleterious "advanced glycation end products," fortuitously abbreviated as AGEs.

This process underlies the pathology of hardening arteries, reduced kidney function and degraded (more specifically less flexible and hardened) skin collagen, in part responsible for the increasing appearance of lines, wrinkles and lax skin.

How To Limit The Aging Effects of Glycation on Skin

The most effective means is dietary (avoiding combinations of foods which release excessive sugars into the bloodstream) and through exercise (which burns excess sugar and increases metabolism, particularly in the case of weight training).

To check the impact of various foods on blood sugar, you can refer to the original Glycemic Index (G.I.) developed by the University of Sydney:


Topical and oral antioxidants also appear to mitigate some of the negative effects of glycation.

Glycation and Rosacea Symptoms

Glycation is a free-radical inflammatory process. Patients who opt for a "low G.I." diet typically experience reductions in their inflammatory symptoms.

Diet, Skin Care and Supplements for Glycation

Antioxidants help reduce the impact of glycation by protecting collagen from degradation.

By consuming reasonable quantities of nutrient-dense foods high in antioxidants, such as berries, green tea, pomegranate and walnuts, you can increase your antioxidant intake with almost negligible exposure to sugar.

Oral supplements such as those containing grape seed and silymarin can also be of assistance.

As a general rule, antioxidants from dietary sources are preferable over supplements, however supplements may contain useful antioxidants (such as ubiquinone and grape seed) impossible to obtain by diet alone.

Similarly, skin care products containing high levels of antioxidants able to absorbed by skin help protect the skin from sugar damage.

The ideal approach is to combine dietary/oral antioxidants with suitable antioxidant skin care products.

Polyphenols for Anti-Glycation Effects

Foods and skin care with significant levels of polyphenols are an excellent way to help protect your skin against glycation.

This category of antioxidant foods, which includes green tea, red wine and pomegranates, contain very little sugar.

Vegetables — Artichokes, Broccoli, Olives, Onions, Spinach.

Fruits — Various Berries, Cherries, Red/Black Currants, Pomegranate, Plums.

Miscellaneous — Cocoa, Coffee, Flaxseed, Wild Rice, Green and Black Tea.

Clinical Skin Care for Glycation

The Clinic's products contain diverse antioxidants in useful concentrations.

Presently, the product containing the highest level of antioxidants is the Rosacea Anti-Inflammatory Clearing Serum.

More About Glycation and Skin Care

"The effect of sugars on aging skin is governed by the simple act of covalently cross-linking two collagen fibers, which renders both of them incapable of easy repair. Glucose and fructose link the amino acids present in the collagen and elastin that support the dermis, producing advanced glycation end products or "AGEs." This process is accelerated in all body tissues when sugar is elevated and is further stimulated by ultraviolet light in the skin. The effect on vascular, renal, retinal, coronary, and cutaneous tissues is being defined, as are methods of reducing the glycation load through careful diet and use of supplements" from a medical knowledge summary "Nutrition and aging skin: sugar and glycation" @ http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20620757.

"Beat Acne with A Low-GI Diet" — report on treatment by Melbourne dermatologist Dr George Varigos.

About Glycation — Melbourne Dermatology.

Skinceuticals A.G.E. Interrupter — Anti-glycation facial product.

Skinceuticals A.G.E. Eye Complex — Anti-glycation product for around the eyes.

Phyto-Stem — Skin care manufacturer's website with an extensive illustrated section on glycation of the facial skin and scalp.

Medical Study — "Skin collagen glycation, glycoxidation, and crosslinking are lower in subjects with long-term intensive versus conventional therapy of type 1 diabetes" @ http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10102706.

L'Oreal Study — "Reaction of glycation and human skin: the effects on the skin and its components, reconstructed skin as a model" @ http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19896301.

Author: Peter Wilson.

Reviewed: Monday, 9 September 2013.

Further Information: Glycation and Skin Aging :


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