Glycation is a non-enzymatic reaction between amino groups on proteins (lysine) and reducing sugars (fructose). This reaction creates crosslinks in the skin and once these reactions occur, they disrupt normal function and predispose skin to oxidation, resulting in premature aging in the extra cellular matrix of the dermis, according to researchers.1 As sugar breaks down and enters the bloodstream, it bonds to protein molecules including collagen and elastin. These bonds cause skin to become stiff, inflamed and less supple. The market is flooded with all kinds of functional foods, supplements and topical skin products that reportedly reduce glycation. Oral and topical ingredients include botanical plant extracts, green tea polyphenols, antioxidants, turmeric, algae extracts, quercetine, silymarin, phloretin flavanoids, pomegranate, blueberry, herbs and spices, as well as alpha-lipoic acid, aspirin, B vitamins, aminoguanidine, pyridoxamine and carnosine. There is no recommended daily allowance to improve skin.
Some antioxidants prevent and even reverse the attachment of sugar to collagen by allowing better metabolism of sugar in the cell, preventing its build up and facilitating the body’s natural repair mechanism.
Lipotec markets a peptide Eyeseryl, which is intended to prevent glycation in skin. Diets containing high amounts of refined sugars may pre-dispose skin to premature aging through the formation of advanced glycation end products (AGEs). AGEs are found inside the body through normal metabolism and aging.
Our body cells need sugar in order to function, however when its level rises abnormally in the blood it promotes glycation resulting in damage to proteins. When there is over-production of AGEs, collagen and elastin becomes compromised and both become abnormally clumped together, becoming rigid, and non-flexible. Glycation shows up on the skin as fine lines, wrinkles, discoloration, edema and sagging skin. It can be measured by conducting glycation index studies that measure the amount of sugars attached to your body’s proteins. A high index indicates accelerated aging.
But accelerated aging needn’t be imminent. It can be prevented by eating diets low in glycemic index (GI). This index compares the effects of different foods on blood sugar levels; consuming high GI foods result in high blood sugar levels in the blood, compared to low GI foods. Very low GI foods include most vegetables (with the exception of potatoes).
Products claim to have the ability to prevent skin glycation by blocking the sugar attachment to proteins, prevent glycoxidation by scavenging free radicals, dicarbonyls (aging changes cause accumulation of carbonyl groups on proteins. Carbonyl compounds are known to instigate harmful chemical reactions) and nitrogen produced by glycation. Many companies have launched topical products by studying occurrence of glycation in diabetics where circulating sugar levels in the blood are higher and as a consequence, damage arteries. Structurally, arteries are similar to the skin, giving birth to topical anti-glycation products to protect weakened diabetic skin.
The Doctors’ Opinions
Topical anti-glycation products and skin aging remains a controversial anti-aging platform. There is no unanimous agreement on this among reputable dermatologists. According to Dr. Leslie Baumnn, founder of the University of Miami Cosmetic Medicine & Research Institute, no one knows if it is possible to fight glycation orally or topically. Anti-glycation ingredients such as carnosine, green tea, blueberry and pomegranate are incorporated into various face creams and serums. There is no proof that these products actually penetrate deep enough into the dermis to block glycation.
In contrast, dermatologist Dr. Fredrick Brandt endorses green tea, grapeseed, pomegranate, pycnogenol, ceramide and aloe as the most effective anti-glycation actives.
More Study Is Needed
Glycation is an emerging skin care trend that has become a buzzword in mainstream health media.
However, there are no double blind clinical studies available at this time to determine if there is glycation within the dermis. Hence, we do not have enough evidence to conclude that topical anti-glycation products really work or if they are necessary at all.
Nevertheless, we should not underestimate the consequences of our own food choices. Diet and lifestyle changes are very important to improve the health of skin.
- Dr. H. Knaggs et al, ch.41, p 339, cosmetic dermatology products and procedures, Wiley-Blackwell.
Navin M. Geria
Senior Technical Advisor and Principal Doctors Skin Prescription
Navin Geria, ex-Pfizer Research Fellow, is senior technical advisor and principal of the dermatological research company, Doctors Skin Prescription (DSP), Boston, founded by dermatologist David J. Goldberg, MD JD and plastic surgeons William P. Adams, MD FACS and Jason Pozner, MD. Geria has more than 30 years of experience in the personal care industry and was previously with Clairol, Warner-Lambert, Schick, Bristol-Myers and most recently, Spa Dermaceuticals. He has earned nearly 20 US patents, has been published extensively and has been both a speaker and a moderator at cosmetic industry events.