Dietary intake of sugar and refined carbohydrates can accelerate the signs of aging, as it promotes cross-linking of collagen fibers. Cross-linking occurs through a process known as glycation. Once established, the body is unable to repair these crosslinks.
Signs of the Times
The external signs of glycation appear between the ages of 30 to 35. Collagen and elastin are the skin proteins most prone to glycation, and are the same ones responsible for a youthful complexion. Glycation causes both proteins to become stiff, malformed, deflated, inelastic, weak and discolored. Eventually the effect shows up on the skin as wrinkles, dullness and weakened barrier function. The extent of glycation can be measured instrumentally.
The cross-linked complex of sugars and proteins known as Advanced Glycation End Products (AGE) emit fluorescence, which is measured using a Visia complexion analysis camera. As AGEs accumulate, they damage adjacent proteins in a domino-like fashion, explained the late dermatologist Dr. Fredrick Brandt. AGEs deactivate the body’s natural antioxidant enzymes, leaving one more vulnerable to photodamage. AGEs can end up in organs throughout the body, where they appear to trigger an inflammatory response, causing tissue damage and premature aging.
These AGEs are implicated in several age-related illnesses including cardiovascular, kidney, Alzheimer’s disease and macular degeneration diseases. This process is accelerated by hyperglycemia.
Luckily, it is never too late to turn back the clock. Just decrease sugar intake, eliminate simple carbs and high fructose corn syrup and eat low-glycemic foods such as dark leafy greens and other vegetables, salmon, whole grains, green tea and fresh fruits. The foods that inhibit the production of AGEs include cinnamon, clove, ginger, garlic, oregano and allspice.1 Topical retinol-based OTC or prescription products such as Renova, Differin or Avage help too.
For formulators of topical anti-glycation products, there are several clinically tested actives available. For example, the health benefits of Terminalia Chebula fruit extract have been attributed to potent phytochemicals such as polyphenols, anthocynins and alkaloids.2
Another potent anti-glycation is blueberry extract. Blueberries break the self-perpetuating cycle of AGEs and oxidative stress that underlies intrinsic skin aging.3 They protect against collagen breakdown by inhibiting matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) that occur as a response to UV exposure.4 A topical preparation containing blueberry extract significantly improved skin tone and smoothness, fine lines, creping and firmness after 12 weeks.5 Pentapeptide-34 trifluoroacetate enhances the skin’s own capacity to produce Co-enzyme Q10. By replenishing depleted Co-Q10 levels, this active protects and energizes the skin, leading to visible anti-aging effects. In a double-blind clinical study that called for applying Co-Q10 twice a day around crow’s feet for 28 days, resulted in reduced fine lines and wrinkles compared to a placebo.6 Pomegranate extract can regenerate the dermis by stimulating type 1 collagen, inhibiting MMP-1 and preventing fibroblast apoptosis.7 Overall this active induces favorable changes in different layers of the skin to enhance its healing capacity. Benfotiamine protects endothelial cell integrity from the effects of high glucose levels and exhibits direct antioxidative capacity to support DNA function.8 Other substances that may inhibit AGE formation include aspirin and metformin.9
What’s Out There?
There are many commercial anti-glycation topical products available on the market. For example, AmorePacific Time Response Skin Renewal Serum is said to harness the antioxidant and collagen-restoring powers of green tea stem cells. Chanel Ultra Correction Line Repair contains a complex derived from bay cedar trees, which is said to boost enzyme levels in the skin that ultimately restore flexibility to glycated collagen fibers. SkinCeuticals A.G.E. complex targets advanced glycation end products with blueberry extract. Olay Regenerist Regenerating Serum contains green tea and niacinamide to address skin yellowing caused by glycation.
Many products contain compounds such as aminoguanidine and alisin, which have been shown to block the formation of AGEs. Aminoguanidine attaches to molecules that start the glycation process and prevent them from binding to collagen and elastin, according to Dr. Karyn Grossman. Alisin acts as a decoy, so it gets damaged instead of the skin proteins. Prescriptives anti-AGE Advanced Protection Lotion SPF 25 contains both ingredients. In one study, skin treated with the product had 21% fewer AGEs after eight weeks than untreated skin. Some manufacturers of anti-aging cosmeceuticals are incorporating carnosine and alpha lipoic acid into products that are making claims related to skin glycation.
There is no unanimous agreement among skin care professionals regarding the efficacy of topical anti-glycation products, as noted in the comments made by Dr. Leslie Baumann, who is skeptical that these products do not penetrate skin deep enough to actually reach collagen, where glycation takes place. Her sentiment is further supported by Dr. Zoe Draelos, who insists that it is unclear, if topical application of these products has any effect on existing skin glycation or preventative effect against future skin glycation.
While the jury is out on the efficacy of topical products, we can minimize premature skin aging due to glycation by following a low glycemic index diet.
- Dearlove RP, et al. J. Med. Food. 2008.11:275-281
- Rangsriwong et al (Sep. puri tech. 2009; 66:51-6).
- Ramaswamy R et al- Glycobiology 2005, Jul: 15(7):16R-28R.
- Bae JY et al, mol. Nutr. Food Res. 2009 Jun: 53(6): 726-38.
- Draelos ZD et al. J. Cosmet. Dermatol: 2009 Jun; 8(2): 147-51.
- Product Monograph- Peptide Q10- Biofunctional. Ashland 2013.
- Olejnik A. et al. Int. J. Pept. Res. Ther. 2013. Nov; 19: 217-24.
- Diabetes Metab. REs Rev.2008 Jul-Aug: 24(5):371-7.
- Z. Draelos MD, Cosmet. Dermato. May 2012, Vol. 25 No. 5.
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. www.dspskincare.com