The Link Between Sugar & Skin Ageing

Are your lifestyle choices causing premature skin ageing? Photo-ageing and glycation stress are major causes of skin deterioration, lets take a  look at what this actually means for you and your skin...

PHOTO-AGEING - Sun exposure and DNA damage from UV rays account for up to 90% of skin damage that causes fine lines, wrinkles and age related pigmentation; tumors also frequently develop in skin repeatedly exposed over many years to ultraviolet (UV)-A, UV-B. After age 40, small spots may develop on the back of the hands, and the number of spots may increase with age. A further cause of changes in skin color and transparency is due to the delayed turnover in the epidermis. All of these alterations are induced by photo-ageing and intensified by AGEs (Advanced Glycation End products) accumulation.

OXIDISATION & INFAMMATION - Smoking, stress, poor diet (due to consuming less vitamins & minerals), the amount of alcohol you drink and pollutants can all trigger internal inflammation and generate free radicals; which damage skin cells and inhibit the skin repair process. Such inflammation can elevate metalloproteinase enzymes - these enzymes are capable of degrading all kinds of extracellular matrix proteins, which then interfere with collagen production.

GLYCATION - Through this process excess sugars in the body bind to proteins, resulting in collagen and elastin becoming more stiff, generating skin ageing from the inside. 

CORTISOL - Hormones - Stress hormones such as cortisol and lack of growth hormone as we get older, all add to the visible signs of skin ageing. 

SKINS' STRUCTUAL CHANGES - Over the years lifestyle, body function and age change the health and function of epidermal and cell membrane lipids, mitochondria (the powerhouses of skin cells) and collagen and elastin, which are produced at lower levels.

What sugar does to skin

So what exactly are A-G-Es? - As the name suggests, they age our body and our face—literally. Advanced glycation end products are formed when a glucose molecule sticks to a protein such as collagen or elastin. 

Glycation stress in skin - Accumulation of Advanced Glycation End products (AGE's) in dermal tissue greatly influences glycation stress in the skin. Recent studies have shown that carbonylated protein deposited in the outer layer of epidermis changes the visual characteristics of dermal cells by reducing skin transparency. AGE's formed in the corium cause skin yellowing. In the corneum, where cell turnover is rapid, K10 protein generated by differentiation of keratinocytes can be susceptible to AGE formation.

AGE's accumulate in skin partially by binding with collagen protein. A collagen fiber forms a triple-helical structure maintaining skin elasticity in combination with elastin fiber. Lysine and arginine amino acids in collagen may be glycated to AGEs and form cross-links between fibers, thus reducing elasticity. Glycation of collagen may also cause loss of skin elasticity and wrinkle formation, although this has yet to be confirmed.

"Our skin deals with ageing by singling out the old and replacing it with the new, so when this natural function is obstructed and your skin can’t produce as many fresh, healthy proteins, the visible signs of ageing occur. Think fine lines, sallowness and a deterioration of skin texture." 


Good news it is possible to slow the formation of glycation— ditch the sugary
processed foods - cakes and lollies are best kept as 'occasional treats'. Eating habits that reduce glycation stress are to: sugar and skin ageing

  1. Eat slowly
  2. Chew food well
  3. Choose foods that do not raise blood sugar rapidly (i.e. foods with a low glycemic index)
  4. Avoid high sugar content foods, such as juice, carbonated drinks and sweets.
  5. Moderate or minimal alcohol intake, as alcohol metabolites enhance glycation stress
  6. Try to incorporate more water-based cooking techniques - choose a poached or boiled egg over fried; fresh salmon over grilled; and marinate steak in lemon juice or vinegar before you BBQ - low pH liquids have been found to naturally slow down these ageing compounds. 
  7. A mixture of herbal extracts from: Chamomile, Hawthorn Berry, Grape Leaf and Dokudami (a perennial herb native to Japan, China, and Korea. It has a long-standing culinary use in Asian cooking and has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic traditional medicine) have been found effective in inhibiting AGE formation. Herbal teas are an excellent way to incorporate these into your lifestyle.

While nothing dietary has been found to abolish AGEs, some natural compounds can inhibit their production, try add more items from this list into your diet:

  • Cinnamon
  • Cloves
  • Oregano
  • Ginger
  • Garlic
  • Turmeric
  • Broccoli
  • Spinach 

CONCLUSION - Eat more real food, cutting back on processed pre-packaged food will instantly reduce your sugar intake, keep sugar loaded cakes and lollies to an occasional indulgence, think about how you cook your food, wear an SPF, reduce your stress levels using simple breathing techniques, a quick meditation or time out for a walk in nature.

Until next time..

be human | be kind | be you








  • Glycation Stress and Photo-Aging in Skin - Masamitsu Ichihashi, Masayuki Yagi, Keitaro Nomoto, Yoshikazu Yonei - Published online: Jun. 13, 2011
  • Kuwabara T: The changes in optical properties of skin related to carbonylation of proteins in the horny layer. Proceedings of the 11th Annual Meeting of Japanese Photo-Aging Research Society, pp29, 2010 (abstract in Japanese)
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