Askanesthetician's Blog

An esthetician explores skincare issues and concerns

Skincare Terms Explained: Glycation May 13, 2013

In July, 2012 I wrote a post all about how terrible sugar is for the skin.  This post is going to expand on the term “glycation” and explain what exactly that process is and how it relates to the skin.  But basically, it all comes back to the same thing again – sugar ruins our skin (and our health).

In her book Heal Your Skin Dr. Ava Shamban explains just what glycation is (page 22 in the paperback edition):

As delicious as sugar may seem to your taste buds, it can be extremely destructive to your skin.  A spike in your blood sugar levels – which can come from eating processed foods or foods with too much refined sugar – can leave too much sugar circulating in your body.  A process called glycation and the formation of advanced glycation end products are the results.

Glycation is a process whereby a sugar molecule, such as glucose or fructose, is added to collagen and elastin fibers, proteins found in the extracellular matrix, which surrounds skin cells.  This makes the collagen stiff, as it is now cross linked in an abnormal way.  In addition, the enzymes that normally remodel collagen no longer have access to the protein, and it can no longer be remodeled in a normal continual fashion.  When the process occurs, the skin appears prematurely aged.

Glycation damages collagen in other organs in the body, too, including the blood vessel walls.  When this occurs, the skin doesn’t remodel in the same way as before, prematurely aging the tissue.

Dr. Peter Pugliese discusses the subject of glycation extensively in his book Physiology of the Skin, 3rd edition (written with Dr. Draelos) in chapters 30 and 31.  A lot of the information from the book was also published in two articles in Skin Inc.: Physiology of the Skin: The Impact of Glycation on the Skin, Part I and Part II.  I urge you to read both articles if you want a very in-depth and scientific description of the glycation process (there are also lots of pictures and chemical equations).  Suffice it to say though Dr. Pugliese’s explanations are welcome they can be a bit overwhelming for those of us who still have upsetting flashbacks to high school chemistry (I still cringe when I think about the periodic table; I was a poor chemistry student to say the least) so I’ll just quote the summary here:

Glycation is the non-enzymatic joining of a sugar and a protein, or a lipid. It is a process that occurs naturally in foods, especially when cooked. The Maillard reaction is one of these processes that starts by forming a Shiff base and proceeds to forming multiple chemicals called advanced glycation end-products, or AGEs, that have adverse effects on a person’s biological processes. AGEs can link up with many proteins and denature them or alter them to be nonfunctional, cross-linked collagens, which is an AGE protein complex responsible for stiffness of the skin.
Skin collagen has a long half-life; these cross-linked forms do not go away and are not fully reversible at present. Elastin is another long-lived protein that is easily glycated and lasts a long time. Denatured elastin is associated with slackened skin. AGEs have cellular receptors known as RAGEs that initiate inflammatory reactions when activated by an AGE complex. These reactions tend to be chronic and are associated with arterial diseases, metabolic disorders and rheumatoid arthritis. Once they are started, the AGE-RAGE system will accelerate and perpetuate itself.
In the skin, glycation accounts for accelerated aging, yellowing and stiffness of the skin, and decreased circulation. Skin cannot look young and healthy with glycation products. Treatment is best started with prevention by diet control, reducing total calories, avoiding high sugar foods and not cooking at high temperatures. Supplements such as aminoguanidine, pyridoxamine, carnosine and benfotiamine are excellent glycation preventors. A new class of drugs called glycation breakers is being developed to correct the existing glycation protein complexes associated with many chronic diseases. They will truly be the youth drugs of the future.

In my previous post about the subject of sugar and how it negatively impacts the skin I shared with my readers how hard I have found it to cutback on sugar in my diet.  I also started noticing how sugar lurks in all sorts of foods; I try to read food labels more carefully now.  But after researching this post I realize that I also have to be careful about the method of how I cook my food since foods cooked at high temperatures (broiled, barbecued) can negatively impact your health and skin as well.  I wish I had the will power (and the time) to become a raw food vegan, but in the meantime I’ll still keep working on cutting down on how much sugar I consume.

Further Reading:

Image from rokderm.com

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4 Responses to “Skincare Terms Explained: Glycation”

  1. sophie Says:

    hey! i just discovered your blog and looks really interesting!
    keep up the good job!
    p.s. pass by mine just for a hi!
    have a lovely day!

  2. Thank you so much for this! Now, I’m wondering if glycation or sun exposure is the leading cause of premature skin aging. I found this article about how a sugar berry cleanser helps with anti-glycation. At first, I was confused since glycation is sugar related and this cleanser is sugar-based (http://www.examiner.com/article/how-a-sugar-berry-skin-resurfacing-cleanser-helps-with-anti-glycation-1.) Thanks again!

    • Thanks for sharing the article. I still think that sun exposure causes more aging than glycation, but it will be interesting to see what scientific research says in the future.

  3. […] has an intriguing approach to anti-aging skincare – the main thrust of their message is that glycation is ruining our skin.  “Toxic sugars” (their words not mine) are breaking down the […]


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