Key Insights on Glycation and Skin Aging: Unlocking Youthful Radiance

Glycation is a biochemical phenomenon that links dietary sugars to the aging process in skin. Glycation disrupts the normal structure and function of the skin, resulting in the characteristics associated with aging. Understanding how to limit glycation may help deter premature skin aging.

What is glycation?

Glycation is the process where excess sugars, such as fructose and glucose, attach to proteins, lipids, or nucleic acids. The products of glycation are called advanced glycation end products, or AGEs.


Glycation can occur in the body, but it also occurs when food is processed or cooked at high temperatures. Besides the diet, AGEs can also be attributed to cigarette smoke, ultraviolet light, and air pollution.

What is the role of advanced glycation end products (AGEs) in aging?

AGEs may cause issues with all layers of the skin. AGEs can result in skin aging, wrinkling, yellowing, and inflammation. For example, when AGEs affect keratinocytes, a type of skin cell, the skin becomes thinner, loses elasticity, and becomes loose.

When AGEs affect the collagen in the skin, the collagen can brown, resulting in the yellowing of the skin. AGEs alter the normal structure of the skin’s proteins, and the aging process is ultimately accelerated.

A recent study explored the link between AGEs in the skin and blood vessel aging. In particular, they measured the stiffness of the aorta, the main artery of the body. The results show that higher AGE levels in the skin are associated with blood vessel aging, especially in individuals under the age of 50.

What’s the role of collagen in skin aging and glycation?

Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body. It provides structural support for many parts of the body, including the skin and muscles. Collagen’s strength and elasticity come from its rope-like structure, where three peptide strands wind around each other.

When sugars attach to collagen due to glycation, the collagen can form different crosslinks. This decreases the structural stability and elasticity of the collagen, which ultimately causes the signs of aging skin.


Limiting exposure to UV light from both natural sources and artificial sources, such as tanning beds, can decrease collagen loss. Use sunscreen and protective clothing while outside. Foods high in antioxidants, such as vitamin C, in your diet may counteract potential oxidative damage. Eating foods rich in proline and glycine, such as meats, egg whites, fish, and mushrooms, may contribute to collagen production since collagen contains large amounts of these amino acids.

Factors accelerating glycation in the skin

Even in otherwise healthy adults, AGEs can accumulate in the skin. Many different factors can increase AGE production, including:

  1. Diet. Diets consisting of large amounts of sugars and highly processed foods increase AGEs in the skin. Likewise, large consumption of meat and meat products can increase the risk of glycation. Methods of cooking food using high heat, such as frying, increase AGEs in the skin as well.
  2. Environmental factors. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation exposure and air pollution accelerate glycation.
  3. Lifestyle. Cigarette smoking, large waist circumference, and high body-mass index (BMI) are all associated with the production of AGEs.

What are the symptoms of glycation-induced skin aging?

Unfortunately, the signs and symptoms of glycation-induced skin aging mirror other forms of skin aging. Premature aging, however, may be caused by the accumulation of AGEs. Symptoms include:

  • Wrinkles
  • Sagging skin
  • Skin becoming thinner
  • Yellowing of skin
  • Inflammation

Prevention of glycation-induced skin aging

Glycation occurs when cooking food at high temperatures, and it is dependent on pH and moisture content. Dietary AGE intake can be reduced by lowering the cooking temperature as well as increasing the acidity and moisture content of food.

Animal-based proteins contain higher levels of AGEs. Reducing the amount of foods containing high levels of AGE and incorporating foods that contain natural anti-AGE compounds, such as those rich in antioxidants like vitamin C and vitamin E, may further inhibit the formation of AGEs in your skin.


Many different herbs and spices have potential anti-AGE properties. These include cloves, allspice, and cinnamon. Similarly, foods rich in β-carotene or polyphenols inhibit protein glycation.

Certain natural peptides, such as carnosine and carnitine, contain antiglycation activity. For example, one study showed that an oral L-carnitine supplement significantly decreased AGE levels in the skin. Another study found consuming 5 grams of fish-derived collagen peptides for 12 weeks significantly reduced the levels of AGEs in the skin as well as in the blood vessel walls.

A study of 251 healthy adults explored the association between habitual dietary and lifestyle factors and the accumulation of AGEs in the skin. This study found that age, cigarette smoking, waist circumference, and dietary consumption of meat products are associated with AGE accumulation. Interestingly, eating cereals had a negative correlation, indicating a decrease in glycation.

Many topical treatments and lotions claim to inhibit glycation, but few rigorous clinical trials have been performed to validate these claims. Most topical treatments state that they combat free radicals or retain the skin’s moisture.

One 12-week study evaluated the effect of a topical solution containing blueberry extract and C-xyloside on the skin of 20 female volunteers with type II diabetes. Volunteers with diabetes were chosen since diabetes elevates AGEs levels in the skin. The topical ointment was applied twice daily. The results showed a statistically significant improvement in skin moisture as well as fine lines, firmness, skin tone, and skin smoothness.

The impact of sugar on skin aging and glycation

High-sugar diets result in elevated sugar levels in both the blood and skin. Glycation increases as sugar levels increase. A low-sugar diet decreases skin sugar levels.

The World Health Organization strongly recommends that adults and children should consume less than 10% of total energy from added sugars. Then, they note that it is even better if less than 5% of total energy intake is from added sugars. For the average adult, this would be approximately 25 grams, or 6 teaspoons, total per day.

Other factors that might prevent skin aging

While the full mechanisms of skin aging due to glycation are not completely understood, and definitive therapies to fully inhibit glycation are lacking, certain practices may help prevent skin aging, as characterized by wrinkles, loss of elasticity, and changes in color and texture.

  • Limit exposure to ultraviolet radiation by wearing sunscreen, wearing appropriate clothing outdoors, and avoiding tanning beds
  • Avoid cigarette smoke
  • Use a gentle skin moisturizer
  • Avoid topical products containing alcohols
  • Exercise regularly to improve circulation
  • Eat a healthy diet that include fresh fruits and vegetables high in vitamins and minerals

What impact does glycation play in overall aging?

Besides damaging the skin, AGEs affect many different organs and systems in the body. AGEs contribute to metabolic disturbances, promoting inflammation and detrimental oxidation. This causes tissue injury and dysfunction in organs such as the liver, skeletal and cardiac muscle, and brain. The accumulation of AGEs, exacerbated by high sugar intake and processed foods, is also associated with chronic diseases like diabetes, atherosclerosis, chronic inflammatory diseases, and neurodegenerative conditions.

While the exact mechanisms of how glycation accelerates the aging process of skin are not fully understood, and a way to stop glycation has yet to be discovered, adopting certain lifestyle and dietary habits may serve as preventive measures. This includes avoiding excessive sugar and processed foods, protecting skin from UV radiation, maintaining a nutritious diet, and leading an active lifestyle. Understanding the broader impacts of glycation beyond skin health emphasizes the importance of these preventive strategies in promoting overall wellness and longevity.


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