How sugar ages your skin: the process of glycation

How sugar ages your skin: the process of glycation

We all indulge in a sugary treat now and then, but here's some news that may make you think twice before eating that chocolate bar next time. Did you know that sugar is one of the worst offenders for ageing your skin? This is due to a process called glycation. Although there are many other factors to skin aging, including lifestyle, stress and environment, the negative impact sugar has on your skin can sometimes be forgotten.   

In this blog post, Advanced Nutrition Programme's nutrition and skin experts explain the process of glycation and reveal some of the negative effects sugar can have on your skin.

What is glycation?

Glycation is a reaction that occurs in the body where sugar molecules, such as glucose or fructose, bond with protein molecules to form a new, differently-shaped compound. These new substances are known as advanced glycation end products (AGEs) and are responsible for many of the negative effects of glycation [1].

Collagen, elastin and skin structure

Glycation's impact on the skin is multi-fold, and the process contributes to numerous signs of skin ageing. It changes structural elements in the skin, including damaging collagen and elastin. Dr Gaby Prinsloo, medical director at Advanced Nutrition Programme, explains why these substances are vital to healthy, youthful-looking skin.

"Collagen and elastin are two structural proteins within the matrix of the dermis. There are several different types of collagens, and they create structure for the connective tissue network. Collagen creates a fibrous network of connections between different cells, giving skin structure and scaffolding."

Glycation changes the shape of collagen molecules to effectively create a new substance. As these molecules accumulate over time, the skin's structure becomes disrupted, and collagen and elastin become stiff [2].

"Collagen and elastin provide structure, strength and elasticity," explains Dr Gaby. "Therefore, when they are damaged, our skin loses resilience, and we notice wrinkles and sagging skin".

Impaired barrier function

A healthy skin barrier is crucial for maintaining hydration in the skin and regulating which substances pass into the body. The impact of glycation on the epidermis contributes to impaired barrier function, leading to sensitive, irritated or dry skin. Additionally, the skin is unable to repair itself as quickly from any injury [3].

Oxidative stress

Oxidative stress contributes to and accelerates a host of skin ageing, including contributing to fine lines and wrinkles. At the same time, oxidative stress accelerates the rate of glycation by speeding up the

early part of the glycation reaction. With more glycation occurring, modified collagen and elastin molecules accumulate more quickly, speeding up the structural decline of the skin [4]. Increased oxidative stress is also closely correlated to an increase in inflammation, leading to inflammaging in the skin and making skin concerns such as problem-skin worse.

How to tackle glycation

Lifestyle and diet play an essential role in helping offset the impacts of glycation. The more sugar molecules there are in the body, the more likely glycation is to occur. The first step to improve this process is cutting down the amount of sugar in your diet. Excess amounts of sugar can impact our energy levels, weight management and cause bloating and mood fluctuations. 

The World Health Organisation recommends that adults reduce their daily sugar intake to around 50g, including naturally occurring sugars in fruit, honey and vegetables.[5]

Tip: look for the sugar content on the label of your food. Avoid foods that contain high amounts of sugar, such as:

  • Chocolate
  • Cakes
  • Pastries
  • Sweets
  • Fizzy drinks

The good news is there are various ingredients that can be incorporated into your oral skincare regime to help support collagen formation.

Collagen co-factors

The impact of glycation on skin collagen means supporting this area of the skin is key for healthy-looking skin. Collagen co-factors can help build resilient collagen. These co-factors include vitamin C, zinc, phytonutrients, and MSM. These ingredients should all be a priority to support your collagen production* and achieve youthful-looking skin.

It's evident that excess sugar can have a negative impact on your skin, including damaging your collagen, elastin and structure, disrupting your skin barrier and making fine lines and wrinkles more visible. To help benefit the skin, you should reduce your sugar intake and have no more than 50g of total sugar. Incorporating collagen co-factors, including vitamin C, zinc, phytonutrients, and MSM, in your oral skincare regime will help create resilient collagen* and an overall youthful complexion.

*Vitamin C contributes to the normal function of collagen production



1. The role of glycation in the pathogenesis of aging and its prevention through herbal products and physical

exercise. National Library of Medicine. Chan-Sik Kim, Sok Park and Junghyun Kim. September 2017.

2. The effects of the Maillard reaction on the physical properties and cell interactions of collagen. National

Library of Medicine. Avery, N C, and A J Bailey. September 2006.

3. The Effects of Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs) on Dermal Wound Healing and Scar Formation: A

Systematic Review. National Library of Medicine. Van Putte, Lennert. January. 2016.

4 Acceleration of protein glycation by oxidative stress and comparative role of antioxidant and protein glycation inhibitor. National Library of Medicine. Bavkar. Lennert Van Putte, Sofie De Schrijver, Peter Moortgat. December 2016.

5. Health Direct, Sugar, 2021 -

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