How does sugar affect the skin?

How does sugar affect the skin?

It has been a growing trend in nutrition to quit sugar, with many people boasting the benefits of reducing or quitting their refined sugar consumption. Interestingly, sugar has been scientifically shown to play a role in accelerated skin ageing and skin changes in a process called glycation.

Signs of skin ageing include wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, changes in skin texture and elasticity and thinning of the skin. Scientists believe that skin ageing is a combination of genetic factors, as well as environmental and lifestyle factors and have isolated the specific biochemical changes that occur in the skin to cause ageing. As well as UV exposure and photoaging causing the Generation of Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS), or free radicals; a process called glycation occurs leading to Advanced Glycation End-products (AGEs). These biochemical products have a deleterious effect on skin physiology and is an exciting area of dermatology and aesthetic medicine research.

What is glycation and what are AGEs?


Image source courtesy of Dr Howard, The International Dermal Institute

Collagen and elastin in our skin supports our skin and contribute to a youthful appearance. The protein fibres of collagen and elastin can be compromised and are highly susceptible to glycation. Glycation is where sugar (glucose) reacts with parts of the collagen and elastin protein fibres and causes cross-linking; a process which affects the collagen and elastin structure and causes large changes in the dermis associated with skin ageing.

The combination of glycation and photoaging can cause degradation of collagen, similary, the generation of AGEs is an inflammatory process; thought to accelerate the ageing process.

How can accelerated skin ageing be prevented?

  • Prevention is key, and some nutritional research has shown that long term, high sugar diets are linked to premature skin ageing.  Conversely, eating a diet rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory foods can help neutralise free radicals  and inflammation processes.
  • Wearing a broad spectrum sun block daily will help prevent UV degradation of collagen.
  • Using cosmeceuticals with antioxidant complexes such as green tea extracts, vitamin A,C and E and anti-inflammatory active ingredients can also benefit and protect the skin.