4 Ways Sugar Damages Skin + 9 Ways to Fix It!

woman with beautiful skin and lips licking 2 lollipops

Sugar Damages Your Skin From the Inside Out.

Most of us feel guilty eating the occasional cupcake - they're so YUMMY! Sometimes indulging is worth it! But in recent years scientists discovered that - in addition to packing on the pounds - sugar damages skin. So if you were looking for that little extra incentive to cut sugar out of your diet, read on!

Our skin gets damaged by sun exposure. You know that. But did you know that sugar damages skin? The high sugar (candy, soda) and high glycemic index foods (white bread, pasta) we eat age us.

Studies of diabetics have taught us most of what we know about how sugar damages skin. Because people can have undiagnosed diabetes and elevated blood sugar levels for years, diabetics often show early signs of skin aging.

The sugar in our blood, called blood glucose, comes from the food we eat. When we're young and healthy, some of the blood sugar circulates in the bloodstream and is available for our immediate use. Any sugar that is not needed is stored in our cells to be used later.

4 Ways Sugar Damages Skin:

1. Around the age of 35, our metabolism slows and sugar is not processed as efficiently as when we were younger. Increasingly, sugar in the bloodstream attaches to the elastin and collagen proteins in skin. New, damaged molecules are formed called advanced glycation end products - or AGEs. Once damaged, the collagen and elastin become dry and brittle, leading to wrinkles and sagging. When this happens, it is called glycation.

"When you're younger, your body has more resources to ward off damage, and you're producing more collagen," says dermatologist Fredric Brandt, MD. In 2007, he launched an anti-aging skin-care line that specifically addressed glycation. "When you reach a certain age, these sugar by-products begin to build up at the same time that your threshold for damage is getting lower."

"As AGEs accumulate, they damage adjacent proteins in a domino-like fashion," explains Dr. Brandt.

Things like smoking, genetics, and conditions like diabetes also increase skin glycation.

"Depending on how well their disease is controlled, diabetics can have up to 50 times the number of AGEs in their skin as those who don't have diabetes," says Karyn Grossman, MD. Dr Grossman is a dermatologist in New York City and Santa Monica, CA, and is chief of the division of dermatology at St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica.

2. In addition to damaging collagen, a high-sugar diet also changes the type of collagen you have. The most common types of collagen in the skin are I, II, and III. Type III is the most stable and longest lasting. Glycation changes type III collagen into type I, which is more fragile - and less resistant to wrinkles.

3. AGEs cripple your body's natural antioxidant enzymes, leaving your skin even more susceptible to damage from sun and pollution.

4. Finally, AGEs stop skin from producing new collagen and elastin - and prevent skin from repairing itself.

Skin glycation has a "cobblestone" appearance. (Sun damaged skin looks very different and often has dark spots that glycation doesn't.)

There are no topical skincare products or supplements that can reverse visible skin glycation (pictured to the right), so prevention is the best treatment.

Skin Glycation

sugar damages skin

This woman has cross-linked collagen from years of eating carbohydrates and sugars. When sugar molecules attach to collagen, skin becomes stiff and inflexible - so these deep grooves are permanent. It's quite likely this lady is a diabetic.

9 Ways to Limit Skin Glycation

1. Eat less sugar.  Foods that quickly convert to sugar, create sudden increases in blood sugar and increased inflammation throughout our bodies. Refined sugars are more likely to form AGEs and lead to wrinkles, so avoid refined sugar. Choose dark chocolate instead of a cookie. Stay away from alcoholic drinks made with fruit juices. Ask for red wine over white.

Watch for hidden sugar in food by reading labels. Avoid foods that contain ingredients like barley malt, corn syrup, dextrose, fruit juice concentrate, maltose, maple syrup, molasses, sucrose, and turbinado. Canned fruit and flavored yogurt seem like they would be healthy, but often contain added sugar.

"Even though all carbs get converted into sugar, when you eat the good ones, like brown rice and whole-grain bread, you get less glucose, and you get it more slowly," says New York dermatologist Cheryl Karcher, MD.

hands holding purple grapes surrounded by grape leaves

2. Eat antioxidant rich foods AND use antioxidant skin care.  Antioxidants keep sugar from attaching to proteins. Eat brightly colored foods like cranberries, pomegranites, and bell peppers. Drink green tea.

To ensure antioxidants reach the collagen and elastin in your skin, apply topical antioxidants. Very effective skin care products include vitamins C & E. To learn more about this antioxidant powerhouse, read our post, Why is C E Ferulic so popular?

Also look for skin care products that include green tea, which has been proven to interfere with glycation and stimulate new collagen growth. To learn more about antioxidants, read our post, What are antioxidants? Why use them on skin?

3. Use retinoids to increase collagen production. By replacing damaged collagen with new collagen, they counteract the effects of glycation.

"Anything that stimulates the fibroblasts to build new collagen is going to help eradicate damage," Brandt says, noting that retinoids and some dermal fillers fall into this category. "Since your body has a process where old collagen is broken down by enzymes and new collagen is generated, what's going to happen is that the old glycated collagen will eventually be eliminated and replaced by un-glycated collagen."

Learn more about retinoids in our post, Want Younger Looking Skin? 3 Ways Retinoids Make Skin Beautiful.

4. Talk to your doctor about adding oral supplements to control glycation.

Take a multivitamin that contains at least 1 mg of vitamins B1 and B6 a day. These vitamins proved to be potent AGE inhibitors in a number of published studies, says dermatologist David J. Goldberg, MD. Dr. Goldberg is a clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

Dr. Brandt recommends taking supplemental carnosine, an amino acid that has been shown to protect against AGE buildup.

5. Wear sunscreen every day and avoid excessive sun exposure. According to the British Journal of Dermatology study, AGEs occur much more frequently in skin exposed to UV rays. Avoid premature skin glycation by wearing broad-spectrum SPF 30 sunscreen daily.

Learn more in our post, Sunscreen | Why You Need More UVA Protection.

6. Don't smoke. 

"For most people with normal levels of glucose, the glycation process is something that happens gradually over the course of a lifetime, and it's really not that big of a deal," says Procter & Gamble biochemist Greg Hillebrand, PhD, "but diet and lifestyle choices can affect how quickly the effects can be seen on the skin." One of the key hallmarks of glycation, Hillebrand explains, is the yellowing of skin often seen prematurely in smokers. "Smoke reduces antioxidants in skin, and smokers' vitamin C and E are being used up trying to take care of all this oxidation that's caused by smoking, so they don't have a lot of antioxidant potential to take care of normal processes like glycation," he says. "And if you add a high-glycemic-index diet, you're just asking for trouble."

7. Exercise!  When you exercise enough to make your heart beat faster, your muscles use more blood sugar. This means lower blood sugar levels for hours after a workout and less AGEs formed.

8. If diabetes runs in your family, have your hemoglobin A1c levels checked. You may need to be placed on a medication to lower your blood sugar. Medications for diabetics, like Metformin, lower blood sugar levels and in turn reduce glycation. And now, those same medications are being studied in the hopes that they will slow skin aging and formation of AGEs in diabetics - and people who are able to process sugar normally.

9. Sugar damages skin. Use new skin care ingredients to protect skin from sugar. SkinCeuticals A.G.E. Interrupter contains 4% blueberry extract, an antioxidant and anti-glycation ingredient. It blocks new AGEs and prevents further oxidation from occurring. Two other ingredients are showing promising results also:

"Aminoguanidine attaches to molecules that start the glycation process and prevents them from binding to collagen and elastin," explains Grossman. "Alistin acts as a decoy, so it gets damaged instead of the proteins in your skin."

Studies of how sugar damages skin are relatively new. Scientists first began studying methods to block glycation in the 1980s, when biochemist Anthony Cerami, PhD, found that aminoguanidine molecules block collagen glycation.

Skincare products containing AGE fighters first appeared on the market in 2007 with the introduction of Dr. Brandt's skin care line. Now that glycation is accepted as a major cause of skin aging, I expect even more progress will be made.

Head shot, Amy Takken, RN & Founder, Masterpiece Skin Restoration

Amy Takken, RN

Amy Takken is a registered nurse with 20+ years of experience helping people improve their health. Her in-depth skincare articles have been featured on Nazarian Plastic Surgery and The Palm Beach Center for Facial Plastic & Laser Surgery. She's also been quoted on Dermascope.com.

Amy loves research and constantly watches for new products and treatments to help you improve your skin’s health – because healthy skin is beautiful! To reach Amy, visit our contact page.

Masterpiece Skin Restoration is your online resource for all things medical aesthetics, skincare, beauty, and wellness. We keep you up to date on leading edge technology and the services available to help you restore your natural beauty.

We have all the information you need to restore your skin.

If you liked this post, you'll LOVE these:






https://www.skininc.com/skinscience/physiology/17660024.html  Physiology of the Skin: The Impact of Glycation on the Skin, Part 2


https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3583887/  Advanced glycation end products - Key players in skin aging?



Sugar Coated: How Sweet Treats Damage Your Skin and What to Do About It, RealSelf.com



The Information provided on our website is not medical advice and should not be viewed as such. By law, only a medical doctor can diagnose or give medical advice. As a registered nurse, my goal is to educate, so I provide information on skin care, skin care products, and skin care treatments. If you have any condition that concerns you, please see a medical doctor. While most skin conditions are benign, some - like melanoma - can be deadly. If there is any doubt, please, please consult your physician. Thank you!

Masterpiece Skin Restoration is a participant in the Rakuten Marketing Affiliate program. If you click on one of the Rakuten links, then make a purchase, we earn a percentage of that purchase. Rakuten Marketing affiliate links allow us to earn money by recommending products we LOVE. There is no added cost to you!

Because customer service is our highest priority, we only recommend and link to products that we believe in. As always, thank you for supporting Masterpiece Skin Restoration!

Scroll to Top