You Are What You Eat: How Sugar Is Aging Your Skin.

You Are What You Eat: How Sugar Is Aging Your Skin.
Woman on a sugar binge

It’s not always easy to navigate your way through the day without a little help from a salty, crispy bag of chips, 7 dark chocolate brownies, a glass (or 3) of red wine, or all. the. cheese. We feel you. Yet despite our empathy, we feel obliged to the truth. And the truth is: Your favorite comfort food/beverage is likely wreaking havoc on your skin.

You: (Inserting another chocolate covered almond into your mouth) Really? Do tell.

Today we’re going to embark on an adventure breaking down exactly how sugar causes premature aging. Then we’ll discuss things that you can do to stave off and even fix the damage once it’s done. And after all that, we’ll leave it up to you to make better choices… or don’t. Your call. Okay? Let’s go.

Sugar’s not so sweet side:

The devastating truth for those suffering from a sweet tooth is that your best and most delicious friend—sugar—is also your complexion’s worst enemy. You can blame that on a little something called 'glycation'.

Glycation is the process in which sugar molecules, once ingested, bind themselves to protein and fat molecules in the body and then form a new baby molecule. Sounds romantic, except it’s not—cause there’s a good chance that the protein that the sugar molecule is binding itself to is collagen (between 25% - 30% of protein in mammals is collagen), and the new baby molecule that’s been born is a sinister free-radical by-product hellbent on damaging the tissue of the body. It's called AGEs (advanced glycation end products).

You: AGEs? Seriously. Isn’t that a little too ‘on the nose’?
Us: Of course it is. And there’s more.

AGEs accelerate cell damage and aging by feeding off of healthy collagen and elastin, essentially eliminating those cells abilities to strengthen and give elasticity to the dermis. AGEs also deactivate your body’s natural antioxidant enzymes, making your skin more vulnerable to environmental damage like UV rays and cigarette smoke. And this is why excessive intake of sugary foods and beverages can indeed cause visible damage to the skin.

What is ‘excessive’ sugar intake anyway?

Glycation occurs with the ingestion of any carbohydrate and can even occur during the cooking process of certain proteins. Since carbohydrates are the body’s main energy source, you’d be hard pressed to cut them out entirely. Not to mention the fact that glycation is a part of life and a naturally occurring part of the aging process—there's really no way around it. 'Excessive'—dare we say, 'chronic'—intake of sugary foods is where the real problem lies.

If you're wondering how you'll know if your sugar intake is chronic. Trust us, you’ll know. Binge too hard on the sweet stuff and in as little as a few months or a few years you’ll notice a sallow, sagging and discolored complexion looking back at you in the mirror. You may also notice bouts of acne and other skin conditions. Since high levels of sugar can trigger a hormonal release and stimulate oil production, it can lead to breakouts and rosacea. You’ll know you’re eating too much sugar because it’ll be written all over your face, and more than likely across your waistline and perhaps down your thighs too.

There's no question that glycation will occur, so the question becomes how fast will it occur and how adept is your body at fighting it. In your 20’s, your system is pretty darned good at breaking down old collagen and generating enough new collagen to not see the visible effects of the glycation process on your complexion. But as the digits on your driver’s license start creeping past your 30’s, into your 40’s and beyond, your body is producing less and less collagen, and the effects of AGEs on your skin become visible and terrifying. Add excess sugar to that mix, and your speed up the process.

What can you do?

# Diet

  • Unhand that cupcake. Ingesting refined sugars—high fructose corn syrup, fruit-juice concentrate and white sugars—can increase the body's glycation rate by up to 10 times.
  • Reduce your intake of sugar-laden foods to about 10% of your daily calories to help stave off excessive glycation. And yes, that 10% does include the naturally occurring sugars in fruit, veggies and whole grains. It's a balance.
  • Supplement your diet with antioxidant-rich foods—fruits, nuts and vegetables—as well as green tea and vitamin C & E. These can help counteract the effects of overly-aggressive glycation. We know a fistful of broccoli crowns doesn’t sound nearly as enticing as a fist full of cake. We’re just a messenger, people.
  • Complex carbs like brown rice and whole-grains take more time to digest and process and can keep the body from zipping straight to glycation. Choosing foods rich in antioxidants can also help nourish the skin from the inside.

# Skincare

  • A consistent skincare routine can do wonders for keeping your complexion looking its best regardless of age. Products with ingredients like ceramides, fatty acids, and niacinamide can do wonders in helping maintain your skin’s protective moisture barrier, while products containing antioxidants can help protect your skin from free radicals.
  • H-y-d-r-a-t-i-o-n. When your skin is dehydrated, it can lead to oxidative stress, which causes free radicals, which… you know… bad. Very, very bad.
  • Committing to sunscreen and not smoking is a no-brainer, but we’ll touch on it anyways. The last thing your skin needs is more environmental damage to muck up your complexion and your collagen and elastin. Am I right?
  • Regular use of topical retinoids have been shown to encourage the production of collagen and assist in your skin’s cell-turnover rate. So, you know, that’s also nice. Just not as nice as not adding to the damage in the first place by eating 'chronic' amounts of sugar.

# Nonsurgical Cosmetic Treatments

  • Hyaluronic acid-based dermal fillers like Restylane and Juvederm can help stimulate collagen production under the skin, while offering up instantaneously results that plump up deflated areas, fine lines and wrinkles. They can’t reverse the effects of glycation, but they sure can make it look like they do.
  • Laser skin resurfacing treatments work to improve not only the appearance of the skin by tightening the deep levels of the dermis and correcting pigmentation due to aging, but they’re also able to remove damaged collagen and stimulate new collagen production, to help fight off the visible effects of future glycation (aka. This weekend’s sugar binge.)
  • Your doctor may also recommend a nonsurgical skin tightening treatments like Ultherapy and VelaShape to help tighten the dermis and stimulate collagen production.
  1. Diet

* Unhand that cupcake. Ingesting refined sugars—high fructose corn syrup, fruit-juice concentrate and white sugars—can increase the body's glycation rate by up to 10 times.

* Reduce your intake of sugar-laden foods to about 10% of your daily calories to help stave off excessive glycation. And yes, that 10% does include the naturally occurring sugars in fruit, veggies and whole grains. It's a balance.

* Supplement your diet with antioxidant-rich foods—fruits, nuts and vegetables—as well as green tea and vitamin C & E. These can help counteract the effects of overly-aggressive glycation. We know a fistful of broccoli crowns doesn’t sound nearly as enticing as a fist full of cake. We’re just a messenger, people.

* Complex carbs like brown rice and whole-grains take more time to digest and process and can keep the body from zipping straight to glycation. Choosing foods rich in antioxidants can also help nourish the skin from the inside.

  1. Skincare

* A consistent skincare routine can do wonders for keeping your complexion looking its best regardless of age. Products with ingredients like ceramides, fatty acids, and niacinamide can do wonders in helping maintain your skin’s protective moisture barrier, while products containing antioxidants can help protect your skin from free radicals.

* H-y-d-r-a-t-i-o-n. When your skin is dehydrated, it can lead to oxidative stress, which causes free radicals, which… you know… bad. Very, very bad.

* Committing to sunscreen and not smoking is a no-brainer, but we’ll touch on it anyways. The last thing your skin needs is more environmental damage to muck up your complexion and your collagen and elastin. Am I right?

* Regular use of topical retinoids have been shown to encourage the production of collagen and assist in your skin’s cell-turnover rate. So, you know, that’s also nice. Just not as nice as not adding to the damage in the first place by eating 'chronic' amounts of sugar.

  1. Nonsurgical Cosmetic Treatments

* Hyaluronic acid-based dermal fillers like Restylane and Juvederm can help stimulate collagen production under the skin, while offering up instantaneously results that plump up deflated areas, fine lines and wrinkles. They can’t reverse the effects of glycation, but they sure can make it look like they do.

* Laser skin resurfacing treatments work to improve not only the appearance of the skin by tightening the deep levels of the dermis and correcting pigmentation due to aging, but they’re also able to remove damaged collagen and stimulate new collagen production, to help fight off the visible effects of future glycation (aka. This weekend’s sugar binge.)

* Your doctor may also recommend a nonsurgical skin tightening treatments like Ultherapy and VelaShape to help tighten the dermis and stimulate collagen production.

Can your plastic surgeon stop the process of glycation? No. That would require a miracle. But they’re your best resource for recommending which cosmetic treatments can help it look like they did. And that just might be enough for you.

You: (Inserting another chocolate covered almond into your mouth) Yep. That’ll do.