What the hell is glycation? Is it aging your skin?

What the hell is glycation? Is it aging your skin?

Have you heard of glycation? If not, then you need to know about it because it's now being labeled the 'leading cause of aging skin' by a load of scientific research. Yes. Really.

Let's get into glycation, and how many of us are fueling the aging process without even realizing it.

Over the last decade, lots of studies have been looking at the effects of sugar and how it can accelerate the aging process of the skin. The impact of sugar on aging skin is pretty simple, and it is to do with something called glycation. Glycation is a chemical reaction that is mainly caused by the excess sugar that we take in through today's sugar-laden diet, but this reaction can also be sparked by other things both outside and inside the body like oxidative stress (and the creation of free radicals), inflammation of our body and its cells, UV radiation/sun exposure, the cellular impact of emotional trauma, stress, a dysregulated nervous system and more.

So what is glycation, and what is going on within the body when this happens?

Glycation is a relatively simple process where:

  • Too much glucose within the body combines with the collagen and elastin fibers in our skin;
  • This excess glucose level provokes a simple act of collagen fibers cross-linking, which breaks them down from their original form and then stops them from being able to be repaired easily;
  • Glucose and fructose in the bloodstream then link the amino acids in the collagen and elastin that have changed structure;
  • This is known as a reasonably simple and non-enzymatic reaction but during this linking process, molecules are created called AGEs;
  • AGEs stand for 'Advanced Glycation End Products' and these are damaging to the body because, over time, these destructive AGE molecules build up in our skin and drive what we know today as 'aging skin'. 

This process of glycation is damaging because the appearance of young, glowing skin depends on youthful, flexible and repairable collagen. Unfortunately, too much glucose in the body interferes with this by driving a process that changes the skin's structure. The damage from the glycation process (on collagen and elastin fibers) can neither be reversed nor repaired.

Glycation leads to damage to the collagen in our skin, as well as damage in the levels and quality of elastin, also found in our skin. This, in turn, can lead to:

  • Decreased skin resistance to day-to-day life and mechanical stress
  • Sagging skin
  • Flaccid skin
  • Wrinkles developing and becoming more clear and pronounced
  • Impaired wound healing
  • The reduced suppleness of the skin
  • And a total lack of luminosity and glow (which is everything we strive against!)

Glycation can't be removed or reduced fully. This process is always going to happen with our lives today and the products and chemicals that our body comes into contact with. The good news? Glycation can be alleviated and reduced by taking control of your lifestyle and wellbeing regime. Some small, simple decisions can make drastic changes to the health of your skin and the reduction in the glycation process.

Here are my top tips on reducing glycation and slowing the aging of your skin.

First, diet.

You want to avoid anything packed and pumped full with sugar as this is directly correlated with the glucose levels in our body (which then drives glycation).

You will want to avoid processed things with white sugar - so white bread and white rice (sorry sushi, that's you) are a no go. This is because these types of products produce more glucose and release it more quickly into the bloodstream, which drives the process of glycation directly. My advice is to try to go with brown, wholemeal and wholegrain options and try to pack your diet full of clean, organic fruit and vegetables wherever possible. New tracking monitors and devices are now also coming to the market to assess your blood sugar levels and to help you see how certain foods impact you because we are all unique and affected differently by what we ingest. We will see a lot more of these in the coming years. 

Specific foods can also help fight glycation. For example, white mulberries and their leaves are known to help to slow down the breakdown of sugars in the body, allowing for a lower and slower absorption of glucose into the blood - and, therefore, a slower glycation process. You can drink these in a tea.

Second, supplements.

You can focus on supplements that stimulate collagen synthesis in the body, like green tea & EGCG. These have been scientifically proven to interfere with this damaging glycation process.

You can also incorporate carnosine into your body because this amino acid helps fight against the build-up of these AGE molecules. A 2018 study suggests carnosine can prevent early glycation and lower blood glucose levels. So, supplements may be able to help here (more on collagen and skin care later in the article), but remember to always talk with your doctors before incorporating them into your lifestyle routine.

Third, cooking.

Cooking is essential to understand when looking at the concept of glycation. A 2015 study showed that specific food preparation methods (i.e. grilling, frying, and roasting) produce much higher levels of AGEs than water-based cooking methods such as boiling and steaming. This is because of the unstable, non-enzymatic bonds that these processes create. So forego these cooking methods and go 'low and slow' instead. You can also work with a nutritionist if cooking is a challenge for you.

Fourth, skincare: 

When we think about aging, everyone is always so focused on what goes on the outside of their skin that I swear they forget that skin is made up of cells, and what is going on within the cells is just as impactful. This is why I love a hybrid approach to anti-aging and getting my infamous glow, and it involves treating my skin with love and care from the outside in. Some specific products can really help fight glycation.

Vitamin C is well known for firming the skin by increasing collagen synthesis, as well as for its powerful antioxidant properties, DNA protection & general radiance and vitality delivery.

It also reduces cell cytotoxicity by limiting oxidative stress and glycation, shown in a 2013 study conducted on diabetic patients in Brazil.

My recommendation for a Vitamin C to help fight glycation is our Agent Nateur holi (c). It is calcium and vitamin C in their most stable, potent state. Unlike other serums, our Vitamin C is in a unique dry powder formula - meaning it is higher quality and won't oxidize, ensuring you receive all of its regenerative benefits. This is the ultimate powerful Vitamin C product. Blend with our holi (water) to improve the texture of acne-prone skin, restore firmness, and reveal an ageless radiance through a high vitamin C hit that will help fight glycation. This is the perfect combination as another fascinating study shows that a low molecular weight of hyaluronic acid may actually inhibit increased AGE formation, making it a particularly valuable anti-aging and anti-glycation ingredient too.

Ensuring a high-quality collagen supply inside your body will help support collagen production and synthesis. This leads us naturally to Agent's holi (mane). Our marine collagen is an absorbable, sustainable type 1, 2, 3 and 4 collagen derived from the scales of wild-caught, deep-sea fish. natural ingredients. The quality of this product is unbeatable, it is so fine and so beautiful while also being derived from non-GMO deep caught kosher cod, pollock and haddock.

Finally, lifestyle decisions.

Exercise regularly - while thought to be less influential than what we eat, exercise has been shown to inhibit the glycation of proteins and existing AGEs already in the body so bringing exercise into the mix is important in the fight against aging and glycation.

But on top of a better diet and more exercise, most of all? Stay away from cigarette smoke. A 2017 study conducted in the Netherlands looked at the connection between skin quality and smoking and concluded that individuals regularly smoking or exposed to secondhand smoke experience higher AGE production. So, cigarettes = increased glycation = increased aging. 

Similarly, with alcohol, the ethanol in the alcohol is directly connected with the production of ‘reactive oxygen species’ and ‘reactive nitrogen species’ - free radicals and highly reactive molecules (as well as the production of things like highly toxic acetaldehyde). All of these lead to a toxic environment that is also connected to driving the process of glycation thanks to the free radical damage and oxidative stress the alcohol can cause. Alcohol has been directly connected to aging, so put the drink down, and pick up the (filtered) water, instead. Your skin will thank you later.

So, guys, aging is a natural occurrence and process, but the lifestyle you live can either increase or decrease how quickly you see the impacts of this process. You can reduce the levels of AGEs and glycation within your body by changing your diet, becoming more active and looking after your skin.

Want a vibrant, youthful glow? Well, after this article, I hope you now understand how!


Jena x