advanced glycation endproduct (AGE)

Advanced glycation end-products (AGEs) are destructive substances generated in the body when we consume refined sugars and due to environmental exposure without adequate protection. But first, a bit of backstory…

One of the more depressing skincare facts we can think of is how bad dietary sugar or high glycemic index foods (foods that turn to sugar almost immediately after eating them) are for almost every aspect of your skin. Chocolate cake, honey-drenched sweets, ice cream sundaes, bread pudding, and on and on (and we could go on and on) cause very bad things to happen to skin. UV light and air pollutants are attacking your skin from the outside in, and sugar is attacking it from the inside out.

What’s the relationship between sugar and AGEs? Sugars quickly and strongly bind to proteins in the skin (proteins are the main building blocks of skin) forming AGEs that progressively and continually destroy many aspects of skin, especially elastin and collagen, the two substances that give skin its firmness and resilience. Once generated, AGEs begin a cascade of progressive damage that isn’t easy to stop or reverse.

Research has also shown AGEs can cause abnormal melanin production that leads to the formation of brown spots and mottled skin discolorations. Another ironic acronym for this is RAGEs, meaning a receptor site for AGEs that induces unhealthy melanin production.

Although sugar is certainly a major culprit in the skin-damaging creation of AGEs, so is something called the Maillard Reaction (MR). The Maillard Reaction is what happens when you cook any food and brown or blacken it with high heat. That means steaming or sautéing food without browning is far healthier for your skin and body. And chargrilling foods, especially meats, at high heat is even worse! Our apologies to those who prefer their steaks well done.

While some skincare companies claim their products contain ingredients that can block AGEs from forming, that benefit hasn’t been supported anywhere in the research. In the meantime, while science is working on this insidious problem, eating a low sugar diet that’s rich in antioxidants, complex carbohydrates, and omega fatty acids is by far the best approach for younger-looking, healthy skin from the inside out (and when you put those ingredients on your skin it can help from the outside in too, it’s just not clear how much that helps control the visible effects of AGEs; however, a huge amount of research shows those ingredients to be beneficial for skin overall).

What about the occasional sweet treat? Although we can’t change what eating refined sugars does to your skin (and yes, this includes so-called sugar substitutes like raw honey and agave nectar, both of which the body recognises as simple sugars), we also realise that sweets play a role in the pleasures of eating and celebrating. The trick is to keep it in moderation, meaning an occasional, judicious indulgence rather than daily consumption of desserts, sugary sodas, and flavoured coffee drinks, the latter of which can contain an alarming amount of sugars.

References for this information:
Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry, February 2018, pages 1,325-1,329
Advances in Nutrition, January 2017, pages 54-62
Dermato-endocrinology, October 2017, page 9
Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, May 2016, pages 231-242
Skin Therapy Letter, November 2015, pages 1-5
Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine, January 2014, pages 169-174
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, March 14, 2000, pages 2809–2813.

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About the Experts

Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books about skincare and makeup. She is known worldwide as The Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula’s Choice Skincare. Paula’s expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international radio, print, and television including:

The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to busting beauty myths and providing expert advice that solves your skincare frustrations so you can have the best skin of your life!