Why Glycation is Responsible for Aging Skin

Everyone's talking about glycation lately, but no one really knows what it means, exactly. Although the scientific knowledge has been around for decades, it's become a veritable beauty buzzword these days: anti-glycation diets, anti-glycation skincare. If you're short on time, here you go: eating sugar breaks down your collagen, drink more green tea. If you want more details, keep reading.

When you eat that delicious red velvet cupcake, the sugar molecules attach to proteins and fats in your system. The reaction? It's called glycation, and it's not pretty. The process forms rogue molecules known as AGEs (advanced glycation endproducts), which cause the proteins in your skin — like collagen and elastin, the ones that keep your complexion youthful — to lose their elasticity, becoming, well, older-looking. Life Extension magazine summed up the process in a particularly gross visual:

The same browning reaction that occurs when you cook meat at high heat takes place at a slower rate to long-lived tissue proteins such as collagen in our bodies.

The external result? Wrinkles, sagging skin, not-so-plump cheeks. In short, aging. If you're thinking that glycation kind of sounds like a fancy word for "life," you're onto something — glycation is a normal process for the human body and it's going to happen anyway. But negative lifestyle choices can definitely accelerate the process, such as smoking (which leaches antioxidants from your system, leaving less available to fight glycation) and guzzling high-fructose corn syrup.

Of course, the idea of an anti-glycation product is a beauty marketer's dream, and there are plenty of creams on the market that promise to fix this pesky eating-chocolate-bars-makes-us-look-102-years-old problem. You've got your explicitly named anti-glycation serums and your night treatments that promise to support "natural collagen and elastin production and stop glycation."

But there's a chance that these products might simply be using the skincare buzzword erroneously. Dr. Leslie Baumann, author of Cosmetic Dermatology: Principles and Practice, told Elle Canada she was skeptical that the products penetrated skin deep enough to actually reach collagen, where the glycation is taking place.

Here's what you can do to directly limit or fight glycation: decrease your sugar intake right away, especially white sugar, simple carbohydrates, and high-fructose corn syrup, all of which contribute to the glycation process. Then, start eating more of those skin-friendly foods you know you should be eating already: the dark leafy greens, the salmon, the beans, the oatmeal, the tomatoes, the pomegranates, the blueberries. Green tea is especially great in the fight against glycation — drink it every day.

You've heard this dietary advice before, but now your collagen is on the line.