Glycated Sugar: Why It Kills Skin and What to Do About It


Sugar. How sweet it is—and how deadly! Sugar has become a widespread addiction. On average, Americans consume 150 pounds of sugar each year. The average adult shovels down 22 teaspoons of sugar each day, and the average child consumes 32 teaspoons daily.1 Call it sugar, glucose, high-­fructose corn syrup, molasses, sorbitol or a variety of other names ... it doesn’t matter—you wind up with lots of calories and zero nutritional value.

You also wind up with much more. Most people are aware that behind the sweet temptress sugar lies diabetes, obesity, cavities, hypertension, elevated levels of uric acid, food for cancer cells and a legion of other health woes. In fact, Joseph Mercola, MD, a leading health advocate, logs 76 health risks associated with sugar.

The sugar-­skin aging connection

Less well-known are the effects of sugar on skin aging. To be direct: Sugar kills skin. It can turn an ivory-­smooth complexion into a lunar surface of wrinkled, crépey, irritated skin. And this can happen quickly.

Sugar ages skin by directly causing the perfect trifecta of skin trouble.

  1. Glycation, which occurs when sugar binds to proteins in the skin, such as collagen and elastin, and which then collapses to form wrinkles and dryness.
  2. Inflammation, which causes redness and aging.
  3. Oxidative stress, which accelerates skin aging.

See Figure 1 for an under-­the-­skin illustration of the aging process and the affects of the three aging factors. Notice the skin of the 16-­year-old shows up as much darker compared to the 69-­year-old. That’s because younger skin contains less sugar and therefore has fewer wrinkles. The brightness indicates aging.

There’s a good deal of truth in the adage “you are what you eat.” Nowhere is this truer than with skin. For example, consider cake, with its eggs, milk and sugar; sausage with its meat and sugar; or barbeque with its pork or chicken, honey and sugar. These are all “glycated” foods, which is the byproduct of cooking protein with sugar. These foods can do major damage to your clients’ skin, because glycated protein causes that perfect trifecta mentioned earlier. Your skin indeed becomes what you eat.

Where does glycated sugar come from?

Although glycated sugar may taste good, it becomes a skin-­aging accelerator once ingested, which is why glycated sugar is sometimes known as toxic sugar. Here’s the challenge: The body produces glycated sugar in two ways—one way is through the diet. The second way was discovered by a team of diabetic research scientists at Fox Cancer Center in Philadelphia. The team’s ground-­breaking research found that there is an enzyme, fructosamine-3-kinase (F3K), in the body that causes the production of glycated sugar whenever sugar is available in the body’s cells, especially in skin cells.

Although a sugar-­free diet would surely help minimize the production of glycated sugar, it wouldn’t eliminate it. The body’s normal metabolic processes would produce it anyway. Pasta, rice, bread and the other starches and carbohydrates that you crave get converted naturally into sugar, which then can become toxic. Keep this simple equation in mind: Too many starches and carbohydrates equal too many sugars. See Figure 2 for an illustration of the process of the production of glycated sugar by poor diet and the metabolic process.

Let’s return to inflammation, oxidative stress and glycation to more fully understand how glycated sugar triggers them and, in turn, damages and ages skin. 

Inflammation. It is well-known that inflammation is the body’s response to harmful stimuli caused by the immune system being activated. Less well-known is how glycated sugar helps set up a vicious inflammation and skin-­damage cycle. See Figure 3 to understand how it plays out.

Oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is caused in two basic ways: environmentally, often by sun damage; and by metabolic stress, produced by glycated sugar. This stress produces toxic substances—oxidants—which cause skin damage.

Glycation. The glycation process involves protein cross-­linking, and this causes skin damage and aging. The process compromises the production of collagen, elastin and other proteins in the skin, all of which are essential to skin health and vitality.

For example, take a look at the collagen pattern on the skin’s surface in non­aged skin in Figure 4. Compare that to what happens on the skin’s surface in aged skin, when collagen binds with glycated sugar. The pattern tells that glycated collagen causes skin to wrinkle. Note the uneven, shrunken aged skin. It holds less water moisture and becomes dry.

Is there a solution to the double-­bind dilemma set up by the diet-­ and metabolic-­induced production of glycated sugar? Any such solution must address both of these causes. Turns out, the same scientific team that discovered the F3k enzyme, in a series of further scientific experiments conducted after the team left the Fox Chase Cancer Center—and with the center’s blessing—discovered Supplamine, a compound that contains both meglumine, an amino sugar that lowers the production of glycated sugar coming from the F3k enzyme, and arginine, a natural amino acid that neutralizes glycated sugar coming from poor diet.

The enzyme F3K prefers meglumine over the sugar the enzyme usually acts on. As a result, the glycated sugar never gets made! In effect, meglumine plays a neat trick on skin by substituting a harmless amino sugar for the dangerous sugar protein. And arginine inactivates the glycated sugar that comes from foods, beverages and the digestive process.2

Testing your product recommendations

Glycated sugar and its subsequent inflammatory, glycation and oxidative damage, can be combated by a properly formulated topical skin treatment. As you think about the product needs of your clients, ask yourself these six questions about the products you are currently recommending or planning to purchase for resale.

  1. Does this product prevent and inactivate the formation of glycated sugar caused by both poor diet and the metabolic process?
  2. Does the product intercept glycation, relieve inflammation and contain antioxidants?
  3. Does it firm and smooth skin on the face, as well as on other challenging areas, such as the neck, upper arms and hands?
  4. Is the product suitable for all types of skin?
  5. Has it been allergy tested, scientifically formulated, and is it nonirritating?
  6. What’s the proof of effectiveness? Have claims been validated by independent clinical tests?

Also, don’t forget to test your choice against that most elusive of all questions and, arguably, the most important: As a result of applying this product, do clients look and feel better about their appearance and the health of their skin?

  3. (Accessed Sep 24, 2014)
Si Author A Tobia M

Annette Tobia, PhD, is founder and president of Dynamis Skin Science, which offers the Meg 21 product line. Tobia earned her PhD from New York University, her post doctoral degree at Rockefeller University, and her law degree from Rutgers School of Law.

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