Too much sugar packs on pounds, as we all know, but did you know it can also cause wrinkles?
At blame is glycation, a natural process in which the sugar in your bloodstream attaches to proteins to form harmful new molecules called advanced glycation end products (or, appropriately, AGEs for short). The more sugar you eat, the more AGEs you develop, according to Fredric Brandt, MD, a dermatologist in private practice in Miami and New York City and author of 10 Minutes 10 Years. The good news about sugar-damaged skin: It’s never too late to turn back the clock. Here, five steps to start following today:
1. Limit sneaky sweeteners. It’s not easy to eliminate sugar completely. Even whole grains, fruits, and vegetables turn to glucose—the type of sugar that fuels glycation—when digested. But limiting added sugar can help. Some guidelines: Keep added sugar to no more than 10% of total calories. Many prepared foods contain hefty amounts of sugar hidden under ingredient-list aliases like barley malt, corn syrup, dextrose, fruit juice concentrate, maltose, maple syrup, molasses, and turbinado. And avoid high fructose corn syrup, which is believed to produce more AGEs than other types of sweetener.
2. Take 1 mg of vitamins B1 and B6 a day. These vitamins proved to be potent AGE inhibitors in a number of published studies, says David J. Goldberg, MD, a New York City–based dermatologist and a clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. B1 and B6 are plentiful in food, but taking a multivitamin–most of which deliver at least 1 mg of both Bs–ensures you’re getting the daily value of 1.1 mg for B1 and 1.3 mg for B6 (1.5 mg after age 50).
3. Slather on broad-spectrum SPF 30 sunscreen (even when it’s cloudy). Significantly more AGEs occur in sun-exposed skin than in protected skin, according to a British Journal of Dermatology study. And those pesky rays poke through clouds, so make it a ritual.
4. Wear and eat your antioxidants. These free-radical fighters help keep sugar from attaching to proteins, so replenishing their supply is a real skin saver. Do so by eating more antioxidant-rich fruits, nuts, and vegetables, such as cranberries, walnuts, and red bell peppers, and by applying topical antioxidants, such as green tea and vitamins C and E.
5. Try new ingredients that protect skin from sugar. A growing number of products contain compounds like aminoguanidine (say that 5 times fast) and alistin, which may block the formation of AGEs. “These compounds attach to molecules that start the glycation process and prevent them from binding to collagen and elastin,” explains Karyn Grossman, MD, chief of the division of dermatology at St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica, CA. In a study on Prescriptives Anti-AGE Advanced Protection Lotion SPF 25, which contains both ingredients, skin treated with the product had 21% fewer AGEs after 8 weeks than untreated skin. Sweet!