What's Skin Glycation And Should You Be Concerned About It?

If you've ever taken a deep dive into the skincare tag on Instagram or TikTok, you may have come across videos that mention the symptoms of "glycation" at some point. Unfortunately, the information crammed into 30-second TikTok videos hardly explains what glycation is well enough for you to make an informed decision before you head out and purchase a heap of skincare recommendations that you don't truly need.


According to skincare expert Leslie Baumann, M.D., excessive glycation is a valid skin concern, and it refers to a chemical process that damages the lipids and proteins that make up your skin's internal structure, rendering them incapable of carrying out their proper function. Damage to these vital lipids and proteins jeopardizes the integrity of your skin, which leads to wrinkles, skin damage, and dullness.

Glycation typically begins around the age of 20, and symptoms tend to manifest in the skin in your early 30s, per a 2022 study published in Nutrients. While modern anti-aging skincare works wonders for wrinkles and fine lines, there are ways to reduce the rate of glycation and prevent the signs of premature aging through skincare and a healthy lifestyle.


How does glycation actually work?

During the process of glycation, sugar molecules attach themselves to the amino acids that make up the lipids and proteins in the skin, producing a substance known as advanced glycation end products (AGEs), per Leslie Baumann, M.D. These AGEs accumulate in the tissues and lead to accelerated aging, as the permanent damage to the skin's fibers and proteins prevents regeneration, according to a 2016 study that appeared in Scientific Reports. SkinCeuticals explains that when these damaging glycation by-products bind to collagen, they result in a "loss of laxity and bounce in skin." AGEs have also been linked to discoloration and impaired skin barrier function, per a 2022 study published in Frontiers in Medicine.


Glycation is, unfortunately, an inevitable process, but it does occur faster in some individuals. For instance, those who consume excessive amounts of sugar will experience accelerated glycation and exhibit signs of premature aging. Researchers also observe high levels of AGEs in people with diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and polycystic ovary syndrome (via Healthline).

Prevent glycation by adopting a healthy lifestyle

As a major contributor to aging skin, addressing glycation at the root is key to managing symptoms and slowing down the process (via Germaine de Capuccini). And if wrinkles and sagging skin are not reason enough to take glycation seriously, then you may find this next fact interesting: High levels of AGEs have also been associated with serious conditions such as Alzheimer's, kidney failure, liver disease, and arthritis, per Healthline. 


Thankfully, certain lifestyle changes prove effective at slowing the process of glycation. First and foremost, take a look at your sugar consumption and limit your exposure to high-sugar foods on a regular basis. This more so applies to processed foods, sweets, and beverages, as opposed to natural sources of carbohydrates such as fruits and vegetables, according to SkinCeuticals. The brand also recommends getting between six and eight hours of sleep a night to support "glucose tolerance" and boosting your intake of antioxidants. Healthline advises limiting cooking food with dry heat methods, such as grilling, since this can increase your level of AGEs.

Combat glycation with an anti-aging skincare routine

In addition to leading a healthy lifestyle, a killer skincare routine is essential for fighting the signs of aging produced by glycation. If you're in your early to mid-20s, try to incorporate a low-strength retinoid into your routine, and look for other anti-aging ingredients such as antioxidants, ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and vitamin C, per the Mayo Clinic.  Along with wrinkles and dullness, glycation can also lead to inflammatory skin conditions and a damaged skin barrier as it impairs the skin's structural composition, according to Leslie Baumann, M.D, so look for products that are gentle on the skin and contain soothing properties. Isdin explains that there are also targeted skincare products that combat glycation specifically. Look for creams that contain carnosine, which acts as an antioxidant and will also limit the binding of glucose to the collagen in your skin.


Another important step in any decent skincare routine involves sun protection, as UV radiation accelerates the glycation process. So, be sure to reapply your sunscreen throughout the day, especially if you spend a significant amount of time outdoors or in front of a window.

It's easy to feel overwhelmed while implementing anti-aging habits and routines, especially with the never-ending barrage of conflicting facts you may come across online. Glycation is a natural and inevitable process but you can slow down the effects by maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle and incorporating some powerful skincare ingredients into your everyday routine.