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Why Sugar Ages Your Skin


Skin aging is a multifaceted process influenced by genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors. One significant lifestyle factor that has garnered attention in recent years is the impact of dietary sugar on skin health. This article delves into the connection between sugar consumption and skin aging, supported by findings from primary research, particularly randomized control trials (RCTs).


Dietary sugar, primarily in the form of glucose and fructose, can accelerate skin aging through a process called glycation [1]. Glycation occurs when sugar molecules non-enzymatically bind to proteins, forming harmful compounds known as advanced glycation end-products (AGEs). When blood sugar is elevated over time by a diet high in sugar, there is more sugar available for creation of AGEs. These AGEs can damage collagen and elastin, the proteins responsible for skin's firmness and elasticity, leading to wrinkles, sagging, and other signs of aging [2]. Once AGEs are formed, they are difficult for the body to break down [3]. The most notable real world evidence of this relationship is in diabetic patients who have a high rate of skin complications and show elevated AGEs across tissues, including the skin [4,5]. 


To date, no randomized clinical trials have been performed directly assessing the effects of dietary sugar consumption on facial skin AGEs and the appearance of aging. However, there is clear evidence that a diet high in antioxidants like vitamin C and linoleic acid can reduce the appearance of skin aging, compounds that are known to help prevent the formation of AGEs [6]. Additionally, preclinical research in animal models shows that high sugar diets directly cause down-regulation of proteins that support extracellular matrix (ECM) functionality and structural abnormalities [7]. Finally, UV exposure also exacerbates AGE formation in the skin by creating free radicals that induce the Maillard reaction responsible for AGE formation [8].


In addition to minimizing sun exposure and wearing sunscreen, a diverse diet rich in unprocessed carbohydrates can help prevent AGE formation in the skin [9,10]. Topical skin care products containing antioxidants and hydrating actives can also help prevent AGE formation. Below are some practical dietary and topical skin care tips:

  • Opt for Low-Glycemic Foods: Foods with a low glycemic index, such as whole grains, vegetables, and legumes, release sugar slowly into the bloodstream, minimizing glycation and its effects on the skin.
  • Limit Processed Sugars: Reducing consumption of processed sugars like fructose found in sweets, sodas, and baked goods can help decrease AGE formation.
  • Increase Antioxidant-Rich Foods: Incorporating foods rich in antioxidants, like berries, nuts, and green leafy vegetables, can combat oxidative stress and support skin health.
  • Antioxidant-Rich Skin Care: opt for moisturizers and serums rich in Vitamins A, C, and E as well as linoleic acid and polyphenols to prevent AGE formation [11,12].


The relationship between dietary sugar intake and formation of AGEs is clear: a low glycemic diet helps prevent formation of AGEs in tissues throughout the body, possibly even the skin. By adopting a mindful approach to sugar consumption, individuals can make significant strides in their anti-aging skincare regimen.


[1] Semba RD, Nicklett EJ, Ferrucci L (2010) Does accumulation of advanced glycation end products contribute to the aging phenotype?J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci 65, 963–975.

[2] Yoshinaga E, Kawada A, Ono K, Fujimoto E, Wachi H, Harumiya S, Nagai R, Tajima S (2012) Nε-(Carboxymethyl)lysine Modification of Elastin Alters Its Biological Properties: Implications for the Accumulation of Abnormal Elastic Fibers in Actinic Elastosis.J Invest Dermatol 132, 315–323.

[3] Draelos ZD (2013) Aging skin: The role of diet: Facts and controversies.Clinics in Dermatology 31, 701–706.

[4] Papachristou S, Pafili K, Papanas N (2021) Skin AGEs and diabetic neuropathy.BMC Endocr Disord 21, 28.

[5] Moraes VR, Melo MO, Maia Campos PMBG (2023) Evaluation of Morphological and Structural Skin Alterations on Diabetic Subjects by Biophysical and Imaging Techniques.Life (Basel) 13, 579.

[6] Cosgrove MC, Franco OH, Granger SP, Murray PG, Mayes AE (2007) Dietary nutrient intakes and skin-aging appearance among middle-aged American women23.The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 86, 1225–1231.

[7] Li W-Z, Liu X-X, Shi Y-J, Wang X-R, Li L, Tai M-L, Yi F (2024) Unveiling the mechanism of high sugar diet induced advanced glycosylation end products damage skin structure via extracellular matrix-receptor interaction pathway.J Cosmet Dermatol.

[8] Chen C, Zhang J-Q, Li L, Guo M, He Y, Dong Y, Meng H, Yi F (2022) Advanced Glycation End Products in the Skin: Molecular Mechanisms, Methods of Measurement, and Inhibitory Pathways.Front Med 9,.

[9] Cao C, Xiao Z, Wu Y, Ge C (2020) Diet and Skin Aging—From the Perspective of Food Nutrition.Nutrients 12, 870.

[10] Levi B, Werman MJ (1998) Long-term fructose consumption accelerates glycation and several age-related variables in male rats.J Nutr 128, 1442–1449.

[11] Prasanna G, Saraswathi NT (2017) Linolenic acid prevents early and advanced glycation end-products (AGEs) modification of albumin.Int J Biol Macromol 95, 121–125.

[12] Zheng W, Li H, Go Y, Chan XH (Felicia), Huang Q, Wu J (2022) Research Advances on the Damage Mechanism of Skin Glycation and Related Inhibitors.Nutrients 14, 4588.