How Sugar 'AGEs' Your Skin

And 5 ways to fix it, stat!

January 12, 2016
sugar on woman's lips

"You've basically got dessert in that bowl," I told my friend over brunch recently as she contemplated ordering a monster salad topped with candied walnuts, dried cranberries, and raspberry vinaigrette dressing.

Today, sugar has earned a bad rep in numerous arenas, and nobody deep dives into a hot fudge sundae and expects to have healthy, glowing skin. But what really jeopardize great skin are the sneaky sugars hiding in so-called healthy foods. (See strategy #4 for more about those saboteurs.)


More: 19 Ways to Give Up Sugar

Regardless of where it comes from, sugar clings to your hard-working proteins in a process called glycation, gumming those proteins up, making them ineffective, and creating advanced glycation end products with their appropriate acronym AGEs.

"AGEs accumulate everywhere—in the skin, the brain, the nervous system, the vital organs, the vascular system—and they do exactly what their name implies. They age you," writes Dr. Jonny Bowden in The Most Effective Ways to Live Longer.

Among its damage, studies show excess sugar makes those collagen (protein) fibers sticky, rendering them incapable of easy repair and wrecking havoc on your skin. Besides being what Bowden calls "free radical factories," studies show AGEs increase inflammation

More: 5 'Healthy' Foods That Wreak Havoc on Your Skin

That cumulative damage delivers a serious whammy to healthy skin, triggering wrinkles, sagging, and dullness as your skin becomes more vulnerable to ultraviolet (UV) light and other potent damage.

To really dial down your AGEs load, you'll want to go low-sugar impact and eliminate other potential skin-wrecking culprits. Employ these five strategies to minimize AGEs for healthy, glowing skin.

1. Dump the sugary beverages for water.
Don't be fooled by whatever the latest health halo cola companies promote (organic cane sugar is still sugar), and fruit juices often create more damage than soda. Dump both for filtered water. Skin is your body's largest organ, but it also plays a key role in detoxification: Perspiration and evaporation cleanse your skin and remove waste. Without adequate water, waste builds up, triggering breakouts, acne, and other problems. Poor hydration also means your body can make less new collagen, and the existing collagen becomes brittle. Aim for at least 64, but preferably about half your body weight, in water ounces daily.


2. Boost your antioxidants.
Among their benefits, antioxidants in plant foods fight free radicals and inflammation, providing a double whammy against damaged, aging skin. Go for a colorful variety of veggies, low-sugar impact fruit like berries and avocado, and legumes. Think outside the box. Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli contain sulforaphane, an antioxidant and natural detoxifier with cancer-fighting properties. Artichokes are rich in the rock star antioxidant glutathione. Even the occasional glass of pinot noir or low-sugar impact dark chocolate can provide an antioxidant boost, but both fall under the "easy does it" category.

More: 10 Anti-Nutrients to Ditch

3. Address food intolerances.
Dairy and other highly reactive foods trigger acne, itchiness, and other adverse skin conditions. Clients who've struggled with their weight for years suddenly lose weight and develop clearer skin when they pull gluten, dairy, soy, and the other highly reactive foods I discuss in The Virgin Diet.

4. Look for sneaky sugars.
You already know sugar is bad for you! Hardly anyone is gobbling up straight sugar anymore. Unfortunately, hidden sugars in even supposedly healthy foods wreck havoc on your waistline, skin, and overall health. Common stealthy-sugar suspects include balsamic vinaigrette, meat sauces, smoothies, and even stevia packets. Scrutinize ingredients, keep a list of sneaky sugar names, and opt for whole unprocessed low-sugar impact foods whenever you can.

More: 7 Diet Hacks for Fabulous Skin

5. Bump up your anti-inflammatory foods.
Sugar can trigger an inflammatory cascade, but so can trans and damaged fats. For glowing, vibrant skin, downgrade your sugar intake and upgrade your fats. Swap inflammatory vegetable oils for extra-virgin olive and coconut oils. Wild-caught fish, freshly ground flaxseeds, and grass-fed beef are some of the most anti-inflammatory foods on the planet. Sprinkle turmeric liberally onto everything. And take a professional-quality omega-3 supplement that contains about a gram of the essential fatty acids EPA and DHA.


As sugar increasingly earns bad press, have you become more aware about hidden sweeteners in your food and beverages? Share what you've learned and what changes you've made below or on my Facebook page.