New topical ingredients can help ward off the aging effects the sweet stuff has on your appearance

By Krista Bennett Demaio
October 23, 2013

We all know how sun, smoke, and good 'ol genetics (thanks, mom) play out on our skin-lines, spots, dullness, ugh! But now we're hearing that diet, specifically one that includes too much sugar, can also make skin look older beyond its years. It's a process called glycation. Here's its not-so-sweet story: "When your body digests sugar molecules such as fructose or glucose, they bind onto proteins and fats and form new molecules called glycation end products, or AGEs," says David E. Bank, a dermatologist in Mount Kisco, NY and SHAPE advisory board member. As AGEs collect in your cells, they start to destroy skin's support system, a.k.a., collagen and elastin. "As a result the skin is wrinkly, inflexible and less radiant," says Bank.

Ditching your donut habit will surely slow the buildup of AGEs, delaying the signs of aging, Bank explains. Conversely, "when you're constantly eating poorly and making lousy lifestyle choices, the glycation process will speed up and the changes throughout your skin will appear sooner than expected," he adds. But it's not just sugary, refined snacks that pose a threat. Even "healthy" foods including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, as well as foods cooked via toasting, grilling, and frying are converted to glucose in your body, Bank explains. Fortunately, researchers are looking toward topical, anti-glycation ingredients that can help reduce AGEs in skin, while repairing the visible damage that's already been done.

One promising new product is SanMedica International's GlyTerra-gL ($135 for a 30-day supply,, which contains albizia julibrissin, a patented silk tree extract that works to break up the glycated bonds. The manufacturer presented its compelling research at this year's International Academy of Cosmetic Dermatology's World Congress event. In their clinical trials, 24 women, with an average age of 60, applied the day and night creams to one forearm, while wearing a placebo cream on the other arm. After two months, researchers measured the amount of AGEs in the skin using an AGE reader (the molecules have a florescence that can be detected by a specialized tool). The areas treated with GlyTerra-gL showed a significant reduction in AGEs-with levels similar to those of someone 8.8 to 10 years younger than the subjects-compared to the placebo-treated forearm skin.

The additional ingredients in the cream, including peptides, marine glycans, algae, and sunflower oil are said to help counteract skin fatigue, sagging, wrinkles, and spots. Researchers also put these claims to the test using both diagnostic tools and self-assessments by the participants. Those tests all showed an overall increase in skin's hydration and firmness-and a decrease in wrinkles and pigmentation issues.

So what's the pro's take? "Given their research, it seems that this product has a lot going for it and has the potential to really work," says Bank, adding that it appears to not only decrease age-related effects, but also improve the appearance of age spots, and loose skin. "It will be interesting to see the long-term results."