Does Eating Too Much Sugar Cause Wrinkles?

by Sue Chung Patient Expert

I've read that eating too much sugar can cause your skin to age faster. Is this really true?

While the idea that sugar causes wrinkles may sound like a myth, this one is gaining more traction as fact rather than fiction. It hasn't been proved definitively yet, but recent studies show some evidence that excess amounts of sugar in your diet can lead to accelerated signs of aging on the skin.

Scientifically, it's known as "glycation," which is a natural chemical process that occurs when sugar in the human bloodstream gets attached to proteins, creating molecules that are known as "advanced glycation end products." Otherwise known as AGEs, these end molecules can cause aging due to the damage they cause to the body's proteins. Heightened levels of AGEs can also result from external factors such as cigarette smoke.

In terms of your skin, AGEs have been shown to weaken and destroy collagen fibers. People who suffer from diabetes often display signs of aging earlier than those who don't simply because diabetes also raises the levels of AGEs in the body.

If you think sugar plays a big part of your diet, then take a closer look at how often you splurge on sugary foods. While it's probably not realistic to eliminate sugar completely from your life (even "good" foods such as vegetables can turn to sugar in your digestive system), you can limit the amount of added sugars you eat on a daily basis. A good guideline is to limit candy breaks and avoid processed foods and sodas.

In addition, pay attention to nutrition labels. Sugars hide behind a variety of ingredient names such as "fruit juice concentrates," "dextrose," and "high fructose corn syrup." High fructose corn syrup (HFCS), in particular, is a compound that is added to many products to increase shelf-life and is also being studied for its role in obesity.

In terms of healthy daily sugar intake, the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest limiting added sugars to 32 grams (or 8 teaspoons) per day. Sugars that occur naturally in food groups such as dairy and produce are not included in this estimate, but fruit juices, cereals, and even condiments all contain extra sugars that should be monitored.

There are some new products on the market that aim specifically to fight AGEs. Prescriptives Anti-AGE Advanced Protection Lotion and Dr. Brandt Lineless Anti-Glycation Serum contain compounds such as alistin and aminoguanidine, which demonstrate some success in preventing the AGEs from forming. However, topical use on the skin is not entirely conclusive. It won't hurt to try these anti-glycation products, but don't rely on them alone to get the job done.

For the most bang for your buck, include tried-and-true measures of skin protection. Sunscreen, retinol and antioxidants like vitamin C are all effective ways to slow down the appearance of wrinkles by limiting UV damage, encouraging collagen growth, and reducing free-radical damage.

Sue Chung
Meet Our Writer
Sue Chung

Sue wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Healthy Skin.