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The body’s largest organ by surface area, our skin performs many roles crucial for our health and well-being.  Skin also reflects our overall health, and is one of the more important factors in our appearance.

Good hydration and diet–among many other factors, such sleep habits and sun protection–are important to keep our skin looking and functioning its best.  From a dietary perspective, many healthy fats, oils, protein, vitamins, and minerals are key for proper skin function and a glowy appearance. On the other hand, excess sugar (both it is process and natural forms) has been shown to be harmful for the function and appearance of the skin.  

Excess consumed sugar cross-links or connects with protein molecules, leading to the formation of new sugar proteins called advanced glycation end products (AGEs).  Our bodies see AGEs as abnormal, and create an inflammatory response against them, producing antibodies that cause inflammation in the skin. AGEs tend to gravitate toward dermal collagen and elastin, important and plentiful proteins in the skin; deposition of AGEs among the skin’s collagen and elastin may lead to premature lines, loss of the skin’s elasticity, skin stiffness and accelerated aging.  Inflammation also affects the tiny blood vessels important to skin function; when this circulation is compromised, skin cells slow down in their turnover and overall function. Globally, sugar-related inflammation leads to dull, lifeless skin that is prone to redness, irritation, and suboptimal barrier function.

Scientific work looking at caloric restriction in mice suggests a correlation between fewer calories and less AGEs.  Caloric restriction has also been correlated with increased longevity in rodents. While we cannot directly translate this research to humans, this literature may lend more support to the well-being effects of intermittent fasting and dieting as a part of our daily lifestyle.  

A number of vitamins and minerals that potentially affect glycation are being studied, including  ascorbic acid (vitamin C), α-tocopherol, niacinamide, rivoflavin, zinc and manganese. Green tea, and vitamins C and E may decrease skin glycation in mice.  Another compound, the green tea-derived polyphenol and flavonoid epigallocatechin-3-gallate showed promising results in decreasing AGE-induced inflammation in humans. Many spices and herbs were shown to inhibit glycation of human proteins in a test tube, among them ginger, cinnamon, cloves, marjoram, rosemary and tarragon.  Their protective effects correlated with their phenolic content.

“All of this is interesting information that tells me I really to nip my sugar addiction,” says Dr. Fishman, adding, “I suspect we will learn more about excess sugar’s negative effect on skin and health in the new few years.  In the meantime, I plan to decrease the processed sugar in my diet, drink more green tea, and keep using my ISDINCeuticals vitamin C serum every day.”


Dermatoendocrinol. 2012 Jul 1; 4(3): 259–270.

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