Part 1: The Effects of Glycation and Inflammation on the Skin
Sugar has a profoundly damaging impact on skin which occurs through a process called glycation.
What is glycation?
When protein or fat combine with sugar in the bloodstream it starts a chemical reaction known as glycation. The end result of this reaction is the formation of Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs).
AGEs are harmful compounds that impair the protein function and elasticity in skin, tendons, and blood vessels. They accelerate inflammation and oxidative stress playing a significant role in destroying the elastin fibers and collagen that help keep skin plump and firm.
Indicators of glycation affected skin include dryness, deep premature wrinkling, textured pigmentation, and inflamed breakouts.
What causes glycation?
Eating sugar (mostly glucose or fructose) sets off the glycation process causing AGEs to form inside your body. AGEs are also naturally found in many foods, particularly animal-derived products.
Grilling, frying, and roasting also produce much higher levels of AGEs in certain foods than baking, steaming, or slow roasting.
When we load up our diets with AGEs they accumulate in our bodies as metabolic waste and accelerate skin degradation and aging. This glycation process fits with the accumulative waste theory of aging.
Practical ways to combat AGEs including eating less:
Highly processed foods
Man made food by products
Inflammatory oils like Canola, Soy, and Corn
Mixed vegetable oils
Research suggests regular exercise and certain anti-glycation plant compounds including quercetin, kaempferol, and genistein may also help guard against AGEs.
We recommend consulting a trusted health practitioner before making significant dietary changes or embarking on a new exercise regime.
At its core, inflammation is your body’s natural response to fighting infection and healing damage. The inflammation process produces white blood cells and chemical messengers that work to recover the body from the trauma or viruses.
For example, if cut yourself, the inflammatory signs of redness and swelling show the body is busy working away to heal itself. This ‘short term’ response is known as acute inflammation. It’s healthy, essential for healing and keeps us safe from infection.
Chronic inflammation, however, harms the body - including the skin. This is when the inflammatory responses are continually ‘switched on’ in defense mode and the cause / aggravator could be internal or external environmental factors.
Chronic inflammation significantly interferes with your skin’s healthy function and weakens the skin barrier. This can lead to inflammatory conditions such as rosacea, eczema, psoriasis, and cystic acne. It also plays a lead role in chronic health issues such as heart disease, Alzheimer’s, arthritis and more.
Lifestyle causes of chronic inflammation.
From stress and lack of sleep to poor diet and excessive exercise, chronic inflammation can stem from a barrage of lifestyle, environmental, hormonal and even emotional imbalances. We’ll take a look at these - and more - in detail in Part 2 and Part 3.
Part 2: Lifestyle and Hormonal Triggers of Inflammation
Studies show that sleep deprivation increases our bodies inflammatory response. In turn, this can lead to flares of acne, eczema, skin allergies and psoriasis which are classified as inflammatory skin conditions. Losing precious hours of sleep also affects skin hydration, the growth of collagen, wound healing and skin texture.
Working out too hard, too often
The relationship between exercise and inflammation is a complex one in that it both decreases and increases inflammation.
When you exercise rigorously, your body responds with acute ‘short term’ inflammation - those achy muscles you feel after a workout. This is a natural and healthy response and as you recover from exercise the inflammation subsides.
While it causes acute inflammation, a balanced, regular exercise routine is important to guard against chronic inflammation.
The key here is allowing your body to rest between intense workouts. If you are engaging in all-out, aggressive exercise sessions without sufficient rest period in between you’re denying your body the chance to recover. The acute inflammatory response can become chronic.
Under stress, your body releases pro-inflammatory chemicals called cytokines. Their role is to help the body deal with acute stress by regulating inflammatory responses.
However, if you are chronically stressed a continual stream of these chemicals are released, increasing the amount of inflammation and tissue degradation in your body.
Whether it's acute or chronic stress, if you’re prone to inflammatory skin conditions, stress can easily trigger a flare-up. Stress also impairs the skin barrier function which leads to excessive moisture loss, increased sensitivity and signs of aging.
What you eat has a direct and significant impact on your body’s inflammatory response. Foods known to incite inflammation include:
Gluten and refined wheat
Too much meat, especially factory-raised
High omega 6 oils that have been refined
Any foods that trigger an allergic reaction for you
Try to fill your plate with anti-inflammatory foods like fatty fish, green leafy vegetables, olive oil, nuts, and fruits including blueberries and cherries.
During peri-menopause, menopause, pregnancy and stages of the menstrual cycle, hormonal imbalances can increase inflammation. This increased inflammation then further disrupts hormone production and so hormonal imbalance and chronic inflammation become a difficult cycle to break.
Every hormonal imbalance is unique. While changes to diet, nutrients, and lifestyle factors can act as a general guide to improve fluctuations, a health professional can work with you on an individual strategy to restore balance.
Part 3: Inflammation, free radicals and the environment
Toxicity levels in your environment also incite inflammation and an increasing amount of evidence links pollution and skin degradation. Research continues to uncover more about the gradual yet destructive role pollution plays in premature signs of ageing.
Particulate matter (also known as particle pollution) is of specific concern for skin health. A mixture of liquid droplets and solid particles found in the air, particulate matter is breathed in and also settles onto the skin. This jump-starts a chain reaction of free radical activity. Free radicals attack healthy skin cells, weakening cells and tissues which leads to sunken, depleted, complexion. Dullness is also a common pollutant related concern.
How can we protect our skin from this insidious threat?
Combining a plant forward lifestyle and topical skincare routine rich in antioxidants is your best form of daily defense. Antioxidants are skin heroes. They fight free radical activity in your body by diffusing the destructive free radical chain reaction on healthy cells.
Key antioxidants include:
You can read more about the important role antioxidants play in protecting skin and slowing the degradation process in our Journal entry Antioxidants - A Daily Skin Essential.
Your 3 step Anti-Pollution Protocol
For a complete, protective topical skincare routine we suggest the following Anti-Pollution Protocol:
Step 1: Deep yet gentle cleansing (AM and PM)
Cleansing is the first step in removing any particulate matter that has settled onto your skin during the day.
We recommend Klur Gentle Matter (Daily Moisture Cleanser)
A refreshing, non-foaming gel, that gently cleanses and conforms to even the most sensitive skin. A soothing blend of antioxidants, organic botanicals, and mild resurfacing ingredients, delicately lifts impurities while maintaining optimal moisture levels.
Step 2: Antioxidant-rich serum (AM and PM)
The inclusion of an antioxidant-rich serum is a crucial step in skin defence and recovery.
We recommend KLUR Symmetry Fluid (Anti-Pollution Serum) This nutrient-rich concentrate establishes a harmonious, breathable barrier between skin and daily exposure to urban pollution. An abundant supply of vitamins, antioxidants, and energy-rich phytonutrients helps to fortify the skin's surface to counterbalance the impact of free-radical assault on skin.
Step 3: Mineral Broad Spectrum SPF (AM)
Daily broad spectrum SPF protection is your most important defense against UVA and UVB exposure which, like pollution, causes free radical damage. We like to recommend our community use mineral (physical) sunscreen, whichever you choose, any is safer than none. Choose a broad spectrum that will provide UVA and UVB protection, with SPF level 30+ or higher.
Key research references: