Glycation and Skin Ageing


Nobody knows exactly why we age.  One popular theory is that staying alive is simply too hard to keep it up for long.  We have large and complicated bodies full of intricate chemicals, all of which are under constant attack from oxygen in the atmosphere.  It is a bit like a ship in the middle of the ocean. Holes keep springing in the hull.  We can patch them up, but eventually the whole thing gets beyond repair and the ship sinks.  

Well you’re a shining ray of sunshine this morning Colin, you are probably saying to yourself.  I’m sorry.  But I have been trying to get to grips with a current story going around that carnoisne can prevent glycation and so keep your skin looking younger for longer.

Glycation is a chemical reaction whereby a sugar molecule is attached to a protein or a fat.  This alters its properties a bit.  These reactions generally take quite a while to happen and need a bit of help to get started.  A good example is the way apples slowly go brown once you bite into them.  The apple has plenty of antioxidants to stop this happening all the time it is intact, but when you let in a lot of oxygen by removing the skin it all kicks off.

Much like the apple, we also have a battery of defences against glycation.  We don’t want the carefully built mechanisms of cells, nerves and enzymes disrupted by the addition of unwanted bits of sugar.  One of the members of this arsenal is a small molecule called carnosine.  This has been known about for a long time.  As it is one of the body’s natural protective agents, the obvious question arises as to whether you can help the body out by supplementing it with extra carnosine.

I am not sure why this has taken so long to get into the clinic, but this has been tried recently.  Studies have shown modest benefits to people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and cataracts when they have been given pills containing carnosine.   They also prove what you might expect, but can’t assume, that carnosine doesn’t have any adverse effects.

So we have a material that is safe and effective against at least two age related conditions.  And it is natural as well, which is always nice.  Would it work on the skin?  There is a theoretical objection.  The molecule is very small and so would not stay put on the skin for very long.  But science is about facts, so what really matters is not whether it sounds like a good idea or not but how it works when you try it.  Sadly, I couldn’t find any reports of clinical trials of carnosine in the skin.

So all we have is a nice idea, but no actual evidence.  Some of the charming and loveable folks in the cosmetic industry who just get carried away by a great idea have pounced on it with the puppy dog enthusiasm they often show for a good story.  Carnosine is now on the ingredient lists of some big selling products, such as Olay’s Regenerist.  And to be fair to them, glycation is a part of the ageing process and carnosine does seem to be able to counteract it.  Life is rarely so simple.  I doubt just adding a small amount to a cream and hoping will achieve much.  But I think a bit more research might be worth the effort.


Carnosine: a versatile antioxidant and antiglycating agent.

New concept in nutrition for the maintenance of the aging eye redox regulation and therapeutic treatment of cataract disease; synergism of natural antioxidant imidazole-containing amino acid-based compounds, chaperone, and glutathione boosting agents: a systemic perspective on aging and longevity emerged from studies in humans.

9 thoughts on “Glycation and Skin Ageing”

  1. Hopefully by he time I am old enough to be worrying about skin ageing there will be true treatments for glycation.

  2. I am afraid I don’t know why your sunscreen clumps, or indeed exactly what you mean by clumping. Maybe a bit more detail?

    I don’t see any reason in principle why you shouldn’t have a sunscreen pill. In fact it ought to be a much better way to protect against the sun. The proof will be when it gets into a proper clinical trial.

  3. Hi Colin,

    I have the same problem with sunscreen rolling off into little balls or clumping up. It seems to be an issue combining it with other products. If I use it on bare skin, it seems to be okay, but if I’ve used a hydroquinone gel the night before, it will clump. If I try to put foundation (but not all foundations, just certain ones) or powder on top of it, it will clump up again. If I use certain (but not all) moisturizers, same thing. It drives me crazy! Any ideas? I feel like it’s just the formulations of the different products clashing up against each other. I use La Roche Posay Anthelios SPF 60 but I’ve had this problem with lots of different sunscreens.


  4. Hiya,

    I’ve had this happen to me before with moisturisers and sun creams and did a little research. I think the rolling effect normally happens when silicone is an ingredient in one or more face products. Silicone is in a lot of serums, moisturisers, face primers and foundations. They smooth the skin and prevent moisture loss. Think of Boots No7 Protect and Perfect Serum. They are listed as one of the following – cyclopentasiloxane, cyclohexasiloxane, dimethicone and phenyl trimethicone.
    I try to use products that either don’t use them or are low down on the ingredients list.

    Hope that helps

    Love this site. I’m intrigued by how things work and why. Thanks Colin


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