Iron in skin aging: less is more…

Last week was one of my favorite weeks in June, the week of HBA in New York City. As I have done for the past three years, I moderated a session on the theme of “The Changing Face of Beauty Distribution” (read about the highlights in the upcoming September issue of GCI Magazine). This year, my colleague Catherine presented for the first time – doing an amazing job on a social media panel (in case you pre-program your Tweets, she says “don’t do it – just don’t”). Also, this year, my Mom, Dr. Barbara Polla presented again.

Her presentation was about one of my favorite scientific topics, one that she has specialized in and published dozens of scientific papers about: iron chelation. At the core of our Alchimie Forever formulation technology, iron chelation is based on the premise that excess iron accelerates aging, in particular skin aging.

Riddle me this: why do women live longer than men? One of the leading theories is that we (women) on average have a lower quantity of iron in our bodies. Why? Because we lose iron regularly during our menstrual cycle and during delivery.

Indeed, while iron is essential for aerobic life, oxygen transport, energy production, and red blood cell function (if you suffer from anemia, please follow your doctor’s recommendations), iron is also involved in the oxidation processes, increasing the production of the hydroxyl radical (remember, oxygen radicals are involved in all signs of skin aging). Indeed, iron plays a major role in oxidative stress via Fenton chemistry, where iron(II) is stoichiometrically oxidized by H2O2  to iron(III), producing the highly damaging oxygen radical .OH (Gutteridge and Halliwell, 2000).

Translation: excess iron acts as a catalyst in the production of damaging free radicals, which are responsible for the creation of fine lines, wrinkles, and other signs of skin aging.

The most extreme clinical case that illustrates the damaging role of excess iron is a condition known as haemochromatosis. This disease involves a disorder in the gastrointestinal absorption of iron, which leads to iron accumulation in internal organs and in the skin. The skin, specifically, then presents highly accelerated signs of skin aging.

Studies have been conducted to show that treating the skin with synthetic iron chelators (molecules that neutralize iron, thus making it unavailable to act as a catalyst) will delay the onset of redness and wrinkles after UV exposure for up to 11 weeks (study on hairless mice, Bissett et al., 1994).

Translation: skin exposed to UV first treated with iron chelators does not get as sunburnt or as wrinkled as skin not treated with iron chelators.

So what does this mean for you? Two things.

  1. Look for skin care products that contain natural iron chelators, such as quercetin (present in blueberry, grape seed, and green tea extracts).
  2. Unless your doctor recommends you take iron, favor supplements (e.g. multi-vitamins) that do not contain iron. My favorite? Emergen-C Super Orange.
  3. Last but not least, donate blood – it can save others, and can be good for you too!

In the case of iron and skin aging, less is truly more.

Today, I hope to resist the temptation of the King Cake…

I know sugar is bad for me. I know it is bad for my waistline, and most likely for other reasons also. I am sure you know that too. Yet sometimes, I need a reminder. In particular on days such as today, Mardi Gras, a day that will be filled with sweet, sugary foods such as King Cake. I thought it would be good to remind myself of how sugar not only expands waistlines, but also accelerates aging. Today, I hope to resist the temptation of the King Cake.

When sugar enters the body, it has many both short and long-term effects on the cells. One of the effects of sugar exposure involves a process called glycation, in which over time sugars become irreversibly cross-linked with proteins or lipids forming Advanced Glycation End Products, aptly called AGEs (they even sound bad even before you really understand what AGEs do!).

Glycation and their resulting AGEs:

  1. Change protein structure making it rigid and abnormal (think of broken down collagen, and those pesky wrinkles).
  2. Induce Free Radical production (more free radicals = older-looking skin more quickly).
  3. Interfere with a cell’s metabolic activity.
  4. Deactivate our natural antioxidant defenses (less antioxidants – older-looking skin more quickly).

Glycation changes a protein’s structure resulting in AGEs, tissue damage, and inflammation, and also induces the creation of free radicals which are associated with many diseases and aging. Collagen and Elastin, key proteins in skin tissue quality, strength, and flexibility are particularly vulnerable to glycation. Free radicals take a toll on the skin’s structure and elasticity. We can physically observe AGE accumulation in the form of aging signs such as wrinkles and change in skin elasticity and quality.

To add to this issue, excess sugars and UV exposure work hand in hand to create havoc for our skin. UV light induces the cross linking process between sugars and lipids or proteins. Glycation induces sun damage: glycated skin cells exposed to UV exhibit significantly more UV damage than normal. As UV light is the main source of premature aging, exposing skin suffering from the effects of glycation ages the skin at an even faster rate. Conclusion: eating ice cream on the beach is the worst possible plan…

So – what can (should…) I do?

  1. Avoid excess sugar; even better, avoid sugar in general…
  2. Glycation also occurs by cooking sugar and lipids or proteins together, so avoiding foods that are both high in fat and sugar (therefore high in preformed AGEs) is important.
  3. As glycation interferes with the body’s natural antioxidant defenses, antioxidant levels play a key role in counteracting damaging free radicals formed by glycation. Ensuring the intake of highly antioxidant foods and the application of antioxidant-rich topical products will ensure that antioxidant levels are replenished and subsequently prevent the negative effects of glycation on the skin.

A final note about glycation: quercetin, an antioxidant molecule naturally present in blueberries, and a key ingredient in Alchimie Forever products, has been found to be instrumental in preventing free radical creation by the glycation process and preventing structural changes in the properties of glycated components.

So today, if I am craving sweets, instead of eating King Cake, I will eat blueberries…

 

(Thank you to my fabulous Geneva intern Rachel for your help researching this blog post; references available upon request.)