The goal of glycan creams is to provide sugars or transform existing sugars to allow older cells to behave like younger cells.
In theory, this would allow the skin to produce more collagen and heal better after injuries, including burns and cuts.
Importance of sugars
"The theory is that glycan change and loss that occur with ageing lead skin cells to not recognize or communicate with each other with the same vigor they did in their youth," says Board-certified dermatologist Zoe Draelos, consulting professor at Duke University School of Medicine.
"We've known for a long time that sugars are important to the body as they are used to distinguish normal cells, which should be preserved, from infected cells, cancer cells, or any cell that is not quite right and should be destroyed.”
As glycan creams also have the benefit of being considered safe to apply to the skin because sugars are the body's fuel, it seems they have the potential to be big in the anti-ageing arena.
And they may not just hold the secret to ageing of the skin, but to other changes that occur within the body. Every cell in the body has sugars on it, so Dr Draelos says glycan therapies could have a role in preventing and treating cancer and infections as well as skin conditions.
Still in infancy
There is a sense that we shouldn’t get too far ahead of ourselves just yet though, as Draelos notes that current research has not shown if glycan creams can impact the skin to the extent that skin cell glycans begin to act more youthful.
"The theory behind glycans' impact on anti-aging is very much in its infancy," she says. "Currently there are other more proven treatments on the market, such as retinoids, but new research will provide additional targets for anti-ageing strategies."