Look sweeter: Could sugar be the new key to keeping those wrinkles at bay

When it comes to advances in skincare, there’s always some magic new ingredient or revolutionary approach that promises to turn anti-ageing on its head and give you back the flawless skin of your youth.

Most of us are sceptical about such claims, and with good reason. But every once in a while, a concept comes along that makes you take a second look. Yves Saint Laurent’s new range Forever Youth Liberator might just be one of those.

It’s based on a science known as glycomics, or glycobiology, an area of biochemistry that, in 2003, the prestigious journal Technology Review cited as one of ten emerging technologies that would change the world.

Flawless: Research has revealed that the number of glycans in our skin diminishes with age - but they can be replaced

Flawless: Research has revealed that the number of glycans in our skin diminishes with age – but they can be replaced

Our bodies’ cells contain sugars as well as proteins, and the more complex of these sugar structures are known as glycans. Glycomics is the study of glycans and is thought to hold the key to serious breakthroughs in treatments for cancers, malaria and other serious diseases.

So what are glycans doing in a posh moisturiser

‘Glycobiology seemed to offer a new way to understand how skin works and why it ages in the way it does,’ explains Caroline Negre of YSL. ‘This was why we wanted to investigate it.’

YSL enlisted the help of German chemist Professor Peter Seeberger, one of the most eminent scientists in his field and the recipient of several awards for his work on glycomics.

‘I was surprised YSL was interested in
my work,’ he says, ‘I’m interested in health, not face paint. Still, I
could see a value in working with them, and we were able to apply our
existing techniques to glycans in skin.’

Skin deep: YSL's new Forever Youth Liberator range

Skin deep: YSL's new Forever Youth Liberator range

Their research showed glycans are heavily involved in cellular communication. They act as messengers, signalling to receptors on the outside of cells that the cell should carry out certain tasks.

Consequently, glycans have a role to play in almost every aspect of what skin looks like — from radiance to wrinkles.

The team also discovered the number of glycans in our skin diminishes with age, meaning cells no longer receive the messages they need to maintain youthful-looking skin. They realised that if you could artificially raise the levels of glycans in older skin, you could trick it into behaving like younger skin.

Using sugars found naturally in plants as a base, they modified these until they had three molecules — in a form that could penetrate skin — that were virtually identical to those found naturally in the body.

These have been packaged in a patented complex called Glycanactif, which forms the basis of every product in the Forever Youth Liberator range.

Modestly priced for a premium brand (from 35), the products smell divine and feel luxurious. I loved the serum, although the creams may be a little heavy for younger skins.

After a month, my complexion looked better, and YSL claim its trials showed women felt skin was more luminous, less wrinkled and more plumped.

But the trial was small — only 50 people took part — and women are notoriously bad at assessing their own skin.

You would have hoped that such an impressive leap in technology would be borne out by a more scientifically robust, and objectively assessed, study.

Despite this, what really piqued my interest were comments on Twitter made by Newby Hands, the beauty director of Harper’s Bazaar magazine — not someone who is easily impressed. She had asked a panel of testers to blind-trial the products and, in her words, ‘got the best results ever … all of them raved about how good these anti-agers are and we could see the difference. It is amazing!’

It’s a very promising start for such new technology, but it is only a start.

‘This sort of science is very exciting and has great potential,’ says Chris Flower, of the Cosmetic Toiletry & Perfumery Association — the voice of the cosmetic, toiletry and perfumery industry in the UK.

‘Having such a respected scientist involved certainly lends credibility to the brand.’

But even the respected scientist admits there’s a long road ahead.

‘We really are just scratching the surface here,’ says Professor Seeberger. ‘In the future, we hope to be able to identify more of the glycans that are involved in the ageing process and to be able to use this knowledge to make even more significant changes to things like wrinkles and pigmentation.’

However, even he concedes that glycomics is no one-stop solution to ageing.

‘We believe that glycans have a very important role to play in ageing skin, but they’re just one piece of a very complex puzzle,’ he adds.