Skin Deep

Why heparan sulfate could be the next big anti-aging ingredient

Skin aging is one of the most common cosmetic concerns for both women and men, and researchers are constantly searching for ways to improve current anti-aging formulations. The newest anti-aging ingredient on the block is a naturally occuring sugar called heparan sulfate. Here’s what you need to know about this ingredient and where to find it.

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Dr. Leslie Baumann

What is heparan sulfate?

Heparan sulfate is an essential glycosaminoglycan (GAG) that plays a key role in many aspects of skin health. It helps to hydrate the skin by attracting and retaining water, it preserves collagen and elastin fibers, activates collagen production, and aids in skin cell communication and repair, among many other important functions.

Where heparan sulfate really shines when it comes to anti-aging skin care is its ability to help skin cells receive and interpret messages. Growth factors and cytokines send messages to specialized cells called fibroblasts to produce more collagen and other important proteins. As we age, cells don’t “hear” these messages as well, which negatively affects the production rate of collagen and hyaluronic acid.

We have long understood the role of collagen in reducing signs of skin aging. Now, studies have shown that heparan sulfate plays a major role in helping skin cells receive messages to make more collagen and thus improve the appearance of lines, wrinkles, and photodamage.

Where can I find heparan sulfate skin care?

There is a caveat to using heparan sulfate in skin care: it is too large to penetrate skin in its natural state. Recently, however, a smaller molecular weight version of heparan sulfate known as “ heparan sulfate analog” has been created that can penetrate into deeper layers of the skin. Studies show that topical products using these smaller heparan sulfate analogs can improve skin hydration and the appearance of lines and wrinkles. There is also evidence that this ingredient may help to promote faster wound healing.

There is a skin care brand called Senté that now offers topical heparan sulfate anti-aging products, but you need to purchase them through a doctor who carries them. I have used the Senté Dermal Repair Cream for rosacea patients who cannot tolerate retinoids and have seen promising results.


Heparan sulfate analog appears to be a safe and effective topical ingredient that could have many uses in anti-aging and possibly wound healing skin care products. Stay tuned for more updates on this exciting ingredient as more research becomes available. If you have any questions or ideas for columns, come tell me on facebook @BaumannCosmetic

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