What are the real effects of sugar on skin? Read on to find out why cutting sugar out of your diet is a crucial step in any anti-aging or anti-acne routine!
Speaking from firsthand experience—sugar can be hard to resist. Who doesn’t love candy at the movies or even a taro bubble tea on a hot day? But sugar isn’t just part of treating yourself to a little pick me up, it becomes a huge factor in your relationship with your skin. More importantly ingesting a lot of processed sugars can be the root of so many skin concerns—including irritation, rosacea, acne, and aging.
Sugar can cause breakouts:
Sugar exacerbates conditions such as acne and rosacea. The glycemic index is a scale which determines how fast your blood sugar levels rise after ingesting something. “There is some evidence to show that high-glycemic index foods (that rapidly increase blood sugar) can trigger acne formation in skin,” says Rachel Nazarian, a dermatologist with the Schweiger Dermatology Group. “The process is likely through the trigger in insulin levels following intake of sugar which may increase activity in oil glands, leading to pimple formation.”
If you eat a sugar heavy, high-glycemic diet you can develop insulin resistance which can lead to aging spots and excess hair growth. Not very glamorous. That is why to keep your insulin—and therefore acne—under control, you want to stick to low-glycemic foods.
“For many people, dairy can cause acne,” says J. Renae Norton, a clinical psychologist and eating disorder specialist. “In addition, there is some data showing that insulin levels may increase the likelihood of acne, according to author Valorie Treloar, MD, who co-authored The Clear Skin Diet.” So just by eating less sugar and dairy, you can help to keep your insulin levels more under control.”
Sugar can age you:
As I learned during my ketogenic diet, eliminating simple carbohydrates such as sugar can do wonders for the skin. These types of carbohydrates make your insulin spike. These spikes can cause inflammation in the body, which causes the production of enzymes that break down collagen and elastin. Collagen and elastin are responsible for keeping your skin young-looking and firm since they help attach your skin to the muscles in your face.
Norton explains further, “Sugar ages us. Here is a quote from my soon-to-be-released book on eating clean: ‘One of the threats when it comes to premature aging, wrinkles, and hair loss is Advanced Glycation End products (AGEs). It is caused by too much sugar. Under normal conditions, we have proteins, which we need for performing most biological functions, and sugar, which we need for energy. If the amount of sugar gets out of balance, it acts a lot like a free radical attacking the protein. When this happens it creates a non-functioning glycated version of the protein, called an AGE.’”
But what about sugar ON skin?
If you are thinking of slathering on a homemade concoction of Domino sugar and olive oil, I’m gonna stop you right there. Don’t put that anywhere near your face. Sugars are not unlike DIY oil cleansers, in that the ones you use in your kitchen were not developed or intended for skin.
Nazarian explains: “Sugar granules are actually quite harsh for skin: the sharp and jagged edges are often used for at-home facials but can be very traumatizing to facial skin. This mechanism of physical exfoliation can break delicate facial tissue and cause redness, inflammation and scarring.” So if you have especially sensitive skin you will want to steer clear.
That being said, there are a lot of great products out there, such as the Skinfood Black Sugar Strawberry Mask Wash Off that utilize black sugar as an exfoliant in a way that can be beneficial to skin. Not all sugars are created equal—black sugar granules are much softer than the white sugar used for baking. Black sugar also provides your skin with a bunch of vitamin B, which helps promote cell growth. With any product, start out using it sparingly and gently until you are sure of how your skin reacts.
Diet alone can’t solve everything with your skin. But combined with a stellar routine and proper self care, you can make big improvements in your skin by taking very tiny steps. It’s also important to understand the effects of putting an ingredient in your body versus on the outside.