How Sugar Affects the Skin

by Emily Linehan on January 04, 2022

We hear it everywhere when it comes to healthy living: cut back on your sugar intake. Most of us know that excessive sugar in the diet has negative impacts on weight, heart health, and teeth... but did you know it also affects the skin?

When it comes to sugar, I'm talking about refined sugar specifically (also known as table sugar or granulated sugar). Refined sugar is in many processed foods, as well as pantry staples, and has little to no nutritional value at all. 

On the other hand, fruit (which is full of natural sugars) also contains vitamins, minerals, and fiber which are all essential in a healthy diet. 

In addition to having little to no nutritional value, refined sugar has serious impacts on the skin (and some that take years to show up).

How Refined Sugar Affects the Skin

Sugar Triggers Acne

For those of us who are acne-prone, sugar often plays a big role in our breakouts, and here's why:

Refined sugar absorbs very quickly into the bloodstream. When it does this, our blood sugar levels increase very quickly. In response to the rise in blood sugar levels, the body responds by rapidly spiking your insulin level in order to herd the blood sugars out of the bloodstream and into the cells. 

Unfortunately, high levels of insulin are a nightmare for acne-prone skin. 

The reason for this is that insulin makes androgen hormones. Androgen (testosterone) is a significant acne trigger by boosting sebum (oil) production on the face... resulting in breakouts. 

If you're acne prone, it's important to avoid (or even better yet, eliminate) any and all acne triggers to ensure that your skin clears and stays clear. Now, in today's day and age, it's nearly impossible to eliminate refined sugar altogether, but there are substitutes and alternatives that can help us avoid triggering refined sugar as much as possible.

Acne Safe Sugar Alternatives

Sugar Accelerates Aging on the Skin

Healthy sugars are a vital nutrient in our diet. The sugar that we digest is converted into fuel for our bodies, giving us the energy to go about our day. However, when we consume an excessive amount of sugar, an inflammatory response is created in our skin. This response is called Advanced Glycation End (or, fittingly: AGE, for short).

These excess sugar molecules attach themselves to the protein in our skin, which triggers inflammation. This attacks the collagen and elastic fibers in our skin (the elastic fibers are the tissue that keeps our skin firm!). This process, unfortunately, accelerates the aging process. 

This causes more than just wrinkles... you'll also see sagging skin and an overall loss of radiance, but not immediately. The effects of an overabundance of sugar in the diet begin to show up around 30 or 25, as sun damage and damage from environmental factors also begin to show. 

Luckily, we can slow down AGE (Advanced Glycation End) to help reverse (and also prevent!) premature aging with a few dietary changes! Avoiding refined sugar is the best way to start, however, the tips below also have a big impact:

  • Eliminate high-fructose corn syrup from your diet (it speeds up Glycation to 10x the rate of simple glucose!) 
  • Eat lots of fiber, especially from raw vegetables (it helps absorb AGEs!) 
  • Stick with good carbohydrates like whole grains and brown rice. When consumed, they produce less glucose. They're also absorbed more slowly by our bodies, so there isn't that bombarding of excess sugar I talked about above!

In conclusion, one of the best things we can do for the skin is to consume less (or no) refined sugar in our diets... after all... you're sweet enough already!

xoxo, Emme

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