The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly Effects of Sugar on Your Skin
When it comes to achieving flawless skin, many of us think about using products to smooth, hydrate, and clear up acne. However, we may overlook a key factor in a getting glowing complexion: the effects of sugar on skin.
You may already know that consuming too much added sugars can negatively affect your health and weight, but it can also wreck havoc on your skin. Read on to learn about the effects of sugar on skin and what you can do to minimize the damage of added sugars.
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Why Is Sugar Bad for Your Skin?
“Refined sugars are harmful for your body in many ways,” says Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. When you eat foods high in sugars, or simple carbs, your levels of insulin and blood sugar rise. Consuming excessive amounts of added sugars may lead to inflammation, acne, and aging skin.
Sugar and Inflammation
Sugar has a negative impact on inflammation in the body, and inflammation has a negative impact on skin clarity. Reducing refined sugars in your diet over three months or more may help support healthier looking skin.
Sugar and Acne
“High intakes of sugar have been associated with acne breakouts,” Zeichner says. A study of participants with mild to moderate acne found that those who followed a low glycemic load diet for 10 weeks saw improvements in skin.
Additionally, when you consume sugar and other high-glycemic foods, the hormone insulin-like growth factor 1 rises.
Sugar and Wrinkles
Too much added sugars may also lead to what dermatologists call “sugar sag,” explains Katta, who is also a clinical professor of dermatology at McGovern Medical School.
Studies have shown that consuming too much sugar can negatively impact collagen and elastin. Collagen helps keep our skin elastic, Katta explains. When the collagen fibers are weakened, your skin appears less taught.
High sugar intake over time can also increase advanced glycation end products (“AGEs”) in skin. AGEs can contribute to signs of aging in skin. Therefore, significantly reducing sugars in your diet may help lower glycation in skin in the long run.
Is Sugar Good for Your Skin?
There are two kinds of sugar: added sugar, and naturally occurring sugar. The former is what’s referenced above, and probably isn’t the best for your skin. The latter appears in foods naturally, and may not have as negative an impact on your skin as added sugars.
Foods with natural sugars, such as fruit and vegetables, also contain fiber, which can help promote health and healthy gut bacteria that can also help benefit our skin, Katta says. Colorful produce also is a source of antioxidants, vitamins, and phytonutrients, all of which support skin health. So don’t worry that your morning blueberries or afternoon pear will ruin your complexion.
Topical Benefits of Sugar on Skin
While eating added sugars has next to no benefits, using sugar topically may. Consider sugar scrubs and sugar waxing. “Because the surface of sugar is relatively smooth, it offers gentle manual exfoliation,” Zeichner explains. Sugar scrubs may be particularly good for sensitive areas of the body such as the lips, he adds.
As for sugar waxing, this involves combining sugar with lemon juice to create a wax-like mixture. After applying this to the skin, you let it harden and then remove it—along with your hair. “Many people feel that sugaring is a more gentle option for hair removal than traditional waxing,” Zeichner says.
How Much Sugar Is Too Much?
However, “the key isn’t so much how much sugar you eat, but how your body responds to sugar,” Katta says. “Everybody is different, and some people are more sensitive than others to the effects of added sugars.”
Can I Undo Damage to My Skin Done by Sugar?
Changing your diet can help benefit your health and your skin. Specifically, “eating a low glycemic index diet can help reduce the inflammation,” Katta explains. Inflammation can have a negative impact on skin.
For example, in a small study of men published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, those who went on a low-glycemic diet for 12 weeks saw improvements in their skin compared to a control group.
But you don’t have to eliminate carbs; instead, focus on replacing refined and processed carbs with whole grains, vegetables, and fruit and avoiding foods high in added sugar.
On the other hand, you cannot undo the damage caused to collagen, Katta says. “But if you are careful going forward, you can slow down that process and possibly avoid more damage,” she adds. Additionally, some of the substances in fruit and vegetables as well as herbs and spices may inhibit the production of AGEs.
Finally, keep in mind that diet is only one part of healthy skin. Sometimes medication is also needed, so talk to a dermatologist if you have concerns about your skin.