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For Healthier Skin, Skip the Sugar

For Healthier Skin, Skip the Sugar

‘Tis the season . . . for extreme sugar intake. From Halloween right on through to New Year’s, we seem to get more than our share of sugar. We justify it because, after all, it’s the holidays. Many of our favorite treats are available only at this time of year, so we tend to indulge more than we probably should.

But our board-certified dermatologists in Jupiter think you should know what all that sugar can do to your skin.

The Sugar Effect

Besides the weight gain associated with consuming refined sugar, it has been implicated in numerous illnesses, from diabetes to heart disease to cancer.

As for your skin, sugar is also connected with causing or exacerbating numerous skin problems, including acne, rosacea, sagging skin, and wrinkles.

How can one great-tasting substance do all that damage?

When you consume sugar, the body breaks it down into glucose, raising your insulin levels and causing inflammation throughout the body, including on the skin’s surface. This is because of sugar’s high acid levels, which put the body’s blood sugar on a roller-coaster ride of highs and lows, thereby leading to damaging inflammation.

In addition, through a process called glycation, the sugar molecules attach themselves to protein and fat molecules, including collagen and elastin, the two proteins responsible for keeping your skin plump and wrinkle-free.

The Mechanism

“Essentially what happens is that sugar attaches itself to any protein in the body and produces harmful molecules called ‘advanced glycation end products,’ ” Dr. Ross Perry, a cosmetic doctor at the Cosmedics clinic in London, told the Daily Mail.

These AGEs permanently damage both collagen and elastin, causing them to become more rigid, thus causing your skin to thin, wrinkle, and discolor, he explained.

“Normally, collagen bulks out the skin and gives it a younger plump look,” he said. “Elastin gives the skin recoil so that when you smile or frown your skin goes back to how it was. If you persistently eat a high-sugar diet, then as a result the collagen and elastin will become more rigid, so it will become easier for wrinkles to form and the skin will lose that youthful plumpness.”

And that’s not all. Sugar is also a powerful drying agent, according to nutritionist Shona Wilkinson.

“It not only boosts sebum production but also affects water binding,” she told Harper’s Bazaar.

“This can make your skin look less bouncy and grayish, adding to those unwanted dark circles around your eyes,” she said.

Beyond Wrinkles

But sugar can damage your skin in other ways, as well.

The inflammation triggered by sugar can also produce redness and rashes, along with uneven skin color. In addition, several studies have shown a definite correlation between a high sugar intake and the onset or worsening of both acne and psoriasis. 

Finally, excess sugar consumption can cause you to develop insulin resistance, which can show up on your skin in the form of excess hair growth and dark patches on your neck and body creases.

We don’t recommend you banish sweet treats from your life forever, especially during this time of year. But if you practice moderation, you may find that the positive results show up on your skin fairly quickly.

Ways to Cut Back

So what can you do about sugar’s detrimental effects on your skin?

The easy part is the most obvious: Cut out the candies, cookies, cakes, pastries, and sugary drinks. If you can do this, you will notice an improvement in your skin’s texture and appearance within a matter of days.

The harder part is hunting down all the sugar that hides in so many processed foods. These include white bread, white rice, white pasta, ketchup, beer, pizza, peanut butter, canned soups, sauces, yogurt, crackers . . . the list goes on and on, and includes most packaged foods. So check the labels before you use them.

Another culprit is fruit juice, according to Dr. Stefanie Williams, dermatologist and author of Look Great, Not Done! The Art & Science of Aging Well.” 

As she explained to Harper’s Bazaar, “Fructose [the sugar found in fruit] is more active in glycation than glucose! So don’t drink fruit juices regularly and try to moderate your consumption of fruit.”

Humans evolved for millennia without sugar in their diets and did just fine. It’s just that in our modern culture, it seems to be everywhere.

That’s why cutting out—or even cutting back—isn’t easy, but if you can, your skin will thank you for it. And once you have it under control, it’s fine to sample the occasional holiday goodie.