What Sugar is Really Doing to Your Skin


We all know that when it comes to our bodies, sugar is a sly villain. Falling prey to its siren song like a Oompa Loompa ditty gives our taste buds sweet pleasure plus a jolt of addictive sugar rush…before wreaking serious havoc on our waistlines, the entire metabolic function, heart and brain (insulin resistance is associated with Alzheimer’s, remember?). Newsflash: If increased risks of a cardiac attack or diabetes haven’t curbed your carb-craving, those premature wrinkles and recalcitrant pimples peeking at you in the mirror just might.


It’s a bitter pill to swallow. But that innocent-looking macaroon beckoning a bite will go straight for your waist line as well as your skin.

Lest you rue the day you first tasted a Krispy Kreme, note: Refined sugar isn’t the only culprit. Health-nut staples such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables turn to glucose when digested too—albeit in less damaging fashion. And even if we could completely eliminate all types of sugar from our diets, we shouldn’t: It’s an essential fuel for cells and energy metabolism, critical to survival. Here’s how indulging in sweet treats can give you a ‘sugar-face’.

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Sugar can have effects that go beyond the waistline

1. Acne & Rosacea

Understanding the glycemic index, the scale which determines how quickly blood sugar levels rise after ingesting particular foods (hence, the high- and low-glycemic labels), is key to making the right choices for your skin when it comes to sugar. Aside from increasing the effects of aging, glycation can also exacerbate skin conditions like acne and rosacea.

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2. Unwanted Hair Growth

Plus, the more sugar you eat, the more likely it is you’ll develop insulin resistance, which can manifest as excess hair growth (hirsutism) and dark patches on the neck and in body creases.

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Sugar can have effects that go beyond the waistline

3. Large Pores

It also creates more testosterone. “Testosterone makes pores larger, skin is oilier, it turns your beautiful female skin into ruddy football player skin,” Dr. Lancer says.

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4. Saggy skin

Sugar triggers insulin production, which triggers protein-utilization malfunctions. Sugar acts as a kind of signal scrambler, affecting the production of the proteins and amino acids that build up collagen and elasticity. “Sugars bind to the amino acid chains and they gunk up the work,” explains Dr. Low Chai Ling, founder of SW1 Clinic.

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5. Dull skin

Going back to testosterone, too much can harden blood vessels. Sugar is a dehydrating agent, so it increases oil production. It also affects water binding so your skin looks less perky and bouncy, and doesn’t appear as oxygenated. “The skin becomes sallow, lackluster and you get those unwanted dark circles,” explains Dr. Low. “ On top of that, you get mild swelling and breakouts.”

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A 2002 study published in Archives of Dermatology shows strong evidence that certain foods can cause breakouts. Noting that acne is primarily a “Western” disease, researchers studied 1200 people in Papua New Guinea and 115 people in Eastern Paraguay (people who eat a diet of fresh plant foods and lean meat they raise themselves) and didn’t see a single pimple.

Taking a leaf from these findings, uber-couple Tom Brady and Gisele Bundchen swears by an anti-inflammation diet that omits sugar. Is not eating sugar why Tom and Gisele look so beautiful? Let’s face it, Tom Brady and Gisele Bündchen would probably still look like Tom and Gisele (albeit a puffier version) even if they ate a soufflé every day. But their famous anti-inflammation diet does rule out sugar — inflammation is lifestyle-created and can be caused by stress, lack of sleep or relaxation, and, yes, sugar.

Giving up sugar can promote healthier skin with effects apparent as soon as a few days after.

According to Dr Low, people who give up sugar see changes within 72 to 96 hours. “They’ll feel better, their color will look better, their skin won’t be so oily and they won’t be so dry. Their circles will be reduced, perkier.”

In any case, great skin is made up of a combination of factors including genetics, skin care, and environmental and lifestyle factors. Asked to rank sugar on a list of good-skin “enemies” from bad to worst, Dr. Low placed environmental toxins like air and ultraviolet light as first, inflammatory foods as second, stress as third, lack of sleep as fourth, and general lifestyle, including skin-care routine and sugar, as last. So if you want that gummy bear, go ahead.

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