How Sugar Is Ruining Your Skin + How To Stop It
How To Stop Sugar From Destroying Your Skin
Your sugar habit could be trashing your skin. Yep, it turns out sweets and sugary foods can cause way more skin (and total body) damage than sugar pimples. Learn what makes sugar bad for skin, whether or not you need to stop eating sugar, and how you can protect and reverse sugar damage on your skin.
So you’re getting dressed and ready to go out - your clothes are all set, shoes on, key ready - you turn to take one last look in the mirror, and boom. You notice that your face looks dry, tired, and pimply, and there are signs of acne and even eczema - otherwise known as sugar’s side effects on your skin. 🤯
This can feel like the worst feeling in the world, not only because you feel less confident and your skin hurts, but also because you know it’s caused something so supposedly easy to fix - your diet.
And sheesh… I know this all too well.
Sugar & Skin
Most people expect that when they enter their 20s, they’ll grow out of certain things; like braces, picky food tastes, and skin problems. A question I get asked a lot by my Goal Getters is why their skin is still prone to blemishes well into their 30s. I always start with one question: have you grown out of your childhood love of sugar?
You’ll usually find that health experts will advise you to limit the amount of sugar in your diet on a daily basis due to its effect on your waistline, but another super important reason to watch your intake is that sugar is really bad for your skin. 🍦
A while back, it was thought by most that eating a lot of fatty foods would cause acne and other skin issues, but in reality, it’s the SUGAR in those food that wreak havoc, from breakouts to premature aging.
In This Article:
Though, considering sugar can cause everything from diabetes to heart disease, it’s no wonder that sugar affects the skin so negatively.
Also, due to diabetes research, we now know that excess glucose in the bloodstream causes wrinkles, brown spots, yellowing skin, and sagging among much more (and it only gets worse from there - I actually did an entire post on whether or not you should also reduce sugar from your diet here based solely on health concerns - did you know that sugar can cause cancer?).
🤔 So before you decide to reach for your next sugary decadent treat, read on...
I’ve been dealing with acne and irritation since I was ten years old - basically half my life - so as you can imagine, I know that breakouts always have a way of making you feel self-conscious.
The worst part is that it’s not just your perception of how you look, but it’s also that painful sensitive physical feeling. 😢
I was plagued by this issue BADLY for years. And not just your average acne breakouts - I’m talking severe skin issues.
I mean, luckily I’ve managed to never really let my skin bother the way I feel about myself, BUT because of the pain and swelling, I’ve always tried searched for a ‘cure’, trying every moisturizer, face mask, and serum out there - but to no avail. 😞
Oh, and to make it worse, some of these ‘magical’ ointments are full of nasty chemicals I even can’t pronounce, some which even made my face itch.
So I committed a few years ago to cleaning up my diet (cutting out a lot of sugar) in order to lose some weight and *feel* healthier, but what also happened was that I saw an amazing difference in my skin.
It cleared up to the best it had been in years, and most importantly I had a dramatic decrease in that flared pain I had been suffering.
Turns out dietary changes play a HUGE role in the appearance and sensation of your skin.
Skin problems, such as acne, wrinkles, and roughness, can be cleared up by simply shaking up your diet - and what I found was the BIGGEST shake up I could make to my diet to help my skin, was to drastically cut down on sugar (by the way, I've compiled a list of the other dietary changes you can make to get amazingly great skin changes here).
Oh… and if you don’t know how to start incorporating these changes, don’t have the time, or want some guidance, I’ve created a FREE 7 Day Glowing Skin Detox Challenge. It has easy, step-by-step ways to incorporate these amazing diet changes into your busy day without the hassle of planning (it’s all done for you) - join here!
And I realise I’ve got a bit off track…
So yeah, I used to have sugar habit - I would always have nagging sugar cravings that triggered a pattern of destructive eating and self-sabotage.
Before I knew it, I had gained over 30 pounds. 😲
I was devastated, I felt insecure, stuck, stressed, out-of-control and unhappy.
The American Heart Association advises that women consume only consume six teaspoons of sugar daily, and some sweets I was indulging in accounted for more than two day's servings worth of sugar.
I never even thought twice about it. 😱
Things got worse. It wasn’t just sugar pimples I had to worry about - I developed many ailments caused by sugar, and became so tired of being at war with my body. This is when, as I mentioned before, I committed to changing up my diet, which included fighting my way to cut out sugar.
It was a long, hard journey.
I knuckled down, and went on a quest to change my life. It all started with tons of research. I started sloughing through masses of information containing different ideas, methods, and lifestyle practices, and I began testing them on myself.
Eventually, bingo! I stuck with it and was able to distill what actually, really, really worked into one effective and proven plan, and that's the plan I just had to share with the world.
I turned it into my 9-Step System on what to do if you want to cut sugar out of your life, and get your control over your cravings - what I ended up calling my Cut The Sugar Program™!
When we ingest too much refined sugar (sugar found in sweets, soda, breads and many pre-packaged foods), we cause an insulin spike in our bodies. That spike of insulin causes inflammation, which in turn creates chronic stomach issues, joint problems and SKIN ISSUES!
Reducing sugar intake by two-thirds decreases inflammatory acne lesions and redness by as early as six days.
Translation? Less sugar = better skin.
Now we know sugar is bad for your skin, let’s clearly break-down exactly what your candy filled diet is doing to your complexion!
Let’s go - what exactly makes sugar bad for skin?
What Is Glycation?
Hold your horses, it's gonna get a little sciency 🔬 (we’re talking biology) in here…
So when there’s an excess of sugar in the body, those sugar molecules can link up with protein molecules, such as protein and lipids, and these sugar by-products stop your cells from functioning properly and turn into advanced glycation end products (AGEs), which are not natural in the body.
AGEs can attach to collagen (collagen gives structure to your skin and all other connective tissue - your body produces less of it as you get older, which results in fine lines and wrinkles) and elastin (elastin helps skin to return to its original position when it is poked or pinched), causing wrinkles, inflammation, and making all kinds of skin conditions from rosacea to acne, ten times worse.
The process I just explained is known as glycation, and also causes our immune systems to work overtime to get our systems back to normal.
Basically, sugar = glycation, and glycation = skin aging. 😵
Long-term affects of glycation can be brutal.
High sugar diets can actually cause the type of collagen in our skin to change from a type III (strong) to a type I (weak), and weaker collagen tends to make skin look less supple. Add in the fact that AGEs can make us more susceptible to sun damage, and more vulnerable to environmental stressors such as pollution and cigarette smoke, and you’ve got yourself a skin (and body) disaster.
Listen up refined sugar: you are terrible for our appearance, so get out of here!
You thought Glycation was the only cause for concern? Well, guess what?
Unfortunately, it is just one of the reasons sugar is bad for your skin.
Sugar Causes Inflammation
When you eat something super sugary - like a yummy slice of vanilla confetti cake 🎂 - or some simple carbs - like a white bread sandwich and a bag of crunchy potato chips 🍟 - your body will immediately produce a super surge of insulin to try to help stabilize your blood sugar levels.
But, when insulin increases, so does inflammation. Increased inflammation will exacerbate psoriasis, rosacea, eczema and other inflammatory skin conditions.
Sugar Increases the Amount of Breakouts & Causes Acne
A sugary diet creates the perfect environment for acne to thrive, hence the less-than-ideal sugar pimples 😅.
First off, that inflammation sugar causes in your body makes blemishes extra red and painful. A diet high in sugar also suppresses your body’s white blood cells—the soldiers responsible for fighting off infection.
This leaves you vulnerable to acne-causing bacteria lurking on your skin.
The increase in inflammation also causes your body to produce stress hormones like cortisol which boost your skin’s oil production, giving bacteria the greasy environment they need to grow and populate.
Also, your body sweats out the toxins from sugary food as a way to get rid of them internally, meaning that the more toxins you consume, the more toxins will seep out onto your skin and cause breakouts. 🤢😳
Sugar Causes Allergic Reactions to Spike
This one is a pain. Sugar causes annoying, dreaded flare-ups in allergies and eczema - though, if you suffer from one of these, you’ve probably already realised this.
Again, sugar stimulates inflammation - as you can see, inflammation is a base cause of most of your skin issues - and withholds white blood cells, causing your body to be more vulnerable to even mild allergens.
If you suffer from some kind of food intolerance or sensitivity, you need to be extra careful with your sugar as it can make your allergies become much worse. 😬
Many doctors recommend staying away from processed sugars and simple carbs - something I wholly agree with - but fruits, high sugar vegetables (like carrots) and whole grains are fine; they have a high sugar content, but they also contain antioxidants, fiber and many other essential nutrients that are great for a healthy diet.
If you were thinking all these previous reasons for cutting down on sugar for skin were scary, listen to this.
According to information from a board-certified dermatologist Cheryl Lee Eberting, the sugar by-products aka AGEs we talked about (advanced glycation end products) can also cause the following conditions:
A skin condition characterized by dark, velvety patches in body folds and creases, like the back of the neck, the armpits, groin, the folds of the elbows and the backs of the fingertips.
Necrobiosis lipoidica diabeticorum:
A yellowish-reddish, waxy plaque usually seen on the anterior shins (lower legs). And to make it worse 25% of patients with this condition develop lesions before the onset of diabetes.
A rare, self-limiting skin condition defined by progressive thickening and hardening of the skin, usually on the areas of the upper back, neck, shoulders and face.
Whoah… dude that’s scary! 😰
The question is now:
My answer? Would be NO.
Hold on… don’t go eating a celebratory Oreo - there still is much to consider. 💭
You WILL be able to eat sugar without having suuupppeerrr bad skin (as with most foods, a little bit of sugar won’t hurt as a treat), but you’ll need to get back control over it so that you can choose to enjoy sugar on your own terms, without bingeing, and achieve a healthier, balanced and active lifestyle. (#noguilt)
Good skin or bad skin, you don’t want to feel like you're just living for your health and not for yourself. 🥰
Your life needs to be one where it’s all about your quality of life - you need to moderate sugar so you can still feel great with your skin, BUT not deny yourself all sugar.
It’s just not realistic that you’ll never eat sugar again - and life is for living… am I right? 🙏
Sound too good to be true?
Not at all, and I know because I’ve achieved it - and you can do the same!
I like to limit my sugar consumption to once or twice per week, usually at the weekend. 🍰
That means for 5-6 days, I eat nothing with any added sugar (and limit my fruit intake) - no store bought breads, no processed foods, and definitely no sweets.
If you have store-bought foods that are important in your daily/weekly routine, but contain added sugar, I highly suggest you try making it at home (or try a sugar free sub).
Not only will it taste great, but it will also be both better for your skin AND your overall health! #InspiritedGoalGetters
There are some really yummy swap-out recipes you can try. For example, craving ice-cream? Swap it out with my yummy, delicious, and oh so healthy creamy fruit power-popsicle. Or wake up Saturday morning and fire-up the pans for my super-fluffy pancakes with 11 sugar-free versions of your favourite toppings!
How to make your skin glow naturally.
First of all, I want you to check out my compilation of diet changes (outside of simply cutting back on sugar) that you can make to improve your skin here - oh, and it comes with a free glowing skin cleanse. 👈
But if you’ve made a pledge to better your skin naturally (GREAT!) there are also some quick tips minimizing the risk of sugar of your skin NATURALLY that I want to share.
Let’s put our shoulders to the wheel, shall we?
Cut Out Corn Syrup for Better Skin
So, clearly, limiting your intake of sugar is the first line of defense against the aging effects of glycation, but you need to completely stay away from high-fructose corn syrup and corn syrup (that means you shouldn’t eat it AT ALL - even in moderation). 😐
This chemically produced sugar is super toxic and believed to produce a super abundance of AGEs - it’s found in everything from sodas to pre-packaged foods.
Avoid High Glucose Food & Increase Veggie Intake to Avoid Skin Destruction
Stay away from refined, high-in-glucose foods like white bread, white pasta, chips, pretzels, & dried fruits.
These foods quickly brake down in our guts, causing our blood to subsequently surge with sugar - leading to a cascade of destruction.
Substitute with low-glycemic-index foods like multigrain bread, quinoa, barley, sweet potatoes, beans, veggies and lean proteins.
Before you completely rule out sugar-rich fruits like grapes and cherries, remind yourself that moderated fruit servings daily have a number of valid nutritional purposes and that high-glycemic foods and refined carbohydrates remain the BIG threats. 🍞
Also when eating your veggies and moderated daily serving of fruit, try eating fruits and vegetables rich in antioxidants - which are good for the skin. 🍓
Examples include blueberries, kidney beans (well, I suppose this actually counts as a legume), cranberries, artichokes, blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries.
Protect Your Skin from the Sun
Another thing to do is to make sure you apply sunscreen if you’re going to be outdoors for long periods of time. ☀️
Of course, I always say a bit of sun exposure everyday is good for you, but if you know you’re gonna be outside in direct sunlight for more than 30 minutes, consider using a high-quality organic sunscreen.
Now you know some good prevention tips, you may be wondering what you should do once the damage has already been done? Don’t despair if your sweet tooth has already given you a head start on aging.
Positive action can help you begin to see some positive results.
Start with A Skin Cleanse
I totally suggest going on an absolute cleanse for a week; one clear of sugar and full of skin boosting foods.
If you don’t know how to start incorporating these changes, don’t have the time, or want some guidance, I’ve created a FREE 7 Day Glowing Skin Detox Challenge.
It has easy, step-by-step ways to incorporate these amazing diet changes into your busy day without the hassle of planning (it’s all done for you)!
It also has seven of my exclusive Sip Your Way to A Glowing Complexion with Smoothies recipes. By the end, of you won’t just glow, you’ll shine and feel fabulous! Join here!
Add Skin Boosting Vitamins to Your Diet
Consider adding more B1 and B6 vitamins to your diet, as many studies have shown that these vitamins help inhibit AGEs.
Here are the best sources of vitamins B1 and B6:
Brewers yeast is one of the most fantastic sources of B1, along with wheat germ, brown rice and oatmeal, and B6 can be found in dark leafy greens, cantaloupe, oranges, and papayas.
One question you need to ask yourself is, ‘are my skin creams and lotions bad for my skin?’. Yes, please listen up!
I know that your local drugstore or expensive department store may try to say to you that all you need is a 'magical' cream or serum, which will reverse skin damage - but it is not reality.
It’s just some big company trying to make money from our insecurities and suffering. Most of the time they are full of toxic chemicals that are harmful to your health. 🤦♂️
The best way to save your skin is through the same way we damage it - what we put into our bodies. There’s no miracle man-made solution.
But, I do also remember that you still need to moisturize and exfoliate your skin - so I suggest using natural, organic products.
You can even try using pure homemade ones (which are, in my mind, the best), and moisturize with plain organic coconut oil, as then you’ll know exactly what you’re putting on your skin. 😇
Ironically, the same thing that is trashing your skin will also make it glow: SUGAR.
Yep that’s right. I actually have a great (and pure) exfoliating scrub recipe for you, but I’ll get to that in a sec. ⏱️
This might be a question you’re asking yourself if you don’t want to give up sugar, and a good question, it is. Note my Yoda reference there? *awkward silence*
I suggest that when you do have a sugary treat on your treat day, or if you do have given into the temptation of a little candy, make sure you take an organic B-vitamin supplement straight after. It will help you to immediately help mitigate the effects of the sugar and prevent those nasty aforementioned sugar pimples.
As I said before, Vitamin B-1 and B-6 inhibit the protein-destroying effects of AGEs.
Ingesting sugar may be harmful to your skin, but it turns out that when you put it on your skin, it actually works wonders. 👼
I use it for my skin scrub all the time. I discovered a while back (when getting my Google on) that sugar is an excellent ingredient in skincare. That’s right. After trying out many recipes for scrubs, I found one that hits the spot for my skin.
We’ll get to that in a moment, but first let’s talk about beauty benefits this sweet stuff has to offer:
1. Sugar Scrubs Hydrate Your Skin
Sugar is a natural humectant; basically this means that it draws moisture from the environment into the skin. When you apply sugar products to the skin, they'll actually help hydrate your skin and keep it moisturized.
2. Sugar Scrub Makes Your Skin Look Younger
Sugar is also a natural source of glycolic acid, which is the holy grail for exfoliation. It effectively removes the outermost layer of dead cells from the complexion, revealing brighter, fresher skin.
Products that contain glycolic acid are used often to treat scarring, sun-damage, skin discoloration and signs of aging - like fine lines and wrinkles.
It breaks through the skin and breaks down the glue type substance that bonds skin cells, causing cell turnover and generating fresher, younger-looking skin.
But listen up… 👂
Because glycolic acid (all AHAs) exfoliate the top layer of skin, make sure you always follow with a sunscreen if you are going out during daylight hours to avoid damaging newly tender skin.
If buying over-the-counter products - which I believe you should - make sure your product only contains less than a 10 percent concentration of glycolic acid, because it can be irritating to certain skin types.
3. Sugar Scrubs Make Great Exfoliants
Sugar has small particles, which make it an excellent topical exfoliant - perfect for exfoliating dead surface skin cells and reveal the glowing, healthy skin underneath.
4. Sugar Scrubs Are Better Than Salt Scrubs
Sugar scrubs also have a few benefits over salt scrubs. 🧂
One being that the small sugar granules I just mentioned above, are generally softer and gentler than salt. Salt’s slight roughness can cause microscopic tears in the skin, which we don’t want.
Also, because sugar has natural humectants properties, sugar scrubs tend to be more hydrating than salt scrubs, which can strip skin of natural oils.
If you decided to choose a sugar scrub, make sure to look for a key ingredient: brown sugar.
It’s softer than granulated sugar, so when using the scrubs for your face and sensitive skin opt for brown sugar. Raw sugar (known as turbinado sugar) is naturally coarse, so reserve it for the body.
Tip: do a small patch test if you aren't sure how your skin will react. ✨
You can also make a simple sugar scrub at home using basic brown sugar, oil (grape seed oil, olive oil, coconut oil), and a few drops of your favorite essential oil for a yummy fragrance.
You only need to use the sugar scrub about twice per week.
They are great to use in the winter, since exfoliating the top layer of skin helps moisturizers work more deeply into the skin and hydrate longer. I love using the gentle smell of lavender and mixing it up with a few drops of citrus essential oil lemon, for an awakening kick. (Recipe below) Plus, it’s my favourite sugar scrub for face acne (which I have a tendency to suffer from).
Lavender has always had a special place in my heart.
My mother loves using the smell because it reminds her of her very special grandmother’s house - apparently she had a lavender plant sitting in a window of her house. Unfortunately, I never got to meet my great grandmother, but my mum has always told me many sweet and endearing stories about her. 👵
After using my homemade sugar scrub on my face and body for a while, and I’ve been shocked by how silky smooth it makes my skin feel! 🛏️ I also love the gentle lavender smell - it’s really soothing as I go to sleep at night.
A high-sugar diet won't do your skin many favors, but incorporating it into your beauty routine can deliver some pretty sweet results.
Sweet? Get what I did there... sweet?!
Also, I recently found out that my combo of essential oils has some great benefits for skin on its own too! I won't get into the details now, but here are some of the benefits of lavender and lemon essential oils:
Lemon essential oil skin benefits:
1. Skin cleansing
2. Skin rejuvenating
3. Acne fighting
4. Anti-aging benefits
5. Facial toning
Lavender essential oil skin benefits:
1. Heals dry chapped skin
2. Gets rid of dandruff
3. Detoxifies the skin
4. Sunburn relief
5. Soothes acne
6. Great Facial toner
7. Provides anti aging benefits
8. Alleviates skin infections
They both also work as a great perfume - their fresh scents mask any bad odors and absorb sweat on top of refreshing your skin! Can I get a high five?
And now as promised, here is my personal recipe for my yummy smelling, glowing skin Lemon & Lavender Sugar Skin Boosting Scrub.
1 ½ tablespoon brown sugar
1/2 tablespoon oil (grape seed oil, olive oil, or melted coconut oil)
3 to 5 drops essential oils (lemon and/or lavender)
Large Batch – Approximately. 4 Uses
1/4 cup and 2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons oil (grape seed oil, olive oil, or melted coconut oil)
8 to 10 drops essential oils (lemon and/or lavender)
If using coconut oil, scoop 4 Tablespoons of coconut oil into a microwave safe bowl and microwave it on high until it's completely melted (about 20 seconds).
Combine sugar and pour the oil or melted coconut oil into the sugar and mix well to combine. If too wet, add small amounts of sugar and mix until you get a consistency you like.
Add the drops of essential oils and mix well.
Scoop it into a small glass mason jar and cover with a tight fitting lid.
Mix together all ingredients well.
Massage onto face, being careful not to get too close to your eyes.
Use 1-2 times a week.
If you have extra, store the sugar scrub in an airtight container or small glass mason jar and cover with a tight fitting lid, leave on the counter for up to 11 days or store in your fridge for about 1 and half months.
Note: Lemon essential oil is photosensitive. So do not apply it on your skin that you are then going to expose to sunlight. Use it indoors or at night time for your skin. If you’re planning on heading out, wash the area you’ve applied the lemon oil to very thoroughly.
Where to Get Essential Oil: Ensure to purchase 100& pure high quality lavender and lemon essential oil and avoid the diluted and synthetic versions.
Take care: Test a patch of skin with lavender and lemon essential oil on your inner wrist/elbow to ensure you are not allergic to it. If you notice any itching, swelling, rash or redness, immediately wash off with cold water and do not use lavender essential oil on your body.
I really do hope that now you have read this and come to understand a bit more about just what sugar is doing - to not only your SKIN, but also your health - that you can now get to work on becoming your healthiest self (with clear skin, of course)!
However, making your health a priority isn’t just about losing weight and looking great - it’s also about FEELING great.
You’re not just cutting down on sugar to drop a pant size - you’re helping your allergies, decreasing lethargy, soothing your acne, and improving your overall health. That’s what is important.
I know you may feel guilty about taking the time to tackle the sugar in your diet and to focus on YOUR own health - I get it, you have family, obligations to friends, work, study, the list goes on - but now is the time for you to work on some self care.
Want some extra tips + help on cutting back sugar for good? Check out my FREE ‘Ultimate Guide to Crushing Your Sugar Cravings’ Downloadable Guide
Get started on effortlessly breaking your sugar reliance/addiction for good with help + support. AND, most importantly, while maintaining a healthy balance between your mind and your body - because low-sugar living shouldn’t feel like deprivation.
Your health determines what kind of life you lead and the way you feel about yourself.
You are worthy of feeling and looking your best. You are worthy of taking time for self care. You are worthy of making sure you are your healthiest and happiest you.
You CAN do this.
Reduce or cut out sugar and your mind and body and SKIN will thank you.
That’s it from me, happy glowing!
p.s. don’t forget to share your sugar and skin experiences with me on Instagram @ItsIsabelleM using #InspiritedGoalGetters