The effects of sugar on your skin

sugar skin acne aging

As a Holistic Skin and Health Coach, I usually get asked a variation of the following questions:

  • Which foods do I need to eat to have clear skin? (click here to see my answers)

  • Which foods do I need to avoid to stop breaking out? (usually asked in a tone of despair)

If the last question is on your mind, fret not my friend, because I’ve got you covered.

In this post, I’ll explain to you how cutting down on sugar can help you clear your skin and get your inner glow back.


The types of sugar to cut down on

First off, let’s be clear on something.

I’m not saying you should cut ALL sources of sugar. (You can breathe a sigh of relief).

Instead, I’m inviting you to be conscious of the sources of sugar you choose, and how much you decide to consume. Because like most things in life, it’s the quality and quantity that counts.


Eat less of these sugar-rich foods:

  • Refined sugar added to pre-packaged foods, such a white sugar, fructose, corn syrups, high fructose corn syrup, and other chemical names referring to the sweet stuff. Just Google “names for sugar”, and you’ll find that sugar has many disguises.

  • Carbohydrates (also known as “carbs”) are a source of sugar because once they are digested, the body breaks them down into “glucose”, a type a sugar your body can use for fuel.

    • While carbs have gotten an overall bad reputation in the last few years (looking at you Atkins and Keto), not all carbs are created equal.

    • You’ll want to eat less of the “manufactured” or “refined” carbs that are found in white bread, pizza crusts, pasta, cookies, Fruit Loops and the neon Pop-Tarts of our 90’s childhood. Not only are they devoid of nutrients or fiber, but they also release higher amounts of sugar into your body than “whole-food” carbs do.

    • Examples of whole-food carbs you want to include in your diet are quinoa, wild rice, sweet potatoes, beans, and fruits.

  • Honey, maple syrup, pureed dates, and other natural sweeteners added to food. Even if it’s “natural” and better quality than “refined” sugar, you’ll want to mindful of how much you’re consuming in a day.


Instead, get most of your sugar from:

  • Whole fruits (1-2 portions a day. Avoid juices or purées.)

  • Whole-food carbohydrates (About 1/2 to 1 cup per meal)


Sugar Face: what excess sugar is doing to your skin

Dr. Nigma Talib, a naturopath who works with celebrities, has popularized the term “Sugar Face” to describe the effects that excess sugar has on the skin.

Supposedly, she can look at someone’s face and determine if they have a sweet tooth by the appearance and the location of their blemishes and wrinkles. (Interesting skill to have!)

Which leaves us with this question: What signs does excess sugar leave on your face?


Sugar and pre-mature aging:

When we eat a diet high in natural and artificial sugars, the excess sugar molecules that our body doesn’t require for fuel can attach themselves to collagen and elastin.

If you recall from my last article, these bad boys are protein structures involved in keeping your skin supple, strong and basically looking like a super-star.

When sugar attaches itself to collagen and elastin, it prevents them from doing their job correctly. (Kind of like that chatty co-worker who won’t let you concentrate on that report due in an hour).

The result of sub-par collagen and elastic productivity: wrinkles and sagging skin. Yikes!

The process of sugar attaching to protein is called advanced glycation end products. And coincidentally, as if nature was trying to give us a sign, the acronym for this process is AGE.

Therefore, it’s fitting to say that excess sugar causes you to AGE!


Sugar and acne:

A meal high in sugar and refined carbohydrates (bread, pasta, flour-based foods) leads to a high level of sugar in the blood once the food is digested.

This sudden increase in sugar sends a signal to your body to produce a hormone called insulin, whose role is to mop up the excess sugar in the blood and bring it to cells who needs it for fuel.

Once the sugar level in the blood is back to normal, insulin production goes down until your next meal.

Your body’s smart and can handle the occasional Sunday 3-stories pancake brunch. However, if you consume frequent meals high in sugar and refined carbs, this could lead to constant high levels of insulin.

Why this is bad news for your lovely face: Constant high levels of insulin will increase your production of testosterone and androgens (often coined the “male hormones”), which then sends a signal to your skin to produce more oil. The end result: higher risk of clogged pores, blackheads, and breakouts.




How do you cut down on sugar?

Now that you understand the effects of sugar on your skin (and have decided that you never want to be called a Sugar Face), let’s focus on some practical strategies to reduce your sugar intake.

  • Cut down on obvious sources of sugar:

    • If you add 1 pack of sugar to your coffee, try adding ½ pack for 2 weeks, and then cut it out completely.

    • Drizzle melted almond butter on pancakes instead of maple syrup.

    • If you usually drink sodas, experiment with sparkling water like Perrier or Bubbly and add your own slices of lemon or cucumber for flavor.

    • Share a dessert with someone instead of eating an entire portion by yourself.

  • While choosing the “diet” version of sodas is a way to decrease sugar intake, artificial sweeteners can affect your gut health, which is closely tied to your skin health. We’ll explore this topic in a future Eat Beautifully article. For now, swap for sparkling water.

  • Beware of “hidden sugars”. Many packaged foods contained added sugars. Examples of this are flavored yogurts, nut butters, salad dressing, sauces, cereals, and granola bars. Don’t be fooled by the “healthy” looking packaging. Become familiar with the different names sugar is concealed as (ex. brown rice syrup, fructose, dextrose, sucrose) and read your labels.

  • Swap the above for “zero-added sugar” alternatives or make your own. Buy plain yogurt and add your own fruit to it, choose natural unsweetened nut butter, make your own salad dressing, etc.

  • When buying pre-packaged foods with added sugar, choose brands containing under 5g of sugar per serving.

  • If you enjoy pasta or white rice, limit it to ¼ of your plate. Add ½ plate of green vegetables, and ¼ plate of protein to complete your meal.

  • Switch white rice with “cauliflower” rice (found in the frozen vegetable section), quinoa or wild rice.

  • Replace regular pasta and noodles with zucchini noodles or spaghetti squash.


Source: Unsplash


On a final note, remember that it’s EXCESS and REGULAR intake of sugar and refined carbs that cause problems. One slice of pizza won’t ruin everything, just as having one salad won’t magically transform your skin.


How to implement these tips

While the allure of clear skin may tempt you into implementing all these strategies at once, experience has shown me that drastic dietary changes usually leave people feeling overwhelmed and saying “Screw it” by the end of the week.

Instead, I suggest you try out ONE strategy this week. Start with the one that seems easiest to you. When you’re ready, add a new strategy for another 7 days.

Slow and steady wins the (skin) race.

Jules xo

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By Julie Doan

A pharmacist and health coach dedicated to helping women regain their health naturally, so that they can live a thriving and pill-free life.

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