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does too much sugar impact my skin health?

So you've got a sweet tooth, but does sugar really affect your complexion?
does too much sugar impact my skin health?
French lawyer Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, once wrote, " Tell me what you eat, and I'll tell you what you are." We may be speaking for the majority when we say that sugary treats are the most addictive and commonly craved among all kinds of food.


So, if we are what we eat, does daily sugar consumption affect our overall health, including our skin health? Dr Kathleen Eusebio-Alpapara talks us through all things sugar - how sugar can affect skin conditions like acne, hyperpigmentation and inflammation - and if our moments of sugar high are worth it.


How sugar affects your skin

Skin is the largest organ in our body and shows our ageing bare to the bone. It has been proven that nutrition affects the skin, so poor nutrition, like prolonged UV radiation exposure, is one of the causes of extrinsic or premature ageing.

High sugar intake is linked to ageing skin as sugar can prevent the repair or remodelling of the skin.

Collagen and elastin fibres are arranged in our skin in a way that allows them to be repaired in case of damage. When we keep eating sugar or sugary foods, they are broken down into simple carbohydrates like glucose and fructose which bind to the amino acids of collagen, through a process called glycation which can form AGE's. AGE makes collagen resistant to repair when damaged which can speed up your skin's ageing process.

Aside from premature ageing, acne breakouts are another consequence of being a sweet tooth and eating foods high in sugar. Eating foods high in carbohydrates with a high glycemic index cause blood sugar spikes, increasing blood insulin and insulin-growth like levels. When this happens, oil glands become more active, increasing oil production, and leading to frequent acne flare-ups.


Foods to avoid or eat in moderation for healthy skin.

A diet packed with high sugar intake from high glycemic foods, processed sugars, fruit juices and fruits-like pineapple, mango, and grapes are not the only source of AGE's which contribute to skin conditions like pre-mature ageing. There are foods with pre-formed AGE's. Food rich in AGE's do not only worsen skin wrinkling among sun-exposed individuals but is also linked to lifestyle diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

What are the food to avoid and the possible alternatives for these?

In general, animal-derived foods high in fat and protein are rich in AGE's. In contrast, carbohydrate-rich foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and milk contain relatively few AGEs.

Foods associated with ageing to steer clear of

  • Whole/full cream milk.
  • Margarine
  • Sugars, whether natural sugars or processed sugar from soft drinks and cakes/ pastries, candy, baked goods, etc.
  • Red Meat- Modern diet contains high AGE levels, made of highly-processed meat.
  • Processed food marketed as " healthy" like breakfast cereals, fruit juice, have high-fructose corn syrup which can also form AGE's, thus enhancing ageing.

    Foods to indulge yourself with instead.

    • Yoghurt and eggs

    • Non-fat or nut milk has relatively lower AGE than whole milk.

    • Legumes, especially broad and lima beans.

    • Vegetables (green leafy spinach, eggplant, asparagus, celery, onions, leeks and garlic)

    • Nuts

    • Olives

    • Fruits like cherries, grapes, melon, dried fruits/ prunes, apples and pears.

    • Multigrain bread

    • Seafood

    The way food is cooked also influences AGE formation. Baking, broiling, grilling, and frying significantly increase AGE's in food, while water-based cooking practices, like boiling, stewing, steaming and poaching do not.


    Dermatologist tips for healthy skin and diet.

    Remember: Prevention is the key. Nothing dietary can combat or break formed AGE's. However, some ways can inhibit the production of these.

    • Stick with home-cooked meals. Forget about packaged foods and fast food with added sugar.
    • Rather than sugar filled desserts, stick with raw fruits.
    • Fatty food rich in monounsaturated fatty acids from plant oils is associated with less skin aging than polyunsaturated fatty acids (butter or margarine). Use plant oils like olive oil instead of margarine or butter for cooking. 
    • Consume a lot of green leafy vegetables and legumes.
    • Instead of white bread, have multigrain breads.
    • Avoid sodas. Beware of hidden sugars found in low-calorie sodas.
    • Substitute crackers and candies with salted or raw nuts, not the sugar- or chocolate-coated ones for snacks.
    • According to a study, cinnamon, cloves, oregano, and allspice protect our body against fructose-induced AGE formation.
    • Eat food that is rich in antioxidants like tea, berries, cherries, apples, onions, garlic and eggplant. They apparently protect the skin from oxidative stress.
    • Eat food rich in micronutrients ( Zinc, iron, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, vitamins A and C. Tomato sauce!
    • Eat right. Watch out for your daily calorie intake!

      Can you reverse sugar damage to skin?

      Although the visible signs of ageing do not manifest early, the process of glycation starts as early as your 20's. Unfortunately, due to AGE's and other external factors such as UV radiation and smoking, ageing is irreversible, but it can be improved.

      One way of doing this is to have an anti-aging skin care routine with vitamin C, retinol and hydroxy acids. They increase skin cell turnover and promote collagen production, reducing fine lines, wrinkles and dark patches from photoaging. 

      Brightening face serum
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      Prickly pear face oil
      Prickly Pear Face + Hair Oil view

      Unlike aging, acne vulgaris can be reversed with a skincare routine that helps remove excess oil, increase skin cell turnover, unclog pores, and dry up inflamed pimples. 

      hydrating face serum 
      Hydrate Hero Thirsty Skin Serum  view

      Hemp Acne Face oil

      Hemp Face Oil view


      How long after quitting sugar will my skin improve?

      With a regular healthy diet combined with your skincare routine, you can start to notice a difference in about 4 months. A study involving patients with diabetes who have high blood sugar and a lot of AGE crosslinked collagen showed that lowering sugar levels through a healthy diet and controlling insulin levels decreased AGE formation by 25% in 4 months.

      Key takeaway on the effects of sugar? Go easy on the sugar intake. Look a product labels that have added sugars and opt for an alternative. Stick to whole food where you can so when you choose to indulge with some sweets, your skin won't freak out with excess oil production. Your skin will thank you for it.


      Kathleen May Eusebio-Alpapara is a board certified dermatologist who practices both medical and cosmetic dermatology at VE Eusebio Skin Centre.