The Sugar-Skin Connection

I get this questions a lot –

Does my diet affect my skin?

And specifically…

Does eating too much sugar affect my skin?

Sugar isn’t great for your skin – and that is the bittersweet truth. Sugar is one of the worst foods for skin health, and can contribute to breakouts. Cutting sugar from your diet is one of the best nutrition changes you can make for glowing skin.

One topic we’ll discuss is how sugar can affect the body in surprising ways. We’ll talk about the adverse effects of too much sugar, like acne and inflammation.

According to studies, the average American consumes 17 teaspoons of sugar daily, or 270 calories. Limiting sugar can be challenging, because sugar is hidden in many different types of foods.

Sugar is actually in many beverages and foods that you may not associate with it, such as beef jerky. Sugar is found in a variety of common foods including desserts, baked goods, and even salad dressings. Sugar is everywhere – even in meals you don’t expect!

But all sugars, like sucrose, are not created equal, especially in regards to skin problems.

There are two types of sugars in your diet: simple and complex.

Simple sugars enter the bloodstream quickly because they don’t need to be broken down any further.

Complex sugar is the second kind of sugar. Complex sugar is found in whole grains, vegetables, and legumes. Bit by bit, complex sugars are broken down thanks to natural enzymes in the saliva and gut.

Once in the bloodstream, your body sends sugar to every muscle and cell to provide energy. This increase in sugar releases insulin, which keeps your blood sugar levels steady. Glucose is broken down and carried by insulin through the bloodstream to cells and muscles throughout the body. Leftover glucose is stored, until it’s needed later.

Inflammation is an undesired response to irritation. A spike in blood sugar causes inflammation both in your body and on the surface of your skin. Sugar causes inflammation, which can lead to various types of skin conditions like acne and sagging skin. When we eat poorly, it can cause long-term inflammation and lead to serious health problems.

Inflammation is a leader in skin issues. A leading contributor to this is glycation, which you may be mildly familiar with if you’ve experienced inflammation before. In human bodies, glycation occurs when sugar molecules bind to proteins or lipids.

A high intake of sugar means a higher chance of moderate to severe acne.

High sugar levels can cause an excess amount of insulin to be released in the body and this can contribute to gut dysbiosis, inflammation and oftentimes, acne…or just lackluster skin.

With increased insulin levels, oil glands produce more oil. This leads to a higher chance of acne. This study found that:

In particular, the Western diet, characterized by a high intake of total energy, sugars, meats and dairy products, has been reported to increase sebum synthesis and aggravate acne vulgaris [12]. High-glycemic diets, which contain a lot of simple sugars, lead to elevated levels of insulin and IGF-1, which in turn stimulate sebaceous gland hyperplasia and sebaceous lipogenesis [13,37]. In addition, milk proteins contain high amounts of tryptophan and the branch-chain amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, and valine) that also stimulate IGF-1 and insulin secretion [14,27].

When participants stopped consuming sugary foods they saw improvement in their skin condition. Those participants who continued to eat high glycemic foods were more prone to breakouts.

Aside from acne, a lot of my clients are concerned about wrinkled and saggy skin.

Did you know that too much sugar can cause “sugar sag.” A diet rich in sugars speeds up the loss of collagen and elastin. Collagen and elastin are important in keeping skin firm and healthy looking. They also work to repair and renew skin cells.

Furthermore, it is important to keep track of your sugar intake to ensure that your skin looks its best. Using the right beauty products helps, too!

One Beautycounter product I swear by would be the All Bright C Serum – a bestseller! This serum is packed with ingredients that help to support the skin’s natural production of collagen to reveal more youthful-looking skin. 

Match the All Bright C Serum with Beautycounter’s Countertime Tetrapeptide Supreme Creamanother bestseller and a Women’s Health Beauty 2020 awardee. This cream is extraordinarily rich and deeply hydrating, supporting elasticity and visibly firming while reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Awaken to skin that is more luminous and youthful with continued usage.

Shifting the diet away from sugar takes time, patience and planning ahead. Try these tips for reducing your sugar intake:

Shifting the diet away from sugar takes time, patience and planning ahead. Try these tips for reducing your sugar intake:
  1. Replace sugary drinks like coke with flavored sparkling water. One of my favorite beverages is frozen strawberries, sparkling water and 1 tsp of stevia.
  2. Replace baked goods and sugary desserts with fruit. I know this sounds boring when you’re used to eating cookies and candy, but your taste buds will adjust and soon you will be amazed at just how luscious a fresh peach is!
  3. One of my favorite blogs for keto treats (a.k.a sugar free) is She uses monk fruit sweetener in the majority of her recipes, and that is an Ishbel-approved alternative sweetener! Not to mention, her recipes are truly to die for good.

Your skin and your health will thank you for making these changes!

I’d love to hear from you! Let me know how your skin looks and feels after shifting your diet away from sugar!

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About me

About Ishbel

For the last twenty years, I have helped people take charge of their health and feel better. I have been in your shoes - sick, tired, and overwhelmed by how to actionably care for myself. If you want to feel better, but don't know where to start, you've come to the right place. Learn More >


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