THE TRUTH ABOUT SUGAR AND YOUR SKIN: From Tricks to Treats

Updated: Feb 15, 2019


A recent New York Times article alleged that the sugar industry paid scientists in the 1960s to play down the link between sugar and heart disease and instead, throw shade on fat. With the sugar-heart disease connection in the spotlight today, sugar’s effects on the skin is also getting some much-needed attention and fat is getting a bit of a reprieve.


Sugar has always been on the “most-wanted” list when it comes to skin saboteurs. Sugar contributes to chronic inflammation, and that can age our skin more rapidly. Put another way, sugar equals wrinkles.


Here’s the deal: Sugar and high glycemic ingredients, which are also found in refined grains such as pasta and bagels, convert to sugar which causes blood sugar to spike. This in turn raises insulin levels and puts a burden on your body to handle the food you ingested. This leads to an inflammatory response that produces enzymes that break down collagen and elastin, resulting in sagging skin and wrinkles. Collagen and elastin are the building blocks of healthy, youthful and resilient skin. They give young skin its bounce factor.


There’s more: undigested sugar attaches to the collagen in your skin through glycation, forming harmful molecules called advanced glycation end products (AGEs). This process can accelerate aging and exacerbate skin conditions like acne and rosacea. This is another good reason to minimize your sugar intake, aside from just managing your waistline and cellulite.


It may taste sweet, but sugar’s effects on our skin is anything but. You may already know that in large quantities it can have negative effects on your waistline, but did you know that sugar has a direct impact on your skin’s health and appearance? Here’s the lowdown on the ugly truth about sugar and your skin.

TRICK: SUGAR CAUSES INFLAMMATION

When you eat sugar, you trigger an inflammatory response throughout your body. Included in this response is your largest organ: your skin. What’s happening to you can be attributed to insulin levels spiking. You might actually notice that you look and feel differently directly after ingesting it. If you've ever felt flushed and warm after a heavy meal and a rich dessert, that could be the effects of the inflammation you are experiencing. Over time, that response dilates tiny blood vessels under your skin, causing discoloration and coarsening skin texture.


Chronic inflammation also breaks down collagen and elastin, the connective tissues that give your skin the elasticity and resilience of youth. Without these tissues, skin sags and looks older than your years. Along with the exacerbated effects of aging in your skin, inflammation also contributes to acne and rosacea. If your diet's full of sugar all the time, you might see chronic redness. Although sugar doesn't cause rosacea, a sugar-rich diet can exacerbate it.

TRICK: SUGAR AND INSULIN RESISTANCE

Ready for more bad news? The more sugar you ingest on a daily basis, the higher the probability of developing insulin resistance. People who are insulin resistant can suffer from excessive growth of hair (in places you don’t want it!) and dark patches of skin on the neck and in the folds and creases of their bodies.


Sugar alone doesn't age skin – the sun plays a huge role in skin aging, which is why you need daily sunscreen – but it's a contributing factor. In other words, celebrating a birthday may not have as much of an impact on your skin as the cake you eat at the party.

TRICK: SUGAR HIDES

The sugar you eat isn't just in the sugar bowl. Everything from tomato juice to canned soups to snack crackers can contain surprisingly high amounts of added sugar, so read labels carefully if you're cutting down on the sweet stuff. Some carbohydrate-rich foods also quickly metabolize into sugars; white bread, pasta and some ready-to-eat cereals break down into the same components as a few tablespoons of white sugar.


That doesn't mean you need to cut all carbs from your diet. Complex carbohydrates rich in fiber and protein, including whole wheat, take time to digest and don't create the glycemic spike that heavily processed carbs do. Just switching to whole grains can make a big difference to your body and your skin.


Save your skin. Keep sugar limited this season instead of sneaking off with the Halloween candy. Your face, and your waistline, will thank you.

Other Tricks to TREAT Your Skin

1.    Get plenty of sleep:  When you don’t get enough shut-eye, your body releases the stress hormone, cortisol, which mobilizes sugar stores and causes your insulin to spike.

2.    Speaking of stress, try to keep yours at a minimum: Stress can spike insulin levels just like eating sugar can. The effects of stress are particularly correlated with acne breakouts.

3.    Eat frequent, balanced meals: Don’t think lowering your sugar intake means lowering your food intake per se. If your goal is to keep your blood sugar levels consistent, make sure to fuel up with low-glycemic, high protein food every three hours to avoid insulin spikes.

4.    Be mindful about how you prepare your food: When cooking starches, like potatoes and foods with wheat, keep in mind that the heat involved in cooking causes a process known as gelatinization, which can lead to upping the glycemic index of a food item. The takeaway? Avoid starches fried in high heat or that are commercially processed.

5.    Order counts: Eat your proteins first when sitting down for a meal, since they don’t stimulate insulin spikes and therefore keep your body from triggering the inflammatory effects caused when you ingest insulin-spiking foods.

6.    Good Fats are your friend. Healthy fats, like Omega-3s, keep your skin looking soft, supple and radiant (read: youthful).


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