Effects of Sugar on Skin

You’ve heard the claims and read the studies; sugar is bad for you on a multitude of levels. It causes weight gain, diabetes and has countless negative side effects. But if the promise of a trim waistline hasn’t curbed your sweet tooth, perhaps the prospects of smooth, wrinkle-free skin will. I reached out to Aesthetic Physician, Dr. Jenna Burton, of the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery Hospital in Dubai, to help de-mystify the effects of the sweet stuff on our faces. Read on and prepare to bin the cupcakes.

Dr.Jenna Burton Effects of Sugar on Skin
Dr. Jenna Burton

How does sugar affect the skin and the ageing process?

Sugar produces something that’s appropriately called ‘AGE’, short for Advanced Glycogen End products. This is where the sugar causes cross links between collagen fibres in the skin making them less flexible, dry, brittle and flat. This is responsible for the wrinkles and sagging that we see and what forms the basis of our perceived haggard appearance.

It also causes an increase in free radicals within the body which cause generalised ageing, poor health, increased risk of cancer and generally act to make the body more sluggish and unhealthy. There is little positive to be said for sugar other than that we think that it’s tasty!

What are the main foods to be avoided?

We don’t necessarily need to avoid any food group entirely. Everything has its place in moderation. Even a chocolate bar can be a harmless sweet treat on the weekend, but only if you’ve been relatively disciplined the rest of the week.

If you’re striving to lose weight and get a healthy glow, then generally you need to opt for unprocessed, natural foods. These are not usually found in packets, do not have an ingredients list on the back and they are what they look like. A broccoli doesn’t need a label to tell you it’s good for you.

Pre-prepared foods usually contain huge amounts of sugar and artificial sweeteners; both of which can contribute to bowel problems, a change in our appetite hormones and encourage over eating. Even those labeled as ‘zero calorie’ can still lead to weight gain and dull skin. Watch out for sugar “aliases” listed on packaging such as, barley malt, corn syrup, dextrose, fruit juice concentrate, maltose, maple syrup, molasses as well as many more.

To satisfy those sugar cravings, opt for lower carbohydrate fruits such as berries which are full of antioxidants or a starchy sweet potato which apart from being sweet, is loaded with other health benefits.

effects of sugar on skin

Are there any supposedly “healthy” foods that are a hidden danger to skin?

Sadly there are loads. A lot of modern ‘healthy’ foods such as granola, vegetable chips and meal replacement bars or protein cookies are filled with simple sugars and artificial sweeteners. They give you that sweet explosion in your mouth that leaves you wanting more. They can also act to reduce your insulin sensitivity which potentially leads to diabetes.

Beware of so-called low fat products. To replace of the fat, companies add high volumes of sugar to compensate and enhance flavour. Although high amounts of fat are not ideal, fat does have a place in a healthy diet, unlike simple sugars.

What’s the best way to go about giving up sugar?

This is very dependent on the person involved. For many, they like to go cold turkey. They give up most forms of sugar other than those found in carbohydrate-rich vegetables. They remove sweets, chocolate, bread, pasta and rice over night replacing them with vegetables, meat, small amounts of cheese and  eggs. This can have quite a disruptive effect on the body. After three days the body runs out of sugar and people feel as though they’ve ‘hit the wall.’ They suffer from a cloudy mind, fatigue and heavy limbs.

This can last for about two weeks in total until the body learns how to operate on other fuels. People describe the feeling after two weeks like ‘waking up’ and ‘enlightenment.’ They feel full of energy and are more motivated.

For many they would rather go for a more gentle approach. Continue with natural sugars such as those found in potatoes and wholegrain bread whilst simply removing processed sweets and chocolate. Eventually they may remove these items too but this will depend on their own health goals.

How can skin be protected against the effects of sugar?

We can’t protect the skin from the harmful effects of sugar. Sugar does what it does to the skin and we must accept that if we choose to consume it. What we can do however, is to maintain a good skincare regime. Visit your cosmetic dermatologist for an individualised programme and don’t wait to go once the damage has occurred. Always wear sunscreen that’s SPF 50 and above, even on dull days. UVA (A for ageing) rays are present at all times and we must protect our skin from them.

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