Hippocrates wrote, “Let food be your medicine and let medicine be your food.” Food contains some of the most powerful “medicine,” as far as skincare goes. Depending on the diet you select, you may consume more nourishing healthy fats, take in more supportive vitamins and minerals, and be able to reduce the harmful ingredients that come into contact with your body and gut microbiome. For this reason, we encourage you to heed Hippocrates’ advice and fortify your skin with the healing powers of healthy foods.
At Integrative Esthetics, we acknowledge and embrace the holistic view that food is a crucial part of the interconnected systems in the human body. These systems all seek balance, in order to keep you healthy, and so when one is imbalanced, the others are affected, too. One such imbalance can be an unhealthy diet. The result? More often than not, it will show up on your skin. Recent research has shown that there actually is a link between food and the skin! This is something that estheticians and beauticians have long suspected, but until now, was unconfirmed. Intuitive professional knowledge, while unstudied, should not be ignored.
As we’ve written about before on this blog, skincare and food are directly related to each other: “Food is one of the most powerful tools in your arsenal against acne, aging, and inflammation. While we may not think about the impact of food on our skin very often (if at all), it’s proven that the foods we consume have a measurable effect on our microbiome, which correlates directly with the welfare of our skin.”
How Sugar is Aging Your Skin
When your diet changes or suffers, your skin may react to changes in the gut by breaking out more often, losing moisture, showing new dryness or wrinkles, or generally becoming sensitive and prone to irritation. In our article, 5 Foods to Help Your Skin Glow, we selected five foods that support healthy, glowing skin. There’s a conflicting mass of information out there about what foods you should avoid, however, and we want to focus on one of the primary offenders: sugar. While there are many damaging consumables out there (fried foods, cigarettes and vapes, “diet” products, and more) we’re concerned with sugar, since it occupies such a large seat in the American diet. The average American consumes more than three times the recommended amount of sugar daily, and when food and gut health are so closely linked, it’s no wonder that such excess creates a noticeable impact on the skin.
Yeah, sorry. We wish it didn’t have to be this way. Sugar has been on the naughty list for a long time, much to our chagrin. Sugar isn’t all bad, of course, and small amounts in the form of natural sugars (such as those found in fruit, dark chocolate or pressed juices) can provide energy and even a temporary mood boost.
The problem comes when we get to processed sugars. The human body is not built to consume processed foods — clear and simple. The clearest example of this is diabetes, where excess sugars build up in the bloodstream due to pancreatic malfunction or (more famously) due to a sugar- and fat-heavy diet. Our bodies are very good at extracting sugars from food because, during prehistoric times, they had to get the most out of unprocessed foods with much lower caloric rates and less nutritional value.
Now, in a time where a single meal can contain all the sugar and fat you may need in a day (or more), our bodies are overwhelmed. This is one of those imbalances we mentioned earlier, and this imbalance can show up on the skin as acne. The Sydney Herald explains how sugar binds to proteins in the blood, which is called glycation. Sydney endocrinologist Sophie Chan writes, “During glycation, toxic compounds called Advanced Glycation End Products or AGEs are produced. These can cause wrinkles, sagging, dark circles under eyes and a multitude of complications to your organs and blood stream, and fast-track diabetes.” Sugar has a direct chemical effect on the skin, and too much can lead to a multitude of negative outcomes — acne, wrinkles, dark spots, and more.
In addition, eating more than the recommended daily amount of sugar has been linked to an increase in symptoms of depression. We all know what it’s like to eat your favorite comfort food on a hard day, and there’s nothing wrong with treating yourself every once in a while! However, if you notice yourself reaching for something sweet too often, you may be worsening a cycle of anxiety and depression unintentionally. Experiencing depression sets off a domino effect, in extreme cases preventing sufferers from being able to effectively care for themselves, keep a clean house, focus on work, find time to relax, and more. If you’re dealing with that stress, it can feel impossible to cook a healthy dinner, book a facial, or engage in a nightly skincare routine. So, the impact worsens and the cycle of inflamed skin continues.
Scientists and health experts will continue to argue about the effects of sugar on the body for many years, but for now, the wisest approach is one of moderation and mindfulness. Sugar is not evil, but too much of it can directly affect your skin’s health and lead to irritation and ailments that you would rather avoid. In the end, is sugar “bad for your skin?” The answer is complex, and we hope to have offered a satisfactory exploration of it in this article.
Pro Tip: if you’re craving something sweet, remember the differences between natural sugars and processed sugars. Natural sugars, like those in fruit, dairy, and complex carbohydrates, take longer to digest and can help keep your metabolism more stable, helping your body remain balanced. Processed sugars essentially “burn,” digesting quickly and spiking your blood sugar unnaturally. In order to prevent that spike, look for fresh or dried fruits, yogurt, or dark chocolate to satisfy that craving.