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What Sugar Is Really Doing to Your Skin

Does sugar cause acne, premature aging, or other unfortunate skin symptoms?

Written by: 100% PURE ®
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Have you ever felt the need to steer clear of sugary foods for fear of it giving you a breakout? Maybe in school, you were even warned not to have any chocolate the week of picture day! And yet, why, exactly, are we made to fear sugar in relation to our skin? Can’t acne be caused by all sorts of things – and how does sugar cause acne in the first place?

We’ll tell you what you need to know about sugar, how it really affects your skin, and how you can maintain a relationship with sugar that is healthy for not only your skin, but for your overall health.


True or False: Does Sugar Make Skin Age Faster?

True: overconsumption of sugar can cause one’s skin to break down and age more rapidly.

This is because sugar can erode elastin while breaking down collagen molecules, which are like the building blocks of our skin. Likewise, when collagen and elastin are damaged, this leads to the onset of fine lines and wrinkles.

Largely due to this function, sugar is known as an advanced glycation end product, or AGE. These are a class of compounds resulting from the combination of proteins and sugars that can hasten the effects of aging.

Studies have closely observed the ways in which too much sugar causes inflammation in the tissue whilst breaking it down, causing it to weaken and lose elasticity. This is also true in the case of carbohydrates and starches that digest quickly.

Such foods are notoriously sugary and often synonymous with “junk food”: top offenders include baked goods, candy, fried foods and chocolate – but it depends on the type of chocolate. More on that later!


Acne breakout
True or False: Does Sugar Cause Acne?

False – well, sort of. Sugar alone won’t necessarily cause acne, meaning that you shouldn’t need to fear the occasional cupcake.

However, it’s important to understand what it means when foods have a high glycemic index. When high-glycemic foods are ingested, they rapidly turn into glucose in your body, causing insulin levels to spike. High glycemic foods often align with AGEs, and can be found in processed foods like candy, baked goods, and many sugary cereals, just to name a few.

Similarly, a harsh scrub tends to have ingredients that disrupt your skin’s pH. A harsh scrub can also physically remove friendly bacteria and substances that friendly bacteria “eat.”

Now, when this happens occasionally, it’s not much of a big deal: our bodies are meant to handle sudden changes. However, it’s not good if this happens often and repeatedly, as this increases your risk of chronic inflammation, which causes a host of problems – including acne breakouts.

With that being said, it’s important to have sugar in moderation, and approach it as a small and occasional part of our diets.


Sugar alternative
True or False: Is All Sugar Bad for You?

This one is also false, but there is a bit more to the explanation as to why.

Essentially, there are three types of sugar we see in our foods: added or “white” sugar, unrefined sugar like agave nectar or maple syrup, and the sugar which naturally occurs in fruit.

We all probably know by now that of all of these sugars, white sugar is warned about the most. That’s because white sugar causes the most damage and inflammation, and is a key factor in weight gain.

As for the other two sweet substances, less refined or processed sweeteners like agave nectar are slightly better than white sugar – but the nutritional benefits aren’t much better. Plus, your body still recognizes these sweeteners as monosaccharides. In other words, this means that our bodies recognize them as nearly identical to refined sugar.

Meanwhile, the best sugar you can have in your diet is that which you naturally obtain from fruit and starches: apples, sweet potatoes, peaches, and pumpkins are great examples. This kind of sugar is okay, not because of the quality of the sugar itself, but because of all of the vitamins, minerals and fiber that comes with the rest of the food.

So does this mean we can’t cave to any cravings like some decadent chocolate? In a cocoa nutshell, not all chocolate is bad for you or your skin health!


True or False: Is All Chocolate Bad for You and Your Skin?

False: There are certain types of chocolate that have benefits for satisfying cravings and skin health.

Everyone knows the rumor that chocolate makes you break out, but what is it about chocolate that’s bad for you? Certain types of processed chocolate candy like milk chocolate, which contains cream, milk, and butter as ingredients, has been linked to causing breakouts and skin issues.

As we know, white added sugars in chocolate contribute to the breakdown of skin cells, collagen, and elasticity, which results in enhanced aging – and, much like a ghost, we can’t even see it coming. Basically, we can Hershey’s kiss smooth, supple skin goodbye if we can’t give up certain types of chocolate.

However, there is a sweet, chocolatey ray of hope! Chocolate isn’t all bad; you just need to know what kind of chocolate to choose! Pure dark chocolate and cacao have no white sugar and are actually rich in antioxidants, which help support optimized functions in our skin.

That’s right! These decadent dark sweet treats like cocoa offer essential vitamins like copper, which is a popular skin care ingredient for promoting collagen and elastin, aka more supple, bouncy skin. Dark chocolate is packed with antioxidants, which fight free radicals that contribute to aging skin. And let’s not forget about the skin-saving benefits of cocoa butter for skin repair, health, and protection.


How to Have a Healthy Relationship With Sugar and Your Skin

While our complexions are certainly impacted by our hormones, genetics, and the products we put on our skin, the foods we put in our bodies play a massively critical role.

According to the University of California at San Francisco, Americans consume a daily average of 17 teaspoons of sugar. This is troubling, considering that the recommended daily intake is just 6 teaspoons for women and 9 for men.

As you might have guessed from earlier, this makes it very likely that far too many Americans are consuming foods with a dangerously high glycemic index.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, maintaining a diet that is rich in healthy fats, vitamins and antioxidants – while low in carbohydrates – are associated with cases of skin exhibiting fewer wrinkles and less collagen damage.

That being said, it’s crucial to adapt to a diet which is rich in fruits and vegetables, while also getting a healthy dose of minerals and vitamins from legumes, leafy greens, tofu, and nuts.

We’ve created our own in-depth guide to creating a skin-healthy diet, to benefit your skin and overall health – for your skin’s sake, it’s definitely worth a read!


Can You Use Topical Applications of Sugar?

Poor chocolate doesn’t seem to catch a break from non-chocoholic naysayers and their claims that it’s bad for your skin and health. While it is true that nothing made with added sweeteners especially white sugar is truly good for your skin, we know there are some little-known skin- and makeup-friendly benefits that can make caving to your craving a good thing!

The misconceptions about chocolate wouldn’t be deeply rich in their claims if face products containing sugar weren’t thrown under the radar. Just as there are conventional sugar face scrubs that don’t do much for the skin and are actually harsh for your skin’s protective barrier, there are natural face scrubs with bountiful benefits.

Contrary to the negative benefits of overconsuming sugar, natural sugar scrubs that are made specifically for your face contain real fruit extracts and natural sugars that are skin-friendly and don’t cause breakouts. This wonderful sweetener softens your skin, exfoliates it, and is a great natural resource of some essential vitamins for healthy skin.


A Final Disclaimer About Acne

It’s certainly true that a nurturing and healthful approach to diet is a crucial factor when it comes to maintaining a healthy glow and body.

That being said, it should be noted that acne can be caused by a wide variety of factors, including shifts in hormone levels, a reaction to a product, or something in your genetics.

As such, it’s important that we make the disclaimer that while this can be used as a comprehensive quick guide to maintaining a healthy relationship with sugar, this is by no means the end-all, be-all answer to acne treatment. Moreover, it should be acknowledged that this approach may not work for everyone, as no approach is universal.

With the previous information in mind, don’t hesitate to contact a dermatologist if you can’t pinpoint the source of your acne. A trained dermatologist will be able to not only answer your questions accurately, but they may even be able to run tests that will clarify the root causes of your acne, and help put you on a track to healthier, happier skin.


We carefully hand-select products based on strict purity standards, and only recommend products we feel meet this criteria. 100% PURE™ may earn a small commission for products purchased through affiliate links.

The information in this article is for educational use, and not intended to substitute professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should not be used as such.


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