It’s official. We’ve just made it through the time of year when even the most disciplined eaters found themselves grabbing handfuls of holiday cookies and sneaking candy canes. It turns out all that sugar is as damaging to our skin as it is to our waistlines (and overall health). Eating too much sugar can cause wrinkles, sagging, and dullness, as well as trigger existing skin issues like eczema, rosacea, and acne. But don’t worry—it’s not too late to course-correct and repair the damage done over the holidays. In fact, the New Year is a perfect time to start fresh and make healthier choices. Here, we’ll explain what sugar does to our bodies and our skin, and how to prevent sweets from wreaking havoc on our complexions.
How sugar affects the body
Before we get into how sweets harm our skin, it’s important to point out all of the ways they can hurt our health. Sugar is a major factor in the development of cardiovascular disease. In fact, a study conducted by professors at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found a correlation between a high sugar diet and dying from heart disease. Sugar is also believed to raise blood pressure, increase chronic inflammation and contribute to metabolically-based disorders like obesity and diabetes. A recent study from the journal Clinical Interventions in Aging even found that excessive sugar consumption among older adults was associated with decreased cognitive function.
Our skin on sugar
There’s no sugarcoating it: sugar is bad for your skin. When we ingest sugar, it hitches onto proteins of collagen through a process called glycation. It’s a complicated process—we’ll spare you the nitty gritty scientific details—but the gist is that glycation stimulates the production of something called Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs). As these AGEs start piling up, collagen becomes stiff and less elastic. The result: your skin has trouble retaining its firmness and smoothness.
Sugar also triggers acne in a different way. Foods with a high glycemic index—meaning they cause blood sugar spikes—increase insulin levels and this has been shown to boost sebum production, which leads to pimples. Adding to the problem is that excess sugar can also compromise our body’s immune system, making it harder to fight off acne-causing bacteria.
Inflammation is another sugar-related skin condition. Researchers at the University of California Davis found that even short-term exposure to a Western Diet (a diet the researchers describe as being high in sugar and fat) can cause inflammation of the skin, inducing psoriasis. (Eczema and other skin rashes are also exacerbated by inflammation).
Tricks for curbing your sweet tooth
The good news is that you don’t need to cut out sugar altogether to get gorgeous skin—you just need to limit your intake. The key is to curtail processed or added sugars from your diet (in other words, the stuff used to sweeten candy, cake, cookies, soda and other junk foods and drinks) and stick to mostly natural sugars (sugars that occur naturally in fruit and dairy products). The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends women eat no more than six teaspoons of added sugar daily, so keep this guideline in mind when choosing foods throughout the day. Watch out for artificial sweeteners, too. While they don’t have the same caloric impact as the real stuff, their intensely sweet taste can increase sugar cravings, leading us to eat more (real) sugar later.
Instead, focus on eating anti-inflammatory foods, especially if you ate a lot of sweets during the holiday season. Sugar increases inflammation in the body, which can eventually lead to conditions like cancer, heart disease, arthritis, depression, and Alzheimer’s—as well as accelerate skin aging and exacerbate acne. A diet high in anti-inflammatory foods like berries, nuts, green leafy veggies, tomatoes, and fish can combat these issues. For example, try our Greek Yogurt & Berry Parfait or Pomegranate Berry Smoothie for breakfast, and snack on these Dark Chocolate Covered Pears.
Sugar-Busting Treatments to Try
For optimal skin health, practicing Perricone MD’s Three-Tier Philosophy is key. Not only does that include following an anti-inflammatory diet but also using a combination of supplements and topical products. Supplements work from the inside out to improve the appearance and function of the skin, while diet and topical products work together synergistically and are at the heart of our holistic approach to health. Perricone MD’s Super Greens Dietary Supplement Powder will help cleanse your body from sugar overload, while our Super Berry with Acai Dietary Supplement Powder blends eleven super fruits with amino and fatty acids to help protect against free radical damage. Simply grab one single-serving packet, mix with a glass of water and enjoy once a day (and yes, that means they taste good too!). Our Skin & Total Body Supplements take a head-to-toe approach. Packed with basically every antioxidant ingredient on the planet (seriously, there are too many to list here), this daily packet of eight supplements supports immunity and strengthens and nourishes skin, hair, joints, muscles, teeth, and nails.
When it comes to topical skincare to combat the visible impact sugar can have on our skin, here are our top picks:
If you’ve been eating a diet high in sugar, it can end up written all over your face—in the form of pimples. This simple, 2-step system works with your skin’s natural microbiome to safely yet effectively treat the main causes of acne: excess oil, acne-causing bacteria and inflammation. It contains a Gentle & Soothing Cleanser, Step 1 (to be used day and night) that reduces excess oil, unclogs pores and sloughs off dead skin cells, plus a Calming Treatment & Hydrator, Step 2 (to be used after cleansing in the morning) which contains lactic and succinic acids to banish acne-causing bacteria, and citrulline and squalane to nourish and hydrate the skin. Apply the Retinol Treatment & Moisturizer, Step 2 (to be used after cleansing at night), which is a lightweight yet nourishing formula with retinol, citrulline and niacinamide to accelerate surface skin exfoliation and renewal while you sleep.
Since sugar can accelerate skin aging by stiffening collagen and reducing elasticity, you need a serum designed to firm, smooth, lift and plump the skin. Our High Potency Growth Factor Firming & Lifting Serum contains polyamine growth factor to improve skin elasticity, eggshell membrane to protect and nourish skin, and encapsulated retinol to speed up skin cell turnover while encouraging the production of collagen and elastin. Use in the morning and evening, before applying moisturizer.
This clay mask contains chlorophyll microcapsules that burst upon application helping rebalance oil-prone skin while minimizing the appearance of enlarged pores, fine lines and wrinkles. Plus, copper complex is added to improve firmness and elasticity, while papaya enzyme helps to smooth and brighten. Apply to clean, dry skin until all microcapsules have burst and color has transformed to a darker shade. Leave on for five to ten minutes and then rinse with warm water.
While sugar highs are sure to hurt your skin, you can prevent—and even undo— damage by following a healthy diet and using the right products. So this New Year, treat your skin to our unique detoxifying supplements and antioxidant packed topical products.