18 Dec The Link Between Sugar and Skin Conditions
It can be difficult to say no to mince-pies, cakes, and cocktails over the festive season. However, too much sugar can affect the health of your skin and your body. If your complexion is suffering, we’ve explored the link between sugar and skin conditions.
Christmas can be a time for family, celebration and lots of chocolate. If over-indulging in festive sweet treats has resulted in your skin looking dry, sore, or spotty- you should look at your diet. There’s mounting research evidence that sugar and skin conditions may be linked.
January 18th is the start of Sugar Awareness Week. Over recent years, there’s been increasing awareness about the sweet stuff’s role in obesity, diabetes, and chronic disease. But the impacts can also extend to the body’s largest organ, the skin.
For a long time, experts believed that common skin conditions were unrelated to diet. Modern studies, however, have demonstrated that the food we eat can affect the health and function of our skin. Changes in diet may prevent flare-ups and alter the course of a skin condition. Also, dietary adjustments may prevent damage to the skin structure and reduce the signs of ageing.
Sugar, Insulin, and Inflammation
The link between sugar and skin conditions involves insulin. It’s the hormone that controls the levels of glucose in the blood. However, it also has a vital role in keeping the skin balanced and healthy .
The body releases insulin in response to carbohydrates in the food we eat . Food with a high glycaemic index, including white bread, pasta, and white rice, are absorbed quickly. This leads to high blood glucose levels and more circulating insulin. Refined sugars make the levels of insulin spike even higher. What’s more, too many sweet drinks and snacks over a prolonged period can make the body less responsive to insulin. This insulin resistance means that the body produces lots of insulin, but can’t use it effectively. That can be bad for our bodies and our skin.
Longstanding raised insulin levels and insulin resistance are linked with inflammation in the body. They act in several ways to trigger an inflammatory reaction. Insulin resistance can cause weight gain and obesity. The gut can become leaky, making harmful substances seep into the blood stream. Also, it can stimulate the release of chemicals that facilitate the body’s inflammatory response.
Sugar and Skin Ageing
Wrinkles, loose sagging skin, and a crepey complexion are all signs of skin ageing. Time, gravity, and sun damage all take their toll on the skin. However, sugar can also accelerate the ageing process.
A high-sugar diet and raised blood glucose levels drive changes in the skin. They promote structural alterations in the dermis ( the inner layer of cells that makes up the skin), in a process called glycation. Sugars form bonds with collagen, making substances known as Advanced Glycation End-products or AGEs. As AGEs build-up, the skin becomes stiff, brittle, and less elastic, which can make you look older.
AGEs can also cause inflammation, harming cells and affecting healthy function . Glycation doesn’t start when you hit middle age. The damage develops progressively, with most people showing changes in early adulthood. The rate of change depends on the food you eat – and once they’ve have happened, they can’t be reversed. Consequently, eating a healthy diet and avoiding refined sugars and processed carbs are important ways of maintaining a youthful appearance.
Eczema and Sugar
Eczema is an inherited dry skin condition, characterised by inflammation and red, itchy, irritated skin. Our genes and factors in the environment work together to cause eczema . Typically, people with eczema have changes to their skin barrier, and highly reactive inflammatory responses. Each individual has different triggers, which could include dust, chemicals, pollen, pets or food.
Sugary foods may initiate eczema flare-ups in susceptible individuals. Refined sugars and white carbs make insulin levels soar, which can cause a low-grade inflammatory response. Inflammation is our normal, healthy response to an infection, irritation, or injury. But too much sugar, for too long can cause chronic inflammation, which though unlikely to cause eczema, may make the condition worse in vulnerable individuals. Eczema expert Dr Peter Lio told the American National Eczema Association:
‘Dairy products and simple carbs (including all the wonderful things that contain gluten) and sugars can contribute to inflammation in a lot of folks. I think that eliminating dairy and carbs, processed foods in general, and eating mostly vegetables/plant-based foods with some meat and fish is probably very healthy for many people.’
Rosacea and Insulin Resistance
Rosacea is a skin disease that causes redness, flushing, and acne-like spots. It is a chronic condition that comes and goes, with sufferers experiencing periodic flare-ups. Triggers can vary between individuals, but there’s evidence that insulin resistance and the distressing skin condition are linked. In research, patients with rosacea were significantly more likely to also have insulin resistance.
Sweets and Spots
For many years the link between acne, sweet treats, and chocolate was considered an old wives’ tale. Historically, research evidence linking diet to acne was mixed. But now evidence is mounting that diet may affect your tendency to break-out. Researchers have asserted that:
‘Compelling evidence shows that high glycaemic load diets may exacerbate acne. ’
Western diets, which typically have a high glycaemic load, raise serum glucose and levels of insulin. Insulin increases oil production in the skin and increases the levels and activity of the male androgen hormones, which can cause acne. In research, a low sugar diet resulted in less inflammation, smaller sebaceous glands, and an improvement in the pustules, blackheads, and cysts of acne.
How to cut sugar and keep your skin healthy
Skincare, lifestyle, and diet can all help keep your skin healthy, smooth and clear by removing the link between sugar and skin conditions:
- Cut down on sugary snacks and processed foods: Sugars from honey, syrup, jams, and sweet stuff will make your insulin spike. Starchy foods like white bread, rice, and pasta will make glucose levels rise too. Instead, choose a healthy, balanced diet with whole grains for a slower, gentler rise that is easier for your body to deal with.
- Look out for hidden sugar: Sugar is not just the white granules you put in your tea. It is in obvious foods like sweets, chocolate, cakes, and biscuits. However, it’s also hidden in ketchup, sauces, ready meals, and even bread. Drinks are a rich source of readily available sugar, and that’s not just fizzy sodas; it’s abundant in fruit juices and smoothies too.
- Moisturise regularly: Emollients keep the skin hydrated and prevent moisture loss. For dry skin conditions, like eczema, emollients are the cornerstones of treatment. AproDerm® emollients form a protective layer over the skin, trapping in water, rehydrating the cells, and restoring the skin barrier. Effective skin rehydration can relieve the tightness, scaling, and ease itching. When used regularly, emollients can protect against flare-ups.
- Care for your skin: Beautiful skin is maintained from the outside and the inside. Continue to use any prescribed medication regularly and protect against sun damage and photo-ageing by wearing sunblock, even on gloomy winter days.