When it comes to healthy blemish-free skin, what you put into your body is just as important, and maybe more important, than what you put on it.
The science of skin and nutrition is constantly evolving. Many dermatologists, however, agree that healthy eating habits are a valuable tool for managing chronic skin conditions including acne, rosacea, eczema, and psoriasis as well as reducing the signs of aging and sun damage. Although research is still debating whether there is a direct link between diet and acne, studies have shown that diets consisting of high glycemic foods such as sugars, bad fats, and refined carbs can contribute to acne flare-ups.
One reason for this is that a flood of refined sugars causes the body to produce high levels of insulin. Increased levels of insulin, in turn, lead to the production of more androgen hormones. Excess androgen hormones encourage skin to produce and secrete large amounts of sebum which can clog pores, trap bacteria and lead to an acne flare-up.
It doesn’t stop there.
Sugars also cause a burst of inflammation to occur throughout the body. This inflammation results when a sugar molecule attaches to collagen in the skin in a process called glycation. The inflammation causes the body to produce enzymes which break down the skin’s collagen, a key component of healthy, resilient skin. Since many acne treatments include anti-inflammatories, it only makes sense to reduce the potential amount of inflammation by limiting sugar intake.
Of course, not all sugars are bad for you, and even if they were, it is impossible to avoid them entirely. Refined sugars, especially those found in sugary carbonated drinks and processed foods are the worst for your skin. The sugars in fruits and vegetables are a much better choice because they are unrefined and the high-fiber content in these foods helps keep the body’s blood sugar levels in check.
Many acne treatments include AHA or glycol acid, which is made from the same active ingredient found in sugar cane juice, tomato juice, and sour milk. AHA is used to induce light skin peels, which promote new skin growth and can be used to help treat acne, so this is probably another sugar to keep around.
So should you cut down on the sugar? Given how much refined sugar the modern diet contains, it probably wouldn’t hurt. Just don’t expect your acne to magically clear up because of it.
Sugar is just one of several factors the can contribute to a breakout, so cutting out sugar by itself is unlikely to put an end to all of your skin problems. It can, however, help and in some unexpected ways. One of the methods many nutritionists suggest to help people limit the sugar intake is keeping a food diary. If you note not just of what you eat but also when you eat it and why or how you feel when you reach for a specific food, you may discover that you reach for a candy bar at three every afternoon or turn to ice cream after a hard day at work. By pinpointing when you crave sugar you may discover a habit you didn’t realize you had or that sugar is one of your comfort foods. This information may not sound useful, but exhaustion, stress and other emotional conditions can also contribute to acne flare-ups. Even worse, compounding multiple factors, such sugar and tiredness or worry, increases the likelihood of acne will develop. By being aware of when you reach for sugar, you can avoid combining it with other triggers and hopefully reduce the number and severity of acne breakouts.
Other methods often employed in reducing sugar intake can also be beneficial to skin. Drinking more water instead of carbonated sugar-filled sodas can help your complexion remain clear. Detoxing your body either through fasting for a short period of time or switching to a low-glycemic diet can also help improve your complexion.
One method of cutting dietary sugars that probably won’t solve your acne problem: switching to artificial sweeteners. Studies have shown they can affect hormones in ways similar to the real thing.
Skin is the body’s largest organ. It only makes sense to take the best possible care of it. And even though diet can’t be blamed entirely for acne, it can make the situation worse — or better. Which it will be is up to you.