Sugar's Effect on Skin is Anything but Sweet

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Do you ever feel like you’re just sort of bouncing from one sugar excuse to another? I kid you not, we still have Halloween candy hidden in a cupboard somewhere. My small people didn’t get through the fun size sweets before Advent started, and darn that Elf-on-the-Shelf -- he must have run out of interesting mischief to get up to, because he brought a lot of candy canes (and dairy milk. and after eights. and chocolate oranges. and biscuits.).  So we’ve survived the high fructose sugar bonanza that is Christmas, not mention the fizz fest of New Year. Before Hotel Chocolat had even sold through their discounted holiday crackers, the heart shaped sweets have been exchanged and suitably scoffed, and now, with the annual chocolate egg-stravaganza on the horizon I have a less than sweet question. What is all this sugar doing to my skin?

You know that saying that ignorance is bliss? Well, honestly, when it comes to your consumption of the sticky, sweet stuff -- ignorant or educated, you are going to feel the effects. There’s no shortage of input regarding the effects of sugar on our waistline. The government, the naked chef and every other cookbook at Waterstone’s is ready to dole out  guidelines on minimising our daily sugar consumption. And it turns out, weight concerns aside, limiting intake of the sugar is a good idea for our complexion. 

This not-so-sweet wake up call should not really be a huge surprise. A simple Google search for sugar + skin very nearly results in bullhorns, alarm bells and flashing lights. That same search will teach you that the most obvious result on the skin of consuming sugar, especially the refined version, is inflammation. That word looks pretty unassuming doesn’t it? It’s not the kind of word that looks like it’s going to beat up on the way to school and take your lunch money, but it might taunt you a bit. Sticks and stones may break my bones... but inflammation is definitely going to kick you in the end. 

In addition to being a makeup junkie, a key ingredient afficianado, and a true technique pedantic, I’m also a self confessed word nerd. You don’t have too vocabulary vehement to see that within inflammation the word FLAME is contained. So sugar is a fuel to the fire of our metabolism. Think of a fire consuming a dry, woody landscape -- in almost an instant the fire can scorch miles, travelling at uninhibitted speed, and with incredible temperatures. That’s the effect of refined sugar within the body. And where do we visibly see these effects -- the skin.

It gets better (and by better, I mean super-interesting, but not great news if you’ve got an insatiable sweet tooth). Inflammation irritates every condition within the body, especially the in the skin, so acne and rosacea sufferers are likely to find that their skin can become especially angry. And due to a process called glycation, digested sugar attaches to collagen in your skin. What does that mean? Imagine the collagen in your skin is a slinky, and sugar (or “advanced glycation endproducts” -- AGEs -- the harmful byproducts of consumed sugar) are a kettlebell. The collagen-slinky should be springing, bouncy and able to walk down the stairs of its own volition. Chow down on that last box of Ferroro Rochers that you’ve been hiding from the rest of the family since Christmas (ya, I’m looking at you), and you’ve attached a sweet, sweet kettlebell to your favourite toy (fun for a girl or a boy). Not only does your slinky not walk down the it stops making that slinkety sound, the AGEs weight permanently distorts the springy shape and it stops bouncing back the way it used it. In short, the elastin, and therefore the elastic, bounceback quality of the skin, is damaged. So not only does become red, inflamed and angry, we are also causing it to age prematurely and unneccesarily wrinkle.

I know what you’re thinking -- it’s just the one Easter egg. You’re right. A single incident isn’t going to have catastrophic effects, but recurring sugar consumption, particularly in what can only be described as clinical amounts will inevitably create long term damage to the skin. And, it doesn’t stop at chocolate and Haribo (or Jelly Babies, or your cavity-causer of choice). Let’s not forget the sugar content of alchohol. The effects of alcohol on the body, especially the skin is whole separate blog post -- but you know how that story is going to end, right?

Did you know, however, that the sun essentially acts a magnifying glass on the skin, when it comes to these AGEs and the subsequent havock they cause on our superficial top layer?  True story. Exposure to UV rays accelerates glycation, further ageing the skin. Which, frankly, really puts a dampner on plans to lay by the pool, soaking up the sun and sipping a strawberry daquiri. Good job I live in England where I can stay inside my kitchen watching the rain, slurping down hot cups of tea! No sugar in mine, thanks, and no, I really don’t want a biscuit with it. Maybe just one.

So it’s not just my skinny jeans that object to my sugar-laden indulgences. And really, if I’ve invested real, hard-earned cash in my skin care routine, which believe me, I have, then why leave that investment unprotected and undo all my hard work? Well, for one, the instant endorphin release of chocolate is way easier, and less sweaty work, than going for a spin class. But ultimately, that would be a better source of endorphins and it would increase the efficiency of cellular activity, so my skin would look more energized, plumped and radiant. So do we have trade in our Snickers for yoga pants and green juice? Maybe not everyday. And definitely not on Easter Sunday. But armed with this knowledge, maybe it’s time to stop bouncing from one sweet excuse to another, and stop the sugar cycle in it’s tracks. Your skin will thank you. 

Chrys Chapman