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  • Writer's pictureAnita Scott

The not so sweet truth about sugar

Let's face it, we all love to indulge in a sweet treat every now and then (or all the time).

Sugar-filled goodies and drinks, as delicious as they are, can impact the body in a variety of ways, including the appearance of your skin.

Not only bad for your skin, research has found that consuming only 40 grams of sugar from a 375ml can of soft drink a day can lead to an increase of inflammatory markers, insulin resistance and weight gain.

Sugar can play a role in a variety of skin issues, including premature ageing and oil production (which can lead to more acne breakouts). But how?


Overconsumption of sugar can lead to inflammation in the body which can aggravate the skin. When you eat high Glycemic Index (GI) foods such as white sugar, soft drinks, or baked goods, it leads to a spike in your blood sugar levels at a quick rate, which in turn sends a signal to your pancreas to release insulin triggering inflammation.

This inflammation can exacerbate skin conditions such as psoriasis, acne, rosacea and eczema. Excessive intake of sugar can also lead to dehydration in the skin and contribute to dark circles under the eyes and the skin looking less bouncy.


Diets high in sugar are thought to accelerate skin ageing as high GI foods contribute to the breakdown of collagen fibres in a process known as glycation. Glycation refers to

the binding of sugar molecules to proteins, fats and amino acids. This results in the loss of skin volume, sagginess and cross-linked wrinkles. Glycation is central to skin ageing as once glycated, proteins become rigid, less functional and contribute to the production of free radicals. How?

When glycation occurs, a new substance is created called advanced glycation end products or AGEs. AGEs can contribute to the breakdown of the body's proteins, and unfortunately, this includes the ones that give us a youthful complexion, elastin and collagen (which impacts skin firmness and contributes to wrinkling). The presence of AGEs also makes your complexion more vulnerable to damage from UV light.


Unfortunately, artificial sweeteners miss the mark, and they can have a similar effect on the body as real sugar. Sugar substitutes can temporarily elevate insulin levels, and just like the real deal, can change the composition of the gut microbiome. Artificial sweeteners have also been linked to skin disorders such as acne that are related to high insulin, so it's best to give them a miss.


  • Swap out refined grains and sugars with fibre-rich, low GI carbohydrates.

  • Include plenty of healthy fats for supple skin, such as oily fish, nuts, seeds, olive oil and avocado.

  • Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables daily that are rich in antioxidants, phytonutrients and fibre. Berries are a great choice because of their high antioxidant content.

  • Be aware of hidden sugar! Sugar is present in so many foods you may not realise. Always check the labels for sugar content.

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