Sugar and beauty: Sweet young face or ageing disgrace?

Charlotte Maxwell
Latest posts by Charlotte Maxwell (see all)

So it’s pretty much assumed to be common knowledge that sugar is bad for our teeth. We also know that it’s not great for our waistlines – that’s a complete no brainer. But I bet you’re less aware of the effects of sugar on our skin and our faces, right?

Skin problems

You’re probably thinking that too much sugar causes spots, but the effects can also include sagging and wrinkles – meaning that sticky treat that makes you feel like a kid again is probably making you look more like granddad.

Okay, so a quick science lesson on sugar is probably in order. (We’re not scientists, so we apologise if we muck up some vital bit of terminology here.)

When you ingest sugar or any high-glycaemic foods that convert to sugar (e.g., apples), your body breaks down the carbohydrates into glucose. These simple carbohydrates (which is what sugars are) cause sudden sharp fluctuations in insulin levels which can have a number of negative effects.

Insulin spikes cause inflammation within the body and so enzymes are produced to counterbalance this. These enzymes break down collagen and elastin, resulting in sagging skin and wrinkles. Are you still following? Good. Well, the digested sugar also bonds to collagen (glycation), thus exacerbating skin conditions like acne and rosacea. It can even cause dark patches on the skin. In short: too much sugar in your diet is a big no-no if you want to look like Madonna in your 50s.

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Reducing sugar in your diet

Luckily, though, there are plenty of suggestions out there for how you might reduce the level of sugar in your diet and improve your health by doing so. The NHS (God love it!) has provided a great little guide that provides information and tips on cutting down on sugar. Not only does it stress the names that sugar can disguise itself under on food labels (sugar is basically like a ninja), it also discusses daily meals and drinks – giving practical guidance on what to give a thumbs up to and what to avoid. Bye-bye, cereal bars and hello, fruit granola bars!

Likewise, Body and Soul has created a simple step-by-step, one-week challenge to help you reduce your sugar intake. This one-step-at-a-time approach is great for anyone who’s a bit worried about parting themselves from their favourite afternoon snacks and mid-morning coffee with several sugars. It’s only a week, so what have you got to lose beside your holiday weight?

Speaking of liquids, Jamie Oliver has some great tips on how to stay hydrated and still steer clear of sugar. His flavoured water recipes are definitely worth trying if you don’t want to switch to tap water on its own! You can also ditch the full-fat mixers and pop for diet and sugar-free varieties – or just switch to soda water with a twist of fresh lime juice instead.

Alternatives to sugar

If reducing your sugar intake with no back-up is too much to deal with, look for a sugar alternative. They do actually exist. BBC Food has a great list of sugar alternatives for baking. This means that, yes, you can still be Mary Berry without a canister of sugar by your side. And if you’re not much of a baker, but are desperate for a list of alternatives for all occasions, you’ll find the ideal list at – where there’s everything from lime to milk to coconut sugar. Huzzah!

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Sugar as a cosmetic?

On the flipside, sugar does have some excellent beauty and cosmetic uses – provided you’re opting for the right kind of sugar. Brown sugar is a great body exfoliator and if being used in the shower, it’s much more eco-friendly than conventional exfoliators which can block your drains and don’t dissolve easily. However, if you’re set on detoxing from bad sugar, Spring Green London has the perfect diet plan that will revitalise your skin using natural nutrient-rich, fruits.

So whether you’re part of Team Reduce or Team Alternative, you can have a happy diet and happy skin. It’s all about having the right sugars and moderating your intake.

About Charlotte Maxwell

Charlotte Maxwell is a Vada Magazine staff writer.