In an ideal world, sugar would be one of the healthiest, most nutrient-rich foods out there, and acne wouldn’t exist. Unfortunately, neither of these things are true.
Even worse? There might be a link between the food you eat and the extent of your acne, especially when it comes to sugar.
Of course, it’s a lot more complicated than just, “yes, sugar really can cause acne.” But the better you know your enemy, the more prepared you can be to handle it.
Are you ready for some sweet science? This article will explain everything about the link between pimples and sugar, and what you need to know about acne prevention.
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Acne is a common skin condition that affects millions of people around the world. You are most likely to get acne during puberty and adolescence, but some people experience it well into their 30s. Menstruation, certain birth control methods, menopause, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and pregnancy can also disrupt your hormonal balance and cause acne.
Clearly, hormones and acne are inextricably linked. This is because hormones called androgens produce sebum, otherwise known as oil. The concentration of androgen hormones in the body increases during puberty, which is why adolescents are so likely to experience acne.
Acne occurs when the pores and hair follicles of the skin, particularly those on the face, become clogged by excess oil and dead skin cells. Bacteria and inflammation can also cause acne.
Here’s something that might surprise you:
Acne and pimples, while often used interchangeably, are not the same thing.
Acne is a skin condition, whereas pimples occur as a result of acne. There are a couple of different types of pimples that you may experience when you have acne, including:
- • Whiteheads are raised pimples that appear to have a white top;
- • Blackheads, which are open, relatively flat pores that are dark in color;
- • Papules occur as a result of inflammation, creating small white or pink bumps on the skin surface;
- • Cysts are full of pus and tend to be painful;
- • Pustules look like inflamed whiteheads; and
- • Nodules are deep-lying and oftentimes large, hard bumps.
Blackheads and whiteheads are common, both in people with and without acne. They are generally painless and will go away on their own or with the help of over-the-counter treatment methods.
But the bad news?
Papules, pustules, cysts, and nodules all can cause pain and may even scar if not treated properly. These types of pimples are present in people with acne. Cysts and nodules are the most severe type of pimples and often require prescription medication.
Hormones are not the only cause of such pimples. Frequent pressure, friction, or touching can trigger acne. Stress can also make acne worse, though there is little evidence that it can actually cause acne.
Finally, your diet plays a major role in skin health. Eating healthy, well-balanced, nutrient-rich meals can keep your skin clear and strong.
On the flip side, eating too many unhealthy foods, particularly those which have high glycemic index values, can damage the skin and lead to more frequent and more severe acne.
Sugar and Acne: The Science Behind It
While there are a few myths involving acne (such as the idea that poor hygiene causes acne), the relationship between sugar and acne is not one of them. Sugar plays a role in breakouts, and is just generally bad for you when eaten in excess (who knew?!).
Let’s take a look at how sugar affects the body and, particularly, the skin.
What Is Glucose?
You gain energy from the food that you eat. After you digest a piece of food, the enzymes in your stomach break down nutrients and pass them to the intestine, where they are eventually absorbed into the bloodstream. Glucose is one such nutrient.
The main goal of digestion and absorption is to break down your food into a form that the cells and the rest of the body can use as fuel. 100% of the carbohydrates (including sugary carbs) that you eat are converted into glucose, meaning carbohydrates are especially crucial to the body’s energy needs.
Simple carbohydrates, such as sugary foods and white bread, are digested quickly and can affect your blood sugar shortly after eating them.
What Is Insulin?
While glucose needs to enter the bloodstream for the body to use it, its end target is actually the cells themselves. After all, the cells need glucose for fuel, and they can’t use it if it is floating around in the blood.
Glucose relies on a hormone called insulin to usher it from the blood to the cells. Insulin is produced in the pancreas, which then regulates how much insulin is in the blood per the body’s blood glucose levels.
In other words, if your blood sugar rises, then the pancreas releases more insulin, but if your blood sugar drops, the pancreas will slow insulin production.
What Happens When You Eat Sugar?
Sugar is a simple carbohydrate, so it’s digested quickly by the body and is later absorbed rapidly into the bloodstream in the form of glucose. As a result, this sugary food will likely have a drastic, upward-spiking effect on your blood sugar.
The pancreas will respond by releasing higher amounts of insulin to transfer the glucose to the cells and return your blood sugar to a healthy level.
So, What Does This Have To Do With Skin?
A spike in blood sugar and, later, a spike in insulin can lead to a negative effect on the skin. Remember when we talked about androgen hormones earlier? These hormones do more than just produce oil.
When the body senses an extreme increase in insulin, it releases androgen hormones to reduce the amount of insulin in the blood to a healthy level. This results in surplus oil production (and pimples), as there’s a higher concentration of androgen hormones producing sebum.
Secondly, sugar has properties that trigger inflammation. Some pimples, like papules and pustules, emerge as a result of inflammation.
High blood sugar and insulin levels can lead to glycation, which happens when glucose particles attach themselves to proteins. Collagen and elastin, two proteins that offer strength and structure to the skin, are common victims of glycation.
What does that mean for your skin?
Once glucose attaches to collagen or elastin, it breaks them down and weakens the skin. Weakened skin is more susceptible to acne and other skin conditions.
Essentially, eating sugar leads to spikes in blood sugar and insulin. Too much insulin in the body creates perfect conditions for acne formation.
A healthy diet is an integral part of healthy skin. As good as sugar tastes, it may be the cause of your acne, and therefore, you should avoid it as much as possible and only eat it in moderation.
Follow these steps to minimize the occurrence of pimples:
• Follow a healthy, well-balanced diet. Avoid sugar and other foods, such as white bread, that are likely to cause a spike in blood sugar. Instead, prioritize fruits and vegetables, lean protein sources, whole grains, and unsaturated (healthy) fats.
• Practice a daily skincare routine. Cleanse your skin twice a day and apply an oil-free moisturizer afterwards. But remember: cleansing more than twice a day can actually be damaging to the skin and enable acne growth.
• Use the Vitamin C Clay Mask from Gleamin to limit acne and give your skin a chance to glow. The turmeric in the mask stimulates collagen production and minimizes inflammation, while the antioxidant properties of aloe vera reduce redness.
• Hydrate. Without proper hydration, your skin will appear dull.
- • Whatever you do, do not pop your pimples. Yes, we understand how tempting it can be. But popping pimples will make them take longer to heal and can even cause scarring. Honestly, it’s best to avoid touching your pimples at all.
The Bare Faced Truth
Acne is a common skin condition that affects many—you’re not alone. Pimples are a symptom of acne, and the type of pimples you get reflect the severity of the condition. Hormonal imbalances and poor diet can both cause acne.
Sugar can trigger inflammation and break down collagen and elastin, both of which lead to skin irritation and acne. To reduce acne, avoid sugar and foods with high glycemic index values. In addition, practice a daily skincare routine, stay hydrated, and do your best to stop popping pimples.
How to Prevent Pimples: 14 Tips (healthline.com)
Acne - Symptoms and causes - Mayo Clinic
Pictures: Different Types of Acne & How to Treat Them (webmd.com)
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