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The Skinny on Sugar Face: How Sugar Could Be Harming Your Skin

Weird breakouts? Fine lines rolling deep? Your sweet tooth could be to blame. Counteract sugar’s side effects with these secrets.

Sticky Business

Biscuits and cake aren’t just bad news for skinny jeans. In a process called glycation, sugar binds to the proteins and lipids of the skin, altering them to form advanced glycation end-products (AGEs)— mutant molecules that wrap the collagen with elastin responsible for giving skin its dewiness and bounce, says Dr Nicholas Perricone, who studies the impact of food on ageing. They also hitch onto blood vessels, preventing nutrients from nourishing skin, says dermatologist Macrene Alexiades- Armenakas. After a while, says Perricone, “skin starts to wrinkle, look dull, and loses tone.” AGEs, indeed... Premature ageing isn’t the only concern. ‘High carb intake is associated with a spike in oil, which increases your chances of adult acne,” says Alexiades-Armenakas.

Sugar Rush

A few squares of chocolate won’t kill your complexion, but your body has memory, and glycation is cumulative, says Perricone. He pinpoints the late 20s as the time we start noticing its effects. Not only does the damage mount but it gets worse as you get older. Think about it like this: “When you’re 21, you can drink a lot and not have a headache the next morning,” says Alexiades-Armenakas. But it’s harder to rally when you’re nearing 30. “You don’t have the same ability to process the toxic content. It’s the same situation with your skin.

Sweet Spot

Both experts subscribe to the ‘everything in moderation’ philosophy but recommend cutting back on refined (white) sugar. To indulge a little without feeling sugar-shamed, says Alexiades- Armenakas, “One treat a day is fine.” The recommendation is about six teaspoons of sugar. Read nutrition labels and download the MyFitnessPal app—it’s a very helpful (free) resource. You’ll find that seemingly innocuous food, such as a store-bought green smoothie, can contain up to 10 teaspoons of sugar. (A regular-sized Snickers bar contains the equivalent of seven teaspoons of sugar.) Switch from sugary cocktails to red wine— which has less sugar than white wine and rosé and has a higher amount of resveratrol, which can fight the signs of ageing. Eat antioxidant-rich fruit and vegetables— blueberries are especially powerful. Apply an antioxidant-rich treatment (see below) to protect skin—and in some cases, boost the production of collagen and elastin.