Is sugar bad for your skin? : Here is what we know

25th March 2024

Jo Hannan

Dark chocolate

Will you be tucking into a fabulous Easter egg this Easter?  I do admit to having a very sweet tooth, so I will definitely be enjoying some chocolate. I do however make a considerable effort to curb my sweet cravings, as I know too much sugar is not good for me and makes me want to eat even more. But did you know: excess sugar in your diet, is not good for your skin and can even lead to accelerated skin ageing.  If you are keen to take a holistic approach towards caring for your skin and do what you can to naturally reduce the signs of ageing in your skin, then considering your diet is a great place to start.  

Holistic Skincare

I’ve always had a huge personal interest in diet and nutrition, perhaps because maintaining a healthy weight has always been a challenge or maybe it’s my love of food!  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to view food as ‘medicine’. Unsurprisingly, I know when I eat healthily I feel good, I'm sure you’ve probably experienced this too.


Just over a year ago now I took part in the Zoe personal nutrition programme, the world's largest nutrition study, based in the UK and led by Professor Tim Spector (prof. of Genetic Epidemiology at Kings College London). The program provides you with personal information about your unique gut microbiome diversity, blood fat and glucose control within your body. It was certainly educational and provided me with some personal data about how my body processes food. One of the results I could see was how good my body is at balancing my blood glucose and how this is directly affected by everything that I ate. To gain this information I wore a continuous blood sugar monitor for 2 weeks, with the information gathered by the blood sugar monitor (and another test which looks at blood fat levels) the  Zoe program then seeks to show you, which foods you eat help to maintain a healthy and steady level of blood glucose. “But what’s that got to do with skin, I hear you ask.

Pathway to saggy skin & wrinkles: Understanding the process of Glycation

When your blood contains high levels of glucose, it can result in a process called Glycation, which alters cellular function. This can occur in various types of cells within the body, but if we focus on the skin, it is a major factor in the skin’s ageing process. Glycation causes the skin to lose its elasticity and resilience, becoming saggy, forming deep wrinkles and losing vitality.



This occurs due to the excess glucose molecules binding to the structural proteins, collagen and elastin found within the skin. Once bound together, complex chemical processes lead to the formation of AGEs (advanced Glycation end products). AGEs are able to change the structure and function of the collagen and elastin, causing them to become less flexible and resilient over time. Once formed AGEs accumulate within the tissues of the skin and this can lead to cross-linking of the collagen and elastin proteins. When this happens the skin’s integrity is compromised, saggy skin and criss-cross wrinkles can be seen. The accumulation of AGEs in the skin also contributes to oxidative stress (oxidative stress happens in the body all of the time as a result of normal cellular processes) and inflammation both of which result in all visible signs of skin ageing.

In a nutshell, consistently eating food high in sugar will likely give you elevated glucose levels which will in turn accelerate your skin’s ageing process. This is one contributing factor and possibly ‘food for thought’ if you’re like me and have a sweet tooth. It’s also worth noting that alcohol turns to sugar (glucose) in the body, so glucose levels are not all related to food. Many foods such as bread, cereals, crisps, and pasta (refined carbohydrates) also elevate your blood glucose.

What about acne and other inflammatory skin conditions

High sugar consumption can lead to increased levels of inflammation within the body, including the skin, so can therefore contribute to an existing skin condition. When blood sugar rapidly rises, Insulin levels do the same. High insulin levels can stimulate an increase in sebaceous secretions in the skin, which in turn exacerbates spot-prone and acneic skin. High sugar intake may also disrupt some hormonal levels, particularly insulin and androgens. Androgens like insulin increase sebaceous secretions making the skin greasy and can produce acne, particularly along the jawline and painful inflammation.

What can you do to mitigate the possibility of AGEs formation?

If you think you might be regularly consuming lots of refined carbohydrates and or high-sugar foods, considering your skin health may be a motivation to make dietary changes. The NHS guidelines recommend no more than 30 -40 grams of carbohydrates per meal. There are 73 grams of carbohydrates in 100 grams of Special K, and 23g in the average banana. Whilst you wouldn’t generally eat 100g of Special K for breakfast these figures do illustrate that balancing healthy carbohydrate consumption can be tricky.

Our skin’s exposure to solar rays also can cause and accelerate Glycation in the skin’s tissues, ensuring that every day, throughout the seasons you are using a dedicated, high-factor (50) broad spectrum UV protector, can be likened to ‘an insurance policy for your skin’. Whatever your age, if you want to support your skin health, and slow down the natural ageing process, daily SPF is a no-brainer. If your SPF has a powerful antioxidant ingredient even better!

Anti-oxidant foods

Eat a colourful diet rich in antioxidant foods. Red grapes are excellent, containing a potent anti-inflammatory antioxidant Resveratrol which provides the skin with additional protection against sun damage and skin cancer. Pineapple is high in manganese a powerful antioxidant which is essential for collagen synthesis. Oranges, of course, provide Vitamin C, a powerhouse antioxidant which is also needed for collagen formation. Watermelon contains high levels of Lycopene (also found in tomatoes) which again have been shown to protect the skin from UV rays and photo ageing. Essentially eating a diet that includes a variety of fruits and vegetables would be good and will provide your body with the ability to reduce some of the oxidative stress (cellular ageing processes), therefore helping your skin to keep healthier and younger in appearance for longer.
Getting a good night's sleep can also be easier said than done, however, it’s worth prioritising sleep, as the skin regenerates and repairs itself from damage caused by UV exposure, pollution and other environmental factors. Both circulation and collagen production are boosted during our sleeping hours.

If you are interested in finding out more about how the food you eat affects your body and about your blood sugar level and control, it’s worth taking a look at the Zoe programme and feel free to catch to me when you come in for a treatment. You can find more information at