The Truth About Sugar and Your Skin
Sugar is horrible for your skin when you consume it, but it can be an amazing therapy when applied topically. How is it possible that it can have such disparate qualities and if we know this about sugar, why are the food and the beauty industries not more aligned? The first part of this question is fairly straightforward and can be explained through simple biology and chemistry, translated into diet and skincare. The second part, however, will be left to the economists and marketing professionals to debate.
What Is Sugar?
Sugar is a generic term for disaccharides and monosaccharides that are structural components of live cells, and carry and store the energy necessary for most life to be sustained. (Source). Sugar occurs naturally and is present in almost everything that people consume. Natural sugars found in fruits and vegetables metabolise without generally causing too many issues, and can be very good for you because of the vitamins and minerals that are delivered with them. However, prepared foods that use refined sugars and carbohydrate-rich foods can cause major dermatological issues that ruin your beauty.
Why Sugar Hurts You
At its root this means the type of simple carbohydrates found in white bread, pasta, and refined sugar cause an insulin spike which results in your body being hit by massive inflammation. The inflammatory response produces enzymes that destroy the collagen and elastin in your skin. Another type of harm is that when you consume sugars, insulin is loaded into your body and it creates more sebum (the oil produced in the sebaceous gland of the skin), which leads to acne. (Source)
Digested sugars leave the bloodstream and attach to collagen molecules, deforming them. This is called glycation. Glycation causes wrinkles, contributes to acne and exacerbates rosacea. If you develop insulin resistance, pigmentation issues and unwanted hair growth may develop. It is also linked to diabetes, cataracts, Alzheimer's, dialysis related amyloidosis (DRA), atherosclerosis and Parkinson's. (Source) Any quick google search will bring up dozens of articles on glycation and endless information about why it is best to avoid consuming sugar rich foods.
It is important to realize that glycation is a natural process in which sugar and a protein or lipid are joined. This process is described by Dr. Puglise, and quoted in numerous publications and blogs written by dermatologists and aestheticians, from his book Physiology of the Skin, 3rd Edition, chapters 30 and 31:
The Maillard reaction is one of these processes that starts by forming a Schiff base and proceeds to forming multiple chemicals called advanced glycation end-products, or AGEs, that have adverse effects on a person's biological processes. AGEs can link up with many proteins and denature them or alter them to be nonfunctional, cross-linked collagens, which is an AGE protein complex responsible for stiffness of the skin.
Skin collagen has a long half-life; these cross-linked forms do not go away and are not fully reversible at present. Elastin is another long-lived protein that is easily glycated and lasts a long time. Denatured elastin is associated with slackened skin. AGEs have cellular receptors known as RAGEs that initiate inflammatory reactions when activated by an AGE complex. These reactions tend to be chronic and are associated with arterial diseases, metabolic disorders and rheumatoid arthritis. Once they are started, the AGE-RAGE system will accelerate and perpetuate itself. In the skin, glycation accounts for accelerated aging, yellowing and stiffness of the skin, and decreased circulation. (Source)
How to Control SugarRemarkable evidence exists showing that patients who diet to control for diabetes end up through that diet eliminating the skin conditions that accompany diabetes. (Source). These diets are designed to reduce and balance blood sugar, thereby reducing the insulin spikes and consequently reducing inflammation. Luckily most of us are not diabetic, so when we indulge in sugar we are only doing minor damage that may be very controllable through skin care products designed to reduce inflammation and fight the effects of glycation.
Getting Sugar to Work for You
Calysta Labs anti-aging serum is the result of science driven skincare and delivers beautiful results. It uses glycolic acid, which can be derived from sugar cane, to fight the effects of aging, acne, and scarring. Glycolic acid is produced by plants during photosynthesis. When used on the skin it leads to decreased roughness and pigmentation and increased collagen and elasticity. (Source).
Sugar is often incorporated into exfoliating scrubs, but here's another possibility: sugar can also lead to the reduction of scars when it is applied to healing skin. Research indicates that when granulated sugar is combined with povidone-iodine and rubbed or packed onto wounds, burns and scars, healing was enhanced. (Source) This is attributed to a combination of reduced bacteria, nourishment of the epidermal cells, and the debridement of the damaged tissue. The results of the study indicated that other hospital costs, such as for antibiotics and skin grafts were greatly reduced. While the iodine without question contributes greatly to the process, the sugar it seems, when applied instead of consumed, can make you your most beautiful.