Sugar fix: Curbing your need for the white stuff

You could spend a fortune on anti-ageing creams, but really the trick might be as simple as giving up sugar, writes Beauty Editor Rachel Marie Walsh.

Sugar fix: Curbing your need for the white stuff

They’ve always had enviable figures, but more and more female stars are showcasing the skin-improving effects of a low-sugar diet.

Eva Longoria swears by regular 10-day sugar detoxes to maintain her preternaturally perfect complexion.

Gwyneth Paltrow, who says she is makeup averse most days, blogs expert tips on curbing your addiction to the white stuff.

In Kate Hudson’s Pretty Happy: Healthy Ways to Love Your Body, the actress explains how to “tame the sugar menace” with her 3-day Ayurvedic cleanse.

Cameron Diaz devotes an entire chapter of The Body Book to why she hates sugar and thinks you should ditch it too.

Celebrity diets may provoke fad fatigue but your skin really can look younger on this one, especially if your sweet tooth is currently woolly mammoth-sized.

Glycation is a Beauty Disaster

“A diet high in sugar and foods that rapidly convert to sugar when eaten can cause a spike in blood sugar and insulin, which can then trigger chronic, low-level inflammation at the cellular level, leading to an acceleration of the ageing process and the formation of wrinkled, sagging skin,” says New York dermatologist Dr Nicholas Perricone, who covers this subject in detail in Ageless Face, Ageless Mind: How to Erase Wrinkles and Rejuvenate the Brain.

Glycation occurs when sugar molecules in your system attack cells, sinking their fangs (as I envisage) into skin-supporting fats and proteins.

Actress Eva Longoria swears by regular 10-day sugar detoxes to maintain her perfect complexion.
Actress Eva Longoria swears by regular 10-day sugar detoxes to maintain her perfect complexion.

This forms advanced glycation end products (AGEs), which cause proteins like collagen and elastin to become stiff and malformed. External signs of glycation tend to emerge in your early thirties.

Sugar’s crimes against beauty go beyond wrinkles, as celebrity dermatologist Dr Jessica Wu explains in Feed Your Face: The 28-day Plan For Younger, Smoother Skin and a Beautiful Body.

“High blood sugar can jump-start oil production in the pores as well as increase the frequency of hot flashes and flushing in rosacea patients and menopausal women.

"Sugar molecules decrease firmness and elasticity (paving the way for cellulite and stretch marks), while producing by-products that leave the skin sallow and dull. Sugar also feeds the type of yeast that causes dandruff.”


Still, you probably already knew indulging in a high glycemic-carb diet keeps you from looking your best.

Maybe you’ve even quit sweets and starchy carbs cold turkey and are wondering why you still get that crash-induced crankiness.

“It is very important to learn to recognise that there are many forms of sugar; in fact, the word ‘sugar’ may not appear on the label at all,” says Dr Perricone.

Just in case, look for hidden sugars like: corn syrup, dextrin, honey, maple, evaporated cane juice, malt, molasses, dextrose, fructose, sucrose, fruit juice concentrate, glucose and maltose.

Damage Control

You know the cereal box small-print that reads “May aid weight loss as part of a healthy diet”?

Antioxidant serums and moisturisers could be similarly labelled, substituting “skin repair” for “weight loss”.

While these products are great for healing and protecting the superficial epidermal layer, what lies beneath both reflects your inner health and impacts your overall complexion.

You may have had a facial that began with “facial-mapping analysis,” during which a clinician took photos that indicated the UV damage s/he warns will surface as brown spots as you age.

Kate Hudson, extols her 3-day Ayurvedic cleanse.
Kate Hudson, extols her 3-day Ayurvedic cleanse.

An especially thorough treatment may also involve photos that show your skin’s hydration levels or emerging blemishes and fine lines, all things you can’t see clearly until they’re painfully obvious.

Sugar dehydrates the skin but simply downing litres of water a day may not be offsetting this effect.

In The Water Secret: The Cellular Breakthrough to Look 10 Years Younger, Dr Howard Murad advocates “eating” water too.

“When we eat more water-rich foods, we absorb water more slowly because it is trapped in the structure of these foods. That slow absorption means that water in food stays in our bodies longer, with a multitude of additional nutritional benefits.”

Dairy sugars can prompt acne breakouts, blocking pores by thickening mucous membranes and exacerbating excess oil production.

Antioxidants are probably not so widely understood as they are discussed.

An antioxidant is any chemical that can convert a free radical from an unstable particle (caused by UV damage, poor food choices, smoking, stress, or even air pollutants) that corrupts healthy cells to a stable particle that’s essentially benign.

A diet packed with high-glycemic carbohydrates and processed food prevents your body from bouncing back from free radical damage as efficiently as it could.

In Feed Your Face, Dr Wu gives an excellent breakdown of anti-ageing foods, including sources for five antioxidants.

Lycopene is her skin-health superstar.

“Lycopene is found in red fruits and vegetables, including red peppers, tomatoes, watermelon, and pink grapefruit.

"It is perhaps the most potent of all the antioxidants and is particularly effective at blocking the damaging effects of UV rays on the skin, helping to prevent sunburn and skin cancer.”

Beta-carotene is found in orange vegetables and leafy greens, including carrots butternut squash, cantaloupe, spinach, kale and romaine lettuce.

Berries, onions, tea (green, black, or white) give you flavonoids.

Ascorbic acid is abundant in oranges, papaya, kiwifruit, strawberries, sprouts, kale, and broccoli.

Vitamin E is found in nuts, eggs, green leafy vegetables and avocados.

The Fatty Phalanx

Every cell in skin’s epidermis is wrapped in protective fatty tissue.

This keeps the skin flexible and waterproof and retains moisture, preventing skin from cracking or drying out.

Fatty tissue is destroyed by environmental aggressors and overly harsh skincare, but is also attacked from within during glycation.

Cameron Diaz devotes an entire chapter of The Body Book to why she thinks you should ditch sugar.
Cameron Diaz devotes an entire chapter of The Body Book to why she thinks you should ditch sugar.

The foods that help restore “good” fats contain the ingredients we love to see in dry-skin moisturisers: omega 3s and alpha-linoleic acids.

They can reduce inflammation, irritation and redness, which is especially good news for the vulnerable cells of psoriasis or eczema suffers.

They are “heart smart” and reduce your risk of blood clots and certain skin cancers.

Unfortunately, these fats cannot neutralise free radicals. A varied low-GI diet really is a prerequisite to your best skin.

Omega 3s are prevalent in oily fish, almonds, walnuts and flaxseed.

Alpha-linoleic acids can be found in tofu, soybeans and oils like olive and canola.

Rebuilding Collagen

Collagen and elastin are proteins that live in a bed of hyaluronic acid in your skin’s dermis (the layer of connective tissue that cushions the skin against stress).

The acid plumps the skin, while collagen and elastin keep it firm and tight.

Collagen or elastin-rich skincare cannot restore your reserves when intrinsic and UV-ageing happen (they work as cosmetic water-binders), and hyaluronic acid serums are simply excellent moisturisers.

Gwyneth Paltrow blogs expert tips on curbing your addiction to the white stuff.
Gwyneth Paltrow blogs expert tips on curbing your addiction to the white stuff.

These ingredients cannot reach the dermis.

This is why so-called “firming” creams usually disappoint.

We naturally produce a lot of elastin in infancy and childhood but it is extremely difficult for adult skin to grow more, even with medical intervention (though Fraxel has reassuring amount of research behind it, if you want to take a non-invasive route to tightening).

UVA rays penetrate the dermis and accelerate skin-ageing like nothing else, so we can at least protect what elastin we have from without.

Glycation is causing havoc from within because, as we’ve seen, the sugar molecule can permanently bond with and harden proteins during this process.

Happily, healthy collagen production can continue for years (at a reducing pace) with sun protection and appropriate lifestyle choices.

You can spend a fortune on anti-ageing creams, but it is arguably more important to feed this building-block of youthful skin.

“The major components of collagen are the amino acids glycine (which makes up 30% of the collagen molecule all by itself) and proline,” says Dr Wu.

“Beef, lamb, and chicken breast have high concentrations of both of these amino acids, so they’re excellent staples in an anti-ageing diet.

"You can pack more proline into your diet with cottage cheese, cabbage, and (if you’re feeling adventurous) bamboo shoots.

“Copper, zinc and magnesium complete her collagen-boosting list. Find magnesium in spinach, almonds, cashews, peanuts, soybeans, brown rice, lentils, kidney and pinto beans.

"Copper is abundant in legumes, tofu, shellfish and prunes. Eat zinc-rich foods such as lean red meat (particularly beef and lamb), raw oysters and shellfish, kidney beans and lentils, and eggs to maintain your skin’s elasticity.”

High blood sugar can also interfere with how you metabolise Vitamin C, which is vital to collagen development.

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