Sugar and acne: how diet affects your skin

Person grabbing a piece of sugary strawberry cake

With every New Year comes a small frenzy of self-improvement and health changes, be that in the form of resolution workout plans, detox diets, or temporary teetotaling (think “dry January”). Besides helping you feel better, committing to your health can have the added bonus of benefitting your skin. But whether or not you’re on the “New Year, new me” bandwagon, you might be recoiling/recovering from post-holiday acne breakouts, and wondering what the deal is. The surge in sugar and drinking alcohol that tend to happen over the holidays could be the culprit — all the more reason to skip the sugar for awhile.

What sugar does to your skin

Foods with a high glycemic index — we’re talking sugary treats and simple carbohydrates, like white bread — can set off a hormonal domino effect that leads to acne breakouts. In fact, the latest scientific evidence suggests that high glycemic index (GI) foods that increase blood sugar may be the main culprit in acne. That’s because the body produces the hormone insulin when we consume excess sugar, which ultimately leads to increased inflammation — and inflammation is a key factor in acne.

Person lying facedown, demonstrating how your skin feels after a sugar crash

How to recover when your skin suffers a sugar crash

1. Switch to smart carbs and other whole foods with a low-glycemic index

Foods on the lower end of the glycemic index take more time to break down, which helps stabilize blood sugar levels and keeps you feeling fuller longer! Instead of white bread, white rice, potatoes, or sugary snacks, reach for:

  • nuts and seeds
  • lean meats
  • eggs
  • tofu
  • most vegetables
  • healthy grains like barley, quinoa and rolled oats
  • low-glycemic fruits (blueberries, plums, peaches, cantaloupe)

2. Swap soda for water or green tea

Sweetened sodas tend to have a lot of sugar — some as much as 20 to 30 grams per serving! Consuming too much sugar causes the inflammatory and blood-sugar-spiking processes that can result in acne. A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows a marked increase in inflammation with just one to two cans of sugar-sweetened soda per day — bad news for anyone with acne-prone skin. If you turn to soda for an energy boost, try green tea instead — it’s loaded with health benefits! And of course, drink more water to stay hydrated and to keep your skin healthy and clear.

3. Use the right active ingredients (Curology can help with that!)

We get it — sometimes your sweet tooth strikes. It happens! Using a topical treatment can help keep your skin clear and healthy throughout all of life’s ups and downs. If you haven’t already given Curology a try, get your free trial on! Your first custom superbottle is on us.

4. Chill out (we know, easier said than done)

Stress means stress hormones, and stress hormones can result in the same “domino effect” that causes acne. Do your best to reduce stress without resorting to comfort foods and sweet treats — drink some herbal tea, do some yoga, meditate, go for a jog, take a nap, play with your pet; whatever healthy activity you know makes you feel good!

Person holding an apple in front of their eye, showing one of the many healthy fruits you can incorporate into your diet

The best diet for clear skin

Don’t worry, there isn’t any one “correct” diet! Everyone is unique, and there’s no “right answer” when it comes to the super-personal choice of what to eat. That being said, of course there are healthy eating habits that will only benefit you.

  1. Eat more fruits and vegetables
    It turns out that what’s good for our hearts, brains, and bodies is also good for our skin! Eating whole foods, fruits and veggies, lean meats and healthy fats — as well as cutting down on processed foods with added sugar — is one of the best things you can do for your health and to prevent acne breakouts.
  2. Going sugar- and dairy-free works for some people!
    All milk, including organic, contains the hormone triggers and insulin-spikers that lead to acne, including the precursors to testosterone and other androgens (“male hormones”). That’s why dairy products, especially skim milk, have been linked to acne in recent studies. Dairy doesn’t necessarily cause acne for everyone, but if you’re breaking out and it’s a regular part of your diet, you might want to try cutting it out for a few months. Try switching to low-glycemic milk alternatives, such as unsweetened almond milk or soy milk.
    For more info on the relationship between your diet and acne, check out our Acne-Free Lifestyle Guide and our Diet Guide.
  3. Dial up the seasoning!
    Some herbs and spices, including ginger, garlic, cinnamon, cloves, oregano, and allspice, are believed to help reduce inflammation, among other potential health benefits. Plus, they’re delicious! Adding seasoning is an easy way to make healthier eating super enjoyable without having to add sugar.
Person with their legs up, balancing a Curology custom superbottle on top of their feet

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