Sugar and Acne

When I started to write this article, the words of an old nursery rhyme popped into my head and just would not go away. 

‘… What are little girls made of ... sugar and spice and all things nice …’

Whilst the nursery rhyme is not talking about the food eaten, if we were to take a good look at the diets of many western countries, sugar and spice and all things nice, pretty much sums up the diet of both girls and boys today.  Sugar is in almost anything that is processed.  You would be truly surprised if you were to add up all the sugar eaten over the week.  According to Sugar by Half, teenage boys aged 14-18, consume on average 22 teaspoons of sugar a day with 10% of teenage boys consuming 38 teaspoons of sugar a day.  Now I am sure the boys are not sitting at the kitchen table eating teaspoons of sugar (although my kids did exactly that on one occasion when I had to run errands for friend and needed them to wait in the food court).  Sugar is hidden in all the foods that we eat.  The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends limiting sugar intake to 6 teaspoons a day.

We know that sugar is linked to weight gain, diabetes, and a number of other health issues, but what role does sugar play in the formation of acne in teenagers and adults?

Over the years there has been much debate over the role diet plays in acne vulgaris.  Scientists have been very divided, and many studies conducted in the past were flawed due to not following evidence-based guidelines.  Recent studies however do show a correlation between insulin resistance and severe acne vulgaris. These findings suggest that treatments prescribed for insulin resistance will also assist in the treatment of severe acne vulgaris.

So where does sugar fit into all of this?

Studies have shown that acne did not exist in cultures that ate traditional foods that were whole food based – fruits and vegetables and fish etc…  Acne only made an appearance after adopting western diets.   Scientists are not sure if genetics played a role in this, but the fact still remains - no acne was present in these cultures before the introduction of western diets (that included sugar and other refined and processed foods). 

These traditional diets are by nature, low GI (glycaemic index) diets.  The glycaemic index is a measure of how quickly a food is absorbed into the bloodstream raising the sugar levels in the blood.  A low GI product only raises the sugar levels very slowly.  There is a lot of evidence that supports low GI diets reduce the severity of acne and improves insulin sensitivity.  Sugar consumption is linked to higher GI diets and diets with a high GI are linked to insulin sensitivity and insulin resistance.

Insulin is linked to inflammation and to increases in androgens such as testosterone.  This in turn increases sebum production and follicular hyperproliferation.  It is a cascading waterfall effect, and these falls are not ones we want to take our skin white water rafting on.

The next time you grab for that snack or any packaged food item for that matter, take a moment to read the label.  Is it really as healthy as it is portrayed? Sugar is not always listed as sugar.  There are 56 different names for sugar and only some of them contain the word sugar in the name. If the ingredient ends in ‘ose’ it is sugar – glucose, sucrose, fructose, galactose, dextrose, lactose, maltose are all sugars.  But syrups, nectars and juices are also sugars, as is molasses, barley malt, sucanat, dextrin, diastatic malt and ethyl maltol.

You may be asking, ‘Where does that leave me?  Do I have to give up all sugar?’  The answer is, ‘NO’. But being aware and making informed decisions, will tip the scales in your favour.  The comprehensive knowledge of each therapist at The Skin Herbalists , ensures your consultation and treatments are personally tailored to address your specific skin’s needs.  They help you identify all the factors that are negatively impacting your skin and then work with you to achieve your dream skin. 


April xx