Sugar and Skin Conditions


Sugar in all of its forms (corn syrup, cane sugar, high fructose corn syrup, etc.) is extremely damaging to the skin–and in fact to all organ systems.

Sugar and foods that rapidly convert to sugar when eaten cause sudden spikes in blood sugar levels, resulting in the release of insulin into the blood stream, that then cause us to store, rather than burn fat. However, that is not the only negative byproduct.

As these sugars and starches are eaten, they cause a burst of inflammation throughout the body.  The sugar molecule can also permanently attach to protein, such as the collagen present in our skin and other parts of the body.  This process is known as glycation.

At the point of attachment, there is a small mechanism creating inflammation, which then becomes a source of inflammation in its own right.  This inflammation produces enzymes that break down collagen, resulting in wrinkled, sagging skin.  In addition to inflammation, glycation also causes cross-linking in our collagen, making it stiff and inflexible where it was once soft and supple.

But it is not just the skin we have to worry about.  These “sugar-bonds” can occur throughout the body as we age.  The sugar molecule attaches itself to our collagen as well as our arteries, veins, bones, ligaments, even our brains, resulting in the breakdown of organ systems and the deterioration of the body. Glycation creates “free radical” factories known as advanced glycation end products (AGEs), which also increase cellular inflammation.

Sugar consumption can also affect acne.  When our blood sugar and insulin levels rise, whether from a poor diet or from stress, we experience a serious increase in inflammatory chemicals at a cellular level. This causes inflammatory diseases such as acne to worsen dramatically.  Cortisol and other adrenal steroids can act as androgens (male hormones) and stimulate the sebaceous (oil) glands resulting in a flare-up of acne.

If you are concerned about your health, and not accelerating the aging process, it is best to avoid all forms of refined sugar as well as chemical artificial sweeteners.  There are natural sugars found in fruits and vegetables that should be our only source of sugar.  These foods are high in anti-inflammatory anti-oxidants, help stabilize blood sugar, and nutrients that promote beautiful skin and a healthy body.

23 thoughts on “Sugar and Skin Conditions

  1. VERY interesting! I never knew that sugar could contribute to acne. I’m definitely going to limit my sugar intake & see what happens.

    Thank you for the info!

  2. What about ‘inulin’? I have heard arguments on both sides — that it doesn’t cause a spike in blood sugar, but it is also difficult to digest.

  3. I was aware of the ills of any kind of added sugar based on the avoidance recommendations contained in the low Gi dieting method. However, I did not realise how devastatingly badly it also affects your skin and overall looks. I am therefore even more content that I have followed the low Gi nutritional ideas fo the past 15 years!!

    Regards, Ernest

  4. From personal experience as a teenager in Australia, trying to effectively deal with the underlying cause of my own acne, and the experiments I have done, I have found extra information which may be of use to anyone experiencing Cystic Acne.
    Firstly – Sugar is definitely a trigger, in all forms, including jams, honey, fructose, maple syrup – as well as cane sugars, ect. So of course, high carbohydrate soft drinks, and fruit juices/cordials are on the list as well. In saying this – many alcoholic beverages now aimed at young adults, contain large amounts of these sugars as well – so these are to be avoided.
    Starches like corn and white potato (although being ‘vegetables’) seem to act in a similar way to these sugars, and also trigger acne in some people. These vegetable starches are added to many commercially available foods including soups, biscuits, cakes ect.
    Toxins rich foods can trigger acne in many Teenagers; and even young adults
    These can include;
    Fish – tuna and shellfish in some people (especially those from mercury filled and other highly polluted waters 😉
    And cheap, readily available oils such as canola, soy, and sunflower, peanut – which are used in most processed foods, and almost anything deep fried.
    Dairy products – the ‘whey’ protein in particular; – if you must include dairy, I would personally suggest organic dairy from free range, grass few cows.
    And Glutens – especially found in wheat, but also barley and spelt. Look for hidden glutens/starches added to other products
    Lifestyle factors which seem to attract an outbreak include, but are not limited to:
    Sleep deprivation, as a lack of sleep increases inflammatory cytokines.
    Infrequent meals, which (like in the article above) – cause spikes in blood sugars and the release of insulin – Or even just poorly balanced meals, with too much quickly absorbed carbohydrates, not enough ‘good’ fats, or quality organic protein. I read that Dr Perricone suggests eating fruits at the end of meals, which is a fantastic way to prevent your body from producing spikes in blood sugar levels.
    An obvious way around this would be to eat smaller, more frequent meals – with a combination of high quality proteins, fats and carbohydrates.
    From personal experience, as well as feedback from other people, most products found in supermarkets or pharmacies do little for the acne sufferer. Medicines taken orally tend to either dry skin out completely, which over a medium – long period of time can be damaging to the skin, or use an anti biotic – and the most commonly prescribed antibiotics used to treat the condition in America have been linked to a decrease in brain activity.
    And of course, most ‘skin care’ lotions available, which are targeted at teenager – do everything but create healthy glowing skin. In saying this, there are a handful of products available that are of exceptional quality and dramatically reduce acne without damaging the skin, and I have found that the Perricone Products seem to do that. Although, no matter what you use on your skin, beauty starts on the inside, so doing everything in your power to improve your general health and wellbeing will make the greatest difference of all.

    • Thank you so much for your post. I suffer from cysts as well, and my doctors all said that it wasn’t diet it was just hormonal and cannot be controlled without birth control and other oral medicine. To an extent I agree that it is excess testosterone that causes some cystic acne because it makes the oil glands secret more oil than necessary, but I do think it is a lot with diet as well. I find that whenever I eat sugars or starchy things like breads and do not eat enough protein I get cysts. I think also when you work out a lot in humid environments like bikram or even vinyasa yoga it can contribute to cystic acne. Something about the humidity and the excess sweating makes the oil erupt from the glands out of your pores.

      It is so hard to beat cystic acne because it doesn’t have to do with hygiene or what not it’s really about diet and hormones. In addition to not eating sugar, I found that not eating meat or dairy made my cysts decrease in frequency. The hormones in milk and meat especially cause your oil glands to go crazy.

  5. I am interested if Splenda has the same effect as real sugar, because I am a coffee drinker, and I have stayed away from sugar and sweetners with Aspartame, but I have used Splenda quite a lot.

  6. Scary! But it is so hard to avoid sugar and foods that quickly convert to sugar. I really do think it makes a difference though. I see less breakouts when I cut back on sugar.

  7. Dr. Perricone,
    What causes urticaria? Would food has any effect on this? Would it help taking any supplement? Your advise will be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

  8. What a difference getting rid of sugar in one’s diet makes! Now that my son and I are following the advice that you have put forth in your books, we feel better, and our skin is looking much clearer and radiant!!! Thank you.

  9. Giving up sugar does make a big difference in the health and appearance of the skin. I gave up cane sugar, honey and all refined sugar years ago after reading: “Sugar Blues” by Dufty. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

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  12. just a note that sugar was the main reason for my ongoing acne for many years- i’m happy to see it’s becoming more widely-known that this is such a common and horrible trigger, especially as it was resistant to rx treatment. diet and its influence on hormones really is the key.

  13. I have been taking notice of my sugar intake and have been avoiding glazed doughnuts,candy bars,candy,pop and some other obvious sugar havens. But my biggest sugar problem concerns my morning Joe. Is there anything I can use to sweeten my coffee other than dumping two teaspoons of sugar into each of my2-3 cups of coffee every morning?

    • Hi Angie. Good for you! Taking steps to eliminate excess sugar is a smart move. If you are going to drink coffee, you can sweeten it with agave syrup or stevia, which is a better option that natural sugar or nutrasweet.

  14. Dr. Perricone,

    I have sebaceous hyperplasia, and I have noticed that the lesions become more prominent when I have had too much sugar!

  15. Great message!

    All people like soul-food. This is good for the soul but bad for the body. Sugar gives a definite high but is very acidifying to the body. All soul foods are. It is no problem to eat something nice and sweet once in a while. but overconsumption of sugars and other acidifying foods lead to an acidic condition in which the body cannot cope with the added acidic load.

    If you are in balance however, soul food won’t harm you because your body can buffer and eliminate the acid load.

    I am always surprised at how little sugar my body needs to have normal blood sugar levels. Sometimes it comes down to only two slices of bread and two sweet fruits a day.
    The rest of the time i eat an alkaline diet, which is rich in green leafy vegetables, cold pressed oils, a source of vegetable protein and alkaline and mineralised water.
    Because my alkaline reserves are replenished each and every day, eating something sweet or eating animal protein is handled well by my body.

    It is the over-consumption of such foods which leads to acidity and thus leads to disease.

    Excess sugar, which is not used as fuel, is broken down to acetylaldehyde and alcohol by fermentation. During this fermentation process other acids are formed which are the source of the inflammation. This gives rise to inflammation of intestines but also joints and cartilage.

    Make sure your diet consists for 75% of Alkaline, Live and Raw foods. Cut back on processed foods completely for a while and make sure your body detoxes completely. Then the fluids in your body will become alkaline again and the reserves to buffer acids will be replenished. Also the organs of elimination: Kidneys, Lungs, Bowels and skin will be able to eliminate toxins and acids more efficiently.

    Best regards,


  16. Does the refined starch include whole wheat? I’d have no problem taking sugar out of my diet, but I’d like to keep the homemade bread made with whole wheat flour and flax seeds.

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