When it comes to gorgeous skin, one of the most popular pieces of advice is to eliminate sugar and alcohol from your diet. Celebrities have attributed their beautiful, eternally youthful-looking skin to avoiding both. While they also have the money to invest in many other skincare treatments, we wanted to know if cutting out sugar and alcohol really is a shortcut to glowing skin. So, we asked two dermatologists for their expert insight.
Is sugar bad for your skin?
It depends. If you’re eating a lot of refined sugar‚ which is the sugar that is produced and put into foods like ice cream or baked goods—some studies show it can interfere with your gut flora. This causes more inflammation in the body, which can damage your skin by causing acne and redness, says Dr. Kristy Bailey from FCP Dermatology in Toronto. However, foods like fruits and vegetables which are beneficial to health also have natural sugars. “Foods with natural sugars not only have less sugar [than foods with refined sugar], but they also [provide] all the other good things that come along with natural sugars, such as fibre and antioxidants, which kind of combat the sugar that you’re ingesting with the fruit.”
The impact that refined sugar has on your skin is more commonly from consistent, long-term consumption, says Dr. Zaki Taher from Lucere Dermatology in Edmonton. “If you occasionally have a sugary drink with lunch, that won’t immediately impact your skin,” he says. But having one every day, for example, can “catch up to you and really age your skin in the long run.”
Is alcohol bad for your skin?
Alcohol has both immediate and long-term effects on your skin, says Taher. Its immediate impact is more noticeable for people with rosacea, who can get redness, lumps and overall swelling or puffiness within minutes of consumption. Alcohol dilates blood vessels, so over time with continued consumption, blood vessels break and your skin can look red even when you’re not drinking, says Bailey.
As a diuretic, alcohol ramps up urine production and dehydrates your body, says Taher. This leaves skin looking dry and can cause acne and premature signs of aging, like wrinkles. “We’re struggling to get enough water in our bodies to have healthy skin, but then [if] you [add] something like alcohol, [it] can make you pee it all out.”
And, ideally, avoid sugary alcoholic drinks, because they are a compound of both negatives for your skin. “It’s two strikes in one,” says Taher. Instead, Bailey suggests opting for red wine. Despite it being a rosacea trigger, it has antioxidants which can help decrease the inflammation that’s created from the alcohol and sugar.
Why do people cut out sugar and alcohol together?
The inflammation caused by sugar and alcohol consumption in tandem break down collagen, an important protein in your body that helps to provide structure to your skin. “Generally, we lose one percent of collagen a year starting at 30 years old. So by the time you’re 40, you’ve already lost 10 percent of your collagen,” says Bailey.
While alcohol makes you dehydrated, over time, sugar starts to stick and harden onto collagen, through a process called glycation. “[Sugar] hardens all of that collagen [you] want to make supple,” says Taher. “[We] drink water to try to have nice, glowing skin. But alcohol is going to dehydrate the water, and sugar is going to harden that collagen.”
The bottom line: Can cutting out sugar and alcohol help your skin?
Taher and Bailey say they have seen improvements in the skin of patients who have limited or completely cut out sugar and alcohol. Someone with a low-sugar and low-alcohol diet tends to have brighter skin, less acne and less incidence of rosacea, says Bailey. “We also see their skin looks a bit brighter, more plump, and their dark circles seem to get a bit better.”
Taher says that cutting these things out of your diet can help improve hormonal acne, which is common among adult women. It can also help people with chronic skin conditions, like psoriasis. “[When] people [with] chronic skin infections cut out their sugars, they can [lessen the infection] or they can actually clear it up, and the same goes for alcohol,” he says.
So, should you cut sugar and alcohol out of your diet?
Only if you want to, and if it feels right. “The best approach someone can have is to do what is healthy for them,” says Taher. When it comes to sugar consumption, he recommends following Canada’s dietary guidelines, which say free sugars—any sugar added to a food or drink, or the sugar that is already in honey, syrup and fruit juices—should not be more than 10 percent of your daily caloric intake. Recommendations for alcohol vary based on weight and gender, he says, but the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction recommends no more than ten drinks a week for women and 15 drinks for men (but be aware these guidelines are a decade old and are higher than recommended limits in other countries; Australia, for example, recommends no more than seven drinks a week for both men and women). Taher adds that it’s good to get into the habit of reading labels, so you’re aware of what you’re putting in your body.
There are also healthy foods that you can incorporate into your diet to make your skin brighter, and to help prevent some collagen loss. Bailey recommends antioxidants, which can be found in different berries, and omega-3, which can be found in foods with healthy fats, like nuts, avocado, and salmon.
Taher and Bailey suggest keeping yourself informed on the impact different foods have on your body, and opting for healthier options when you can. “Just monitor your intake, and try not to have too much of anything,” says Taher. “The most important message is always everything in moderation.”