by Sally Duffin

Skin problems? Stop sugar!

THE change in seasons has got me thinking about skin health. As we move into winter and switch between heated homes and the icy blasts outdoors, our skin must deal with an awful lot.

Sudden changes in temperature can cause skin to react and become red, flaky, and tight. Combine this with eating more sweet treats at Christmas, and a lack of motivation to go out and exercise in the cold and dark, and you have the perfect recipe for problem skin.

Refined sugar causes problems in the body by binding to other molecules like proteins and fats, in a process called glycation. Skin and other connective tissues such as those in our joints, contain high amounts of collagen – a type of protein. When collagen is attacked by sugar, it can no longer keep skin plump and supple. Skin loses its elasticity, becoming wrinkled and sagging, and looks dull.

The beauty industry makes a fortune from selling collagen plumping creams and anti-ageing balms, but these can only work on the surface layers of the skin’s structure; nutrition and lifestyle choices influence skin cell formation and the underlying foundations.

Alongside the glycation process, sugar also blocks the actions of vitamin C, one of our most powerful antioxidant vitamins that plays a key role in collagen formation. A high sugar diet fuels inflammation throughout the body, including the skin, and can worsen inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema, dermatitis, and psoriasis.

Cutting down on refined sugary foods, drinking more water, and increasing your intake of antioxidant rich foods are the most important steps to take towards glowing healthy skin.

Water works with collagen to help skin feel plum and supple: remember what happens to an orange when it’s left too long in the fruit bowl? That dry, shrivelled look is like dehydrated skin! Rather than gulping down large glasses of cold water, sip room temperature or warm water gradually over the course of the day, and aim to drink at least a litre. Herbal teas can also help: nettle tea has natural anti-histamine effects, making it helpful for skin rashes, and is a source of silica, another component of skin tissue.

For antioxidant rich foods, it’s back to thinking of ways to eat a rainbow. Brightly coloured vegetables and fruits carry different types of antioxidant compounds that protect skin cells from free radical damage and support collagen. Kiwi fruits, strawberries, watercress, broccoli, and peas are all good sources of vitamin C, while avocados are one of the best providers of vitamin E, a nutrient ‘teammate’ of vitamin C with anti-ageing and antioxidant properties of its own.

The fats in avocados are exactly the right sort for supporting skin moisture levels and the production of natural surface oils. Even oily skin needs to be nourished with the right fats. As well as eating the fruit, you can mash it up and combine with honey to make an edible face mask!

Sally Duffin, nutritional therapist and health writer


T: @nutritioninyork