Recently I was invited to give a talk to a group of young women about how our lifestyle and diet affects our beauty and the aging process. A week also later I saw this article in the Times. What shocked me was that there is a new term for a look cause by consuming too much sugar. Something none of us really want!
Nicole Mowbray was addicted to sugar — until she saw what it was doing to her skin. Giving up didn’t prove easy . . .
I love sugar. And with government figures showing that the average adult Briton consumes a staggering 58g a day (or 14 teaspoons), the chances are you do too.
A few years ago, however, after reading research on how sugar affects our bodies, I became concerned about what my sweet tooth was doing to my then 33-year-old face (not to mention my waistline).
A clutch of scientific studies were saying what no one with a sweet tooth wants to hear: excessive consumption of sugar not only makes our clothes ever more snug, it also makes us look old before our time.
“Sugar face” is what the beauty experts are terming it.
Everything from dark circles under the eyes to spots, a sluggish complexion, wrinkles and open pores can be put down to a diet high in sugar; and this can be explained in one word: glycation.
“A diet rich in sugar is very bad for your face,” says cosmetic doctor Mica Engel of Cosmetica London (cosmeticalondon.co.uk). “It prompts a process called glycation to occur in the cells. Glycation is a complex cellular process, but put simply, it means our ‘youth proteins’ [the collagen and elastin that makes youthful complexions appear so plump and doughy] become stiff and malformed.
“Glycation effectively ‘caramelises’ the surface of the cells,” Dr Engel says. “Collagen and elastin fibres in the skin can no longer perform their most important roles — namely cell division and tissue renewal. The by-products of glycation accumulate in the body and skin constantly appears dull and aged. The end result is premature wrinkles, discoloration and saggy-looking skin.”
And there’s more, according to celebrity dermatologist Dr Harold Lancer — who sees Kim Kardashian, Jennifer Lopez, Beyoncé and Victoria Beckham, among others. It’s to blame for spots.
“Sugar can weaken the immune system, and a suppressed immune system is bad at fighting off bacteria,” he writes in his book Younger: The Breakthrough Anti-Ageing Method for Radiant Skin. “It also creates more testosterone. Testosterone makes pores larger, skin is oilier, it turns your beautiful female skin into ruddy football player skin.”
Gulp. No one wants ruddy football player skin. Not even ruddy football players.
In 2012, my skin was blotchy, spotty, lacklustre and sometimes rather grey-looking, with excessive oil production creating open pores. Indeed, a visit to a dermatologist some months earlier had resulted in a suggestion that I consider a prescription skincare regime for acne-prone skin. Not having suffered with problem skin in my teens, I was baffled to be badgered by it later life.
Faced with my “sugar face” — not to mention vanity aplenty, a stressful job, an expensive skincare dependency and an ever-growing collection of fine lines and dark circles accumulating, I decided to give up sugar.
To say it wasn’t easy is an understatement. Bidding goodbye to alcohol and farewell to chocolate was, of course, terrible. Sushi had to go too (the rice is marinated in sugary wine), not to mention honey, agave and maple syrup (these are all essentially sugar and behave the same way as the granulated stuff when ingested) and sauces. Ultra-sweet Thai food was banned, as were the obvious culprits — cake, biscuits, bread, puddings . . .
Friends were at first sceptical of my lifestyle change, but a month later they had to eat their words. Not only had I lost almost a stone, fixed my broken sleep and remedied my grumpy moods, but my sugar face had begun to fix itself. People commented that the whites of my eyes were brighter and the dark circles underneath them appeared less, well, dark.
Within weeks of overhauling my diet, however, my face had taken on a more rosy tone. Several colleagues commented on my new-found “glow”, some cut back on sugar themselves.
I’m no supermodel, but as the weeks turned into months of living a low-sugar lifestyle, things just got better for my skin — not to mention my weight (I lost almost two stones in a year and dropped from a size 14/16 to a size 12).
Gone were the days of waking up in the morning and feeling my face for spots before I’d even opened my eyes. I still had slightly oily skin, but my dermatologist mentioned my pores were less clogged. The grey washed-out reflection that greeted me in the mirror each morning gradually faded away, replaced by someone altogether more radiant.
Of course, living a healthier lifestyle is going to make you look, feel and sleep better. And while other friends who have cut back on sugar report similar changes to their skin, you don’t have to take our word for it.
In 2011, scientists from Leiden University Medical Centre in the Netherlands and Unilever in the UK measured the blood sugar levels of 600 people to see if there was a direct link between how much sugar circulates in the blood and how old a person looks. Their findings show that (even taking into consideration other factors such as whether or not a person smokes), those with high glucose levels looked up to a third older than those at the lower end of the scale.
“Aside from all the other damage it does to your body, sugar literally drags the collagen from your face,” says Bodyism founder James Duigan (bodyism.com), whose influential Clean and Lean low-sugar way of living is followed by the likes of Elle Macpherson, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and David Gandy. “Put simply, people who eat a diet high in sugar will end up with faces that look old, wrinkled and saggy before they should.”
Engel agrees and adds that there are several reasons why too much sugar is harmful for your skin. “Excessively high blood sugar causes the body to raise its production of insulin,” she says. “This causes ‘inflammaging’ — the process of ageing caused by inflammation on a cellular level under the skin.
“Until the age of about 25, the plentiful supply of antioxidants in our bodies shields the skin’s cells from inflammation and damage — hence why our skin doesn’t ‘age’. After our mid-twenties, however, microscopic changes begin to occur underneath the skin. Collagen and elastin begins to degrade, the results of which are seen about 10 years later as fine lines, pigmentation and a lack of elasticity. While cellular inflammation is a natural side effect of ageing, it’s exacerbated by an unhealthy lifestyle and stress.”
Vanity aside, cell inflammation is generally bad news for your entire body. As well as ageing the skin, it depletes the stores of vitamins and minerals in your body, compromising your immune system.
Excessive sugar consumption has been linked to the growth of cancers, mental illness, circulatory problems, arthritis, cataracts, and liver and kidney problems.
Where the skin’s concerned, the good news is a sugar face can be improved in a really short amount of time.
“The body is an incredible piece of equipment and it will start repairing itself really quickly. Even after a week of being sugar-free, you will feel, and look, more healthy,” says Duigan.
I have been low-sugar (I say low-sugar as it is impossible to be completely sugar-free) for nearly four years now, and my skin looks as good, if not better, than it did ten years ago. Far from being an inconvenience, my diet has become my way of life and I don’t miss anything about my old ways of eating, especially not the excess weight, lethargy, mood swings or acne.
Eating foods rich in chromium — eggs, wholegrains, nuts, mushrooms and asparagus — helps to deal with any cravings, as does upping your proteins and vegetables. If there are things in which you really desire sweetness — yoghurt, porridge, coffee — add cinnamon. If there’s something you really want to eat, have it and enjoy it rather than torturing yourself, then get back to your low-sugar ways. If I really want some chocolate, I indulge — ditto a glass of wine or a scoop of ice cream — but those occasions are now rare.
If completely overhauling your diet is too drastic, small changes can help the body — and face — to deal with sugar.
“You can slow the pace of inflammaging by filling your body with antioxidant-rich foods,” advises Engel. “Pack your supermarket trolley full of colourful produce — dark berries, dark greens — which can be added to juices to lower their sugar content. A good diet is anti-ageing from the inside out. Eating fresh, healthy, natural food helps to preserve a youthful face.”
Engel also advises drinking lots of water. Nothing new there, but as our collagen consists of 70 per cent water, keeping our bodies hydrated helps preserve the collagen we still have.
“DMAE [dimethylaminoethanol] helps to maintain muscle tone in the face and body as we age,” she says. “It can be applied topically [as a cream or lotion] or taken as a nutritional supplement.”
Products containing vitamin C are one of the best — and most accessible — ways to support your skin and slow down the rate of inflammaging in the cells.
Lastly, exercise, says Engel, has been proved to reduce inflammaging by encouraging the body to excrete harmful toxins that contribute to the ageing process. Treadmill pounding, it seems, could not only whittle your waist, but save your face.
WHAT’S IN THE FACE?
Coined by Julianne Moore to describe the effects of eating sushi for dinner and waking up the next morning with a puffy face from all the salt.
Introduced to the world by celebrity personal trainer David Kirsch, carb face describes a puffy bloated appearance caused by water retention. Get rid of it by, confusingly, drinking more water.
Long hours spent in front of the screen can cause “turkey necks” and “deep-set wrinkles on the forehead and around the eyes”, according to Botox specialist Dr Michael Prager, who added that working on a screen all day can put years on you.
Drinking too much alcohol can cause the salivary glands in the neck to become swollen, giving a chubby, jowly look.
Jogging can cause a loss of subcutaneous fat, making the area around the cheeks and eyes lose volume and become gaunt — a common trait of ageing.
Face always flushed? If you’re drinking more than three cups of coffee a day, your rosy complexion could be down to too much coffee.
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If you are interested in learning more how to drink good quality water, shower in chlorine free water, sleep well, use only organic products on your skin and much much more, come to our Wellness Seminar on Saturday 4th June in the Wickham Community Centre. 10 am – 12 pm. Email me for details as there is Limiting Seating! Thank you!