Worse for Your Skin Than Sugar?

Dr. Janet Zand

July 3, 2020



You probably know that sugar is damaging to your skin.

But believe it or not, there’s something that’s even worse!

It’s often touted as a healthier alternative, even though it’s terrible for your health. And not only is it terrible for your health, it can make your skin age faster, too!

So what is it? Artificial sweeteners.

Now, you may already know that artificial sweeteners like aspartame (a.k.a. NutraSweet or Equal) and saccharin (a.k.a. Sweet‘N Low) are bad news.

But new research shows that these sweeteners — along with sucralose (a.k.a. Splenda) — can actually be worse than sugar! And particularly terrible for your skin.

Here’s the story:

Researchers gave one group of mice drinking water with aspartame, saccharin, or sucralose in it. Another group of mice got water with sugar in it.

The results? The mice that drank artificial sweeteners had higher blood sugar levels than the mice that drank sugar water. In fact, the mice that drank artificial sweeteners were almost diabetic!

The researchers were so shocked by the results that they repeated the test again and again. But they kept getting the same result.

So why do artificial sweeteners have this effect ... when they don’t contain any sugar?

Well, it turns out that it’s not about the sugar. It’s about what these sweeteners do to your gut microbiome.

See, there are certain types of gut bacteria called Firmicutes that thrive on artificial sweeteners. And as your Firmicute population grows, these bacteria can actually make your body extract more energy (meaning more sugar) from your food.

So you wind up with high blood sugar, even if you aren’t eating lots of sweets.

Researchers noticed this effect in the mice study, too. And when they treated the overgrowth of bad bacteria in the sweetener-fed mice, guess what happened? Their blood sugar levels dropped back down to normal!

Now here’s how all of this affects your skin...

If artificial sweeteners raise your blood sugar, that means you have more glucose in your bloodstream. That extra glucose then binds with proteins, creating nasty substances called advanced glycation end products (AGEs).

AGEs are like the rust in a car. A car will rust and corrode if exposed to too much water and salt, right? Well the same thing happens to our cells if there’s too much sugar in our blood.

And that cellular “rust” damages cell machinery, makes it harder for cells to repair themselves, and makes cells behave as if they were much older.

AGEs also damage your skin, especially the collagen and elastin. How? Well, AGEs make collagen and elastin stiff, dry, and brittle, zapping them of strength and spring. And the effects show up in your complexion as fine lines, sagging, wrinkles, inflammatory skin conditions, and bags under your eyes.

So if you want youthful, glowing skin, stay far away from artificial sweeteners!

And while aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose make up the bulk of the market, we need more research to see whether other sweeteners can also damage the gut biome.

For now, just stick with no-calorie sweeteners like stevia, monkfruit (also known as lo han guo), and erythritol. These three sweeteners don’t seem to affect blood sugar or gut bacteria.

Just be careful if the sweetener also contains dextrose or maltodextrin. Those two simple sugars are high on the glycemic index, so eat them in moderation.

Or, try other ways of satisfying a sweet tooth, like eating whole fruit or a piece of dark chocolate. And by the way, both of those foods are chock full of skin benefits!

For example, whole fruit contains powerful antioxidants that protect your skin from free radicals. Those free radicals — caused by pollution, sunlight, and other environmental factors — lead to wrinkling and age spots.

And dark chocolate is another great choice for your skin. Studies show that flavanols from cocoa can improve blood flow to the skin and even protect it from sun damage.

Finally, if you want to do all you can to reduce AGEs in your body, make sure you’re getting exercise on a regular basis. Studies show that regular, moderate exercise can actually block the glycation process before it can create AGEs.

And that’s the great news: glycation doesn’t have to win! With just a few simple changes you can enjoy younger-looking skin as you age ... and better health overall.

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