If you have acne, you’ve probably already tried giving up foods that might break you out. The usual suspects are chocolate, pizza, and ice cream. In the past, the role of diet in acne has been controversial and hard to prove. But we now know what the real culprit is: refined carbohydrates.
What are refined carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates provide the body with energy. But not all carbs are the same.
You can think of them in two main categories:
- Whole (complex) Carbohydrates These are unprocessed and contain natural fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Examples include vegetables, whole fruit, legumes, and whole grains.
- Refined (simple) Carbohydrates Carbs that have been processed and have had their natural fiber, vitamins and minerals stripped out. These processed foods like sugar sweetened juices, sodas, cakes, white bread, white pasta, white rice, sweets, and many more.
Your body easily and quickly digests simple carbohydrates. It breaks them down into sugar (glucose) that then rushes into your blood-stream. Whole carbohydrates are harder to digest. They take longer for your body to break down. Sugar flows into your blood-stream at a slower, more controlled pace.
What happens to your skin when you eat refined carbohydrates?
Now you know that refined carbohydrates are immediately broken down into sugar. Glucose (sugar) is the primary fuel your body uses to function. But it’s only usable after it gets inside your cells. Insulin, a hormone your pancreas makes, unlocks your cells so the glucose can gain access. Without insulin, the glucose stays in your blood. Your blood sugar levels rise and can eventually cause damage to organs, nerves and blood vessels.
Long term, regular glucose spikes overload your body’s ability to process it. Cells run out of storage space. They become less responsive to insulin. Glucose levels in the blood-stream stay high. Your pancreas pumps more insulin out to try and lower it. We call this insulin resistance.
How does sugar make you break out?
Sugar is like a double whammy — it makes you break out directly and indirectly. Glucose spikes shoot bursts of inflammation through your body, including to your largest organ — the skin. Along with that, your body pumps out insulin to bring your sugar levels down. The more sugar you eat, the more insulin your body has to make. At a certain point, your cells don’t like they used to. Your body makes more insulin to compensate. Rising insulin levels can cause hormone imbalances that activate your oil glands. The combination of hyperactive oil glands and bursts of inflammation is the perfect recipe for breakouts.
How do I know what foods to stay away from for better skin?
We know from studies that there’s probably a real link between low glycemic index (GI) diets and clearer skin. The GI ranks foods by how quickly they raise our blood sugar levels after eating them. Pure glucose is given the top value of 100. The lower a food’s glycemic index, the slower blood sugar rises after eating that food. In general, processed foods have a higher GI and foods rich in fiber or fat have a lower GI.
To follow a low GI lifestyle (this is not a diet!), start with avoiding highly processed foods like white bread, white rice, sodas, and sugary desserts. Instead, choose healthful proteins, non-starchy fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and good fats. If you prefer cold, hard numbers you can find a glycemic index table that’s easy to follow here. Along with this guide, it’s important to note that portion size matters. Overeating low GI foods can still cause an unhealthy rise in blood sugar.
The bottom line: great skin starts from the inside out
Refined carbohydrates, processed foods, and sugars are bad for your health and bad for your skin. Choose a low glycemic index lifestyle to help you look and feel your best.
About Dr. Maryann Mikhail – Board Certified Dermatologist in Fort Lauderdale, FL.
Dr. Maryann Mikhail is the founder of Waverly DermSpa. She believes that every patient’s skin and treatment plans are unique. Her accessibility and personalized care have made her one of the most sought after dermatologists. She is a frequent writer on skin-care and Dermatology topics. Dr. Mikhail has been featured in publications such as: Cosmopolitan, The New York Times, The Atlantic and Into The Gloss.