How Eliminating Sugar From My Diet Eased My Acne Long-Term

Written by Anjali Lobo

My experiment with seeing how diet—especially sugar—affected my acne started back in 2012. At 36, I was undergoing laser treatment for scarring while simultaneously trying to deal with painful, new cystic acne, something I never thought I'd still be struggling with at this point.

I had tried everything, and was exhausting all my skin care options. Then, I found what was triggering my skin woes.

My acne journey.

I'd been dealing with acne since I was 14, and it was only getting worse as I got older. I went to a dermatologist, but her course of treatment for me was a prescription for harsh ointment that dried out the acne and then rich emollient creams to combat the dryness. My skin went crazy.

Then tried to put me on Accutane, but I'd once heard a dermatologist refer to the drug as a nuclear bomb for acne: It destroyed the acne-causing bacteria, but everything else went with it. I wanted clear skin, but I decided it it was not the right choice for me.

I was desperate for clear skin and losing patience (and confidence) that I'd ever get it, but I was tired of all the treatments, and using products that showed no signs of working. It took a year, but I finally decided to make a change. I started doing some research of my own.

Over the years, I'd asked dermatologist after dermatologist whether my diet could be contributing to my acne, and they all said "no" emphatically. (For a long time, the majority of the dermatological community denied the food-skin connection, but that has started to change in the last few years.) But I was beginning to doubt them. If decades of experimenting with different topical treatments weren't working, what could possibly be left?

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I looked to my diet.

I started to notice that on days when I was more mindful of what I was eating (less sugar, etc.), my skin was calmer and looked much better than normal. Despite the fact that I generally eat healthy, I do love desserts. So I decided to stop eating all sugar except for fruit and a tiny bit in my tea every day. I also kept a diary of everything I ate and how my skin looked. From looking at my logs, I noticed a pattern emerge: high sugar foods were my trigger. This was the last piece of the puzzle.

There's research that explains this, too. Foods that rank high on the glycemic index, or anything that spikes your blood sugar after eating, have been shown to trigger acne in individuals predisposed to the skin condition. This happens because when your blood sugar spikes, it triggers an inflammatory response in the body, and that can show up in your skin. This is especially true if you are already genetically prone to inflammatory skin conditions—acne being one of them.

After a few weeks, I noticed a difference. My skin was less red and much clearer. The acne I had was healing nicely, and nothing new was popping up. For the first time in years, my face—dare I say it—looked good. I even went out for dinner without makeup, something that was a HUGE deal as I tended to get depressed whenever I looked at my bare face in a the mirror.

The bottom line:

I'm not saying cutting sugar out completely will cure everyone's acne, but it worked for me. As someone who had tried everything imaginable before, only to have sugar be the sneaking culprit behind my skin woes, I can say with confidence that it's helped my complexion immeasurably. If you're up for it, you'll probably have to cut it out completely for at least two weeks to see any kind of improvement.

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