Does Sugar Cause Acne – How Your Sweet Tooth Is Making You Break Out

It’s a well-known fact that diet has an impact on health. ‘You are what you eat’, the saying goes.

But how deep is the connection between diet and appearance?

For example, does eating sugar cause acne? Could that pack of cookies you ate for dinner the other night be responsible for the small mountain that popped up on your cheek this morning?

Yes, it is absolutely possible.When examining the connection between sugar and acne, there are several factors you need to consider. The list includes the types of sugar and how much sugar is actually consumed.

The rest of this article will break it all down for you- so that you can decide whether or not that next brownie is worth it.

The Different Types of Sugars

Sugar is more than just that little packet you rip open and pour into your coffee every morning. It has several forms and each form has something to do with your body.

Sugar is typically found in three forms- fructose, sucrose and glucose. Although it’s difficult to tell the difference taste wise, all of these sugars are processed very differently by your body.

Glucose: The VIP

Glucose is the primary source of energy for most living organisms. In fact, it’s often referred to as blood sugar because it stays in the blood and circulates throughout the human body.

Most of the carbohydrates you chow down on are converted into glucose. Once inside your body, it can either be used immediately for energy or stored in muscle cells for later use.

For sugar to be useful, your body releases the hormone insulin. It’s responsible for facilitating glucose transport and storage in your cells.

Fructose: The Fruity Sugar

Fructose is found in fruits and vegetables. If you’re a label reader, you’ll commonly find this type of sugar in sodas and fruit juices.

This sugar is not as popular as glucose when it comes to energizing the body. This is because fructose must be broken down and processed by the liver before the body can use it.

In addition to this, fructose doesn’t trigger the release of insulin or leptin as glucose does-. These two hormones are essential for energy regulation.

Sucrose: Sugar Packets

Sucrose is table sugar derived from beets or sugar cane. But you can also find it in fruits and vegetables.

When consumed, this sugar actually separates into fructose and glucose. Once it separates, both sugars are then processed as usual by the body, with glucose being used first for energy and followed by fructose.

So, how do all these types of sugar cause acne?

Well, to start off, sugar’s effect on your body is more than just for energy. It can also cause inflammation, hormone issues and yeast overproduction.

Let’s examine each one of these in detail.


This is probably one of the most common reasons why acne happens.

As you’ve learned, the body converts sugar to glucose for energy through the hormone called insulin. Once converted, it gets stored in your body- ready and waiting to be used for activities.

What happens if you store more than what you need?

Easy. The storage gets too full.

This simply means that if we’re eating lots of sugar and not using it for energy, we essentially have a glucose overage.

Once it becomes excessive, the cells become insulin resistant or unresponsive to insulin. The pancreas, as a result, starts producing more insulin in an attempt to compensate for the “lack” of enough insulin.

So, what does this have to do with acne?

Well, increased insulin production triggers sebum. Sebum is oil produced by your skin, and it’s notorious for clogging pores.

If the sebum isn’t enough, insulin can also create IGF or the Insulin Growth Factor by interacting with the growth hormone in your liver. This reaction affects your androgen hormones as well.

All of these hormones can lead to acne.


When your insulin levels rise, your immune system goes on high alert. It’s detecting that something is off in your body.

The result of this high alert is inflammation. Your immune system sends out an army of immune response soldiers to defend your body against the enemy.

This will manifest in the form of irritated skin and acne.


Naturally, you can find yeast present in the human body. They don’t generally pose any health threat- except when they become excessive.

The presence of yeast in your gut makes you crave for sugar and more sugar. The more sugar you eat, the more the yeast grows and the cycle continues.

There is a specific type of yeast that lives on the skin called Malassezia. When this type of yeast grows in large amounts, it can make your skin break out.

Aside from its effect on your skin, yeast overgrowth can also lead to a decrease in the amount of good bacteria in your body. Good bacteria support the immune system and help to keep your digestive system functioning optimally.

Remember, a poor immune and digestive system can cause mayhem in your skin.

On top of everything else, high levels of yeast can also facilitate the release of toxins into your blood. It will overburden your liver and, as a result, will force your skin to help with toxin elimination.

Now, don’t get too stressed with the news.

Try These Alternatives

If you’re panicking or feeling depressed about it, rest assured that you can still satisfy your sweet tooth without a new zit waving hello at you in the mirror tomorrow morning.

First and foremost, sugar, by itself, is not the enemy. It has got to do more with the type sugar and how much you actually consume.

We’ll jump into the ideal amounts a bit later, but for now, let’s talk about the sweeteners you can use to get that sugary kick without paying such a high price.


Stevia used to be popular among people with diabetes. Today, however, it’s getting pretty main stream and you can buy it from most grocery chains.

It’s a sweetener that’s extracted from the leaves of a plant called Stevia Rebaudiana. It’s more fondly called sugar leaf or sweetleaf for obvious reasons.

It’s an awesome alternative to sugar because it has 0 calories. If you’re struggling to lose both acne and weight, using stevia can definitely be a big help.

It has also been shown to lower blood sugar levels and it has no effect on blood pressure.

There are a few critical reviews about the taste of Stevia, but overall the feedback is favorable. There are actually a lot of companies that make it, so experiment and see if you like any.


This sweetener is known as a sugar alcohol and it’s derived from natural fruits. It doesn’t raise blood sugar or insulin levels which are always a plus.

With sugar alcohols, you have to be careful not to eat too much because it can cause digestive issues when consumed excessively. The other down side to Xylitol is that it is toxic to dogs, so you may want to be careful if you decide to keep it in the house with pets.

Raw Honey

Raw honey is not calorie-free. One tablespoon has about 64 calories, so if you’re trying to lose weight, I suggest you take it easy when adding it to your favorite drink or recipe.

Raw honey also contains antioxidants, vitamin B6 and niacin. All of which are helpful in providing vitamins and neutralizing free radicals in your body.

It’s important to stress that this applies to honey in its raw form only. Once it has been heated and pasteurized, it loses much of the benefits.

How much is too much?

Still can’t take sugar off of your mind?

Well, there is another way you can still enjoy some sweet treats and that involves balance and moderation.

This can be a bit challenging to figure out because most of the food we eat are high in sugar. Breakfast cereals alone have around 35 – 40 grams of sugar.

On the average, we consume about 82 grams of sugar per day. That translates to a whooping 20 teaspoons.

If you want to be on the healthy side, it’s recommended that you lower your sugar intake to around 6 to 9 teaspoons.

You can achieve this by being more mindful of what you eat. You can check labels to see how many grams of sugar you’ll be getting with a single serving of a food item.

Another good tip is to substitute nuts and low sugar vegetables for sugary snacks whenever possible.


It’s pretty safe to conclude that eating sugar can cause acne. Although it is a common culprit for breakouts, it doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy sweets from time to time.

Limiting sugar, increasing water intake, and adding vegetables and greens to your diet can make a world of difference for your skin.

Your body can easily adapt to change. The less sugar you eat, the less your body will crave it. 

The reverse is also true in that the more healthy foods you eat, the more your body will want them.

So, the next time you reach for that pack of cookies, you should probably consider getting some almonds instead to keep your skin happy and glowing.

Hannah Do

Hannah is the founder of ThankYourSkin. Having personally battled acne during her younger years, she aspires to provide an invaluable guide to anyone suffering from it.

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