THE BLOG

3 Ways Sugar Is Good for Your Skin

11/19/2012 08:34 am ET | Updated Jan 16, 2013

The holiday season can be a blessing and a curse. Seasonal snacks like candy corn are a treat, but that bottomless bowl can do a number on your teeth and tummy. Sugar may get a bad rap in sweets, but it's an excellent ingredient in skincare. Here are three beauty benefits this sweet stuff has to offer:

First, sugar is a natural humectant, meaning it draws moisture from the environment into the skin. So when you apply products with sugar or sugar derivatives, they'll actually help hydrate your skin and keep moisture within.

Secondly, sugar is a natural source of glycolic acid, an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) that penetrates the skin and breaks down the "glue" that bonds skin cells, encouraging cell turnover and generating fresher, younger-looking skin. Glycolic acid is typically used to treat sun-damaged and aging skin. Because it can be irritating to certain skin types, over-the-counter products typically contain less than a 10 percent concentration of glycolic acid in their formulas. Spas and dermatologists may offer more advanced glycolic treatments with concentrations above 10 percent, but those should be supervised by a professional. Because glycolic acid -- and all AHAs -- exfoliate the top layer of skin, it's important to always follow with a sunscreen if going out during daylight hours to avoid damaging newly tender skin.

Finally, sugar's small particles make an excellent topical exfoliant, and are used in a number of body scrubs to exfoliate dead surface skin cells and reveal the glowing, healthy-looking skin underneath. Sugar scrubs also have a few benefits over salt scrubs. For one, small sugar granules are generally gentler than salt, which can cause microscopic tears in the skin; two, because of sugar's natural humectants properties, these scrubs are more hydrating than salt scrubs, which can strip skin of natural oils.

When choosing a sugar scrub, consider the key ingredient: Brown sugar is softer than granulated sugar, so can generally be used on the face and sensitive skin. Raw sugar (also known as turbinado sugar) is more naturally coarse, so is usually reserved for the body. Do a small patch test if you aren't sure how your skin will react.

You can make a simple sugar scrub at home using basic brown sugar, olive oil, and a few drops of your favorite essential oil for fragrance. I like ginger -- the warming, spicy scent opens up the senses. You can also mix ginger with a few drops of citrus essential oil (like grapefruit or orange) for an awakening kick.

For the face, mix sugar, honey, and a few drops of lemon juice to hydrate, clarify, and reveal softer skin.

You only need to use a topical sugar scrub about twice per week. Sugar scrubs are great to use in the winter, as exfoliating the top layer of skin helps moisturizers penetrate more deeply and hydrate longer.

Don't let the title of the column fool you: A high-sugar diet won't do your skin many favors, but incorporating it into your topical beauty routine can deliver some pretty sweet results.

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