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Photo courtesy of Heather Hazzan/The Licensing Project

The Sugar Sag and Dairy Breakouts Are Real, Says a Top Dermatologist

Dr. Robert Anolik can work wonders on just about anyone’s skin. But the New York dermatologist says that what his patients do at home contributes significantly to the way their skin looks and feels—no matter what sorts of treatments they get in his office. “What we consume is one of the most important influences on our skin,” says Anolik, a board-certified dermatologist and professor of dermatology at NYU School of Medicine, pointing out that long-term population studies have documented that healthier diets are linked to fewer signs of skin aging and disease. “The complex link between diet and skin health is better understood every day,” he continues. “The research serves as guidance in recommending nutritional strategies that can combat the skin-aging forces of oxidation, inflammation, and glycation.”

Beyond the research, Anolik sees anecdotal evidence of diet’s effects on his patients’ skin. “Notably, I think of a patient, now recovered from breast cancer, who changed her lifestyle altogether after being diagnosed,” he says. “While we take care of her skin with lasers and injections, she also takes care of it—and her overall health—with a wellness-oriented diet, meditation, and vitamins. Remarkably, her skin and hair and nails look better now than they did before her battle with cancer.” Anolik says diet affects different people’s skin very differently. “For some people, certain foods prove to be worse offenders than others, and for now, there’s not always a great explanation,” he says. “Frankly, sometimes the stress some patients put on themselves to avoid certain foods can be more of an offender than the food itself.” And while there’s no single food to avoid absolutely, Anolik advises consuming less of some and more of others. “I also support the idea of antioxidants on a regular basis, to battle oxidative damage, whether it’s a consequence of glycation, environmental pollution, or stress,” he says.

Antioxidants both inside and out

The best way to get antioxidants is from fruits and vegetables, but supplements, whether you ingest them or use them topically, can be a great addition.

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The Sugar Sag

And while increasing your consumption of antioxidants, definitely have a look at your sugar intake, Anolik says. “In terms of skin aging, refined sugar is one of the worst culprits. Sugar leads to a process known as glycation, in which sugar molecules bond covalently to proteins, lipids, or nucleic acids,” he says. “Accumulation of these by-products in the skin can lead to the so-called sugar sag, and glycation also increases reactive oxygen species, further worsening oxidative harm.”

Anolik says glycation causes cross-linking between collagen fibers in the skin. “This makes the skin stiffer and more susceptible to injury from outside pressure,” he explains. “Inflammation is another consequence of glycation, and the associated free radical damage harms DNA and skin development. All of these factors contribute, in the end, to more sagging and more wrinkles.”

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Can Dairy Cause Breakouts?

Anolik says he always looks at dairy consumption in acne cases. “It’s recognized that dairy can stimulate several steps that, for some, trigger an acne reaction,” he says. “Dairy might elevate someone’s insulin-like growth hormone-1 (IGF-1), which can worsen acne. Additionally, proteins in dairy include whey and casein. Whey elevates blood insulin levels, while casein increases IGF-1, both of which may worsen acne as well. Finally, dairy contains cow hormones, which can be converted into and act like natural dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which also may trigger acne.”

But neither ingredient always causes trouble, Anolik emphasizes. “Some people’s acne is worsened with dairy, and some isn’t. So if there’s no obvious connection, then I tell some of my acne patients to loosen up on their ban on dairy.” It’s the same with sugar, he continues: “Awareness is needed of its potential to cause problems, and balance is needed.”

Ease Up on Cleansing

Extremely restrictive diets can have negative effects on skin. “Our bodies have been honed over millions of years, and extreme shifts can be disruptive,” says Anolik. “Juicing, for example, can lead to high sugar content.” Someone going all out on an Atkins-style or all-meat diet could lose nutrients that support skin, such as vitamin C. “Included among the consequences of severe vitamin C deficiency is an inability to produce collagen, which would clearly affect the skin,” Anolik says. “Fortunately, most people are not vitamin C deficient, so this is not a direct concern, but if someone were on the low end, vitamin C supplementation would be helpful for collagen development. Most nutrition and medical experts simply recommend healthy diets and moderation, rather than the extremes.”

Consider Fish Oil

Anolik approves of supplementing with fish oil. “Studies have endorsed its contribution to both enhanced moisture and reduced itch,” he says. He sees less evidence that ingested collagen can help skin. “Our stomachs break down proteins—whether collagen or steak or beans—into building blocks known as amino acids, then our bodies build whatever we need.”

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If diet and skin care are great support for what he does, Anolik’s focus, at the end of the day, is on in-office procedures. Demand for botulinum toxin is currently up, he says: “It’s what everyone sees when we’re wearing a mask. Any visible lines amplify how wrinkled we might appear. We’re also seeing quite an uptick in requests for chin and jawline filler. In much the same way that people assumed for years that botulinum toxin treated only between the eyebrows but then slowly they became aware of its off-label uses around the face and neck, people aren’t associating filler with just the nasolabial folds and lips anymore. When chins and jawlines weaken, we look older, and new techniques using cannulas to reach all these areas have been beneficial to overall cosmetic appearance.” He’s also excited about new tech in skin tightening. “We recently completed a new study using an ultrasound-based tightening technology called Sofwave, which shows promise,” he says. Anyone with a sweet tooth might be grateful for tightening lasers someday; in the meantime, we are most definitely cutting back and adding in some fish oil and vitamin C.