Popping bottles of champagne on New Year’s Eve could lead to a not-so-pretty start to 2016. Sweet, luxurious bubbly is already infamous for its tendency to endow revelers with killer hangovers, thanks to a high sugar content. But for those with sensitive skin, there’s something arguably worse to wake up to than a hangover—a puffy face and a smattering of pimples.
It makes sense that sugar, our worst frenemy, could bring on a breakout. Eating the sweet stuff does quite a number on the whole body: It causes insulin levels to spike and then drop dramatically, it damages the collagen proteins in the body and increases signs of aging, and it also affects hormonal levels, which can lead to the sudden appearance of acne.
So how does sugar cause major inflammation in the body, exactly? Once it’s in the system, sugar triggers the release of inflammatory messengers called cytokines, nasty compounds that increase swelling, pain, and, duh, general inflammation. If your skin or under-eye area has ever gotten puffy or swollen after indulging in too much candy (or cocktails), cytokines are responsible.
Best practice is to avoid sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, and anything ending in -ose—after all, none of these are exactly good for your waistline, either. But if the cookies have already been eaten and the sugary spirits downed, follow these simple tricks to get your glow back in no time.
Deflate with anti-inflammatories
Herbs like turmeric have been proven to be as helpful in treating inflammation as some over-the-counter medications. Turmeric can be ingested via pill or powdered form, and has a soothing effect when applied directly to skin as well. Consider adding a few more anti-inflammatory foods to your diet on a daily basis to counteract inflammation before it crops up. Fiber-filled fruits and cruciferous veggies are some of the most well-researched soothing foods out there, so load up to start feeling and looking better after a sugar binge.
Detoxify clogged pores
Of sugar’s many negative effects on skin, one of the worst is dehydration. Dry, dead skin cells can actually clog pores, resulting in pimples around the most affected areas. Clear pores out by steaming with essential oils like rosemary, tea tree oil, and lavender—just ten minutes helps to flush out toxins and deeply hydrates. Finish up with a gentle but noncomedogenic moisturizer like rosehip or marula oil.
Heal with B vitamins
Vitamins B1 and B6, found in foods from beans and bananas to fish and liver, have been proven to inhibit sugar’s negative effects on collagen. Try to get as much of these energy-boosting essential vitamins through whole foods as possible, but know that supplementing your intake with a multivitamin can’t hurt. In fact, if your diet isn’t totally balanced (and let’s be real, who’s perfect when it comes to eating healthy?), it’s worth it to feed your skin a little extra vitamin B.
Recruit antioxidant power
Buzzy in the nutrition world since the early nineties, these powerful compounds have remained the darling of skin care and wellness experts for a reason—they seriously work. Applied topically, either in a serum or lotion, antioxidants can help diminish the appearance of skin damage—whether it’s from UV rays or a weekend fling with sugar.
But, antioxidants also work their magic when ingested through food and supplements, which means your healthy morning smoothie can help heal a complexion just as well—although perhaps not as quickly—as antioxidant-infused creams. The best dietary sources include colorful fruits with intense flavors like raspberries, blueberries, cranberries, and strawberries and fibrous foods like beans, apples, artichokes, and pecans.
Bottom line: Sugar isn’t great for a glowing complexion, but there’s plenty you can do to repair and revitalize skin if you slip up.
Illustration by Foley Wu