A guide to alternative sweeteners: the good, the bad, and the really toxic

When it comes to alternative sweeteners, whether they are synthetic or “natural” artificial sweeteners, some have a very negative impact on skin health, while others can be beneficial for the skin, containing antioxidants and nutrients that are especially skin-nourishing and collagen synthesis promoting.

When it comes down to which sweeteners have a negative or positive impact on skin, three crucial factors act as criteria which can help you determine how dangerous the sweetener is for the skin and the body in general. First, the issue of how the sweetener does/does not spike insulin; second, the fructose to glucose ratio; and third, whether or not it contains any other toxins for the skin.

Blood sugar spikes, toxins, and inflammation caused by blood sugar spikes can all lead to the release of AGEs and MMPs in your body, which can greatly harm the skin and prematurely age you. Today, we’ll talk about some really bad choices if you want great skin and some that are actually nutritive to the skin.

Why sweeteners are so bad for the skin

The real problem with alternative sweeteners is that although they might seem innocuous, many of them spike insulin, just as much or more than sugar. Sucralose spikes insulin, and another popular sweetener contained in many foods, such as cottage cheese and low and fat-free foods called Acesulfame-K, spikes insulin more than sugar. In fact, in animal studies, Ace-K spiked insulin 114–210% over baseline.1

This is why you have to look for those hidden sugars on foods if you want beautiful skin. Just look on a bottle of sugar-free vanilla coffee creamer and notice “fructose” is clearly an ingredient in it. Fructose, which you’ll learn today, is the skin’s arch enemy.2

Diet Drinks and Sweeteners

While we might think that sipping on beverages sweetened with calorie-free sweeteners is good for us, most of them actually do more harm than good, the development of insulin resistance, obesity, and type II diabetes.

All sweet tastes spike insulin to some degree, and eating sugar and/or artificially spiking insulin in our bodies with artificially sweetened beverages and foods are leading to all-day insulin spikes. Consequently, we are seeing an increase in metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance (a fast track to diabetes) all over the world. Sugar and artificial sweeteners that spike insulin are contributing to this problem. In fact, when scientists want to “give” an animal insulin resistance to study how to reverse the condition, for example, they load it up on white sugar and lots of fat.3

Another problem that research has recently uncovered is that sweeteners work to “uncouple” sweet taste from sweetness, and eventually, the body cannot distinguish between sweet taste in sweeteners and sweet taste in food. Thus, the body releases insulin whenever sweeteners are used—which is horrible for sugar-free vanilla latte-drinking individuals.4

This decoupling leads to insulin resistance because insulin is always present in the blood. All the time insulin spikes eventually makes the body stops “listening” to insulin, which leads to insulin resistance, obesity, and all that follows.5

Yet another disastrous effect of sweeteners on the body, as researchers have recently discovered, is that they destroy productive bacteria in the gut. As Dr. Helen West reports, by throwing off our gut bacteria balance, “our cells [become more] resistant to the insulin we produce, leading to both increased blood sugar and insulin levels.”6

For example, in 2014, Israeli researchers found that artificial sweeteners changed the gut bacteria so much in mice, that this gut dysbiosis increased blood sugar levels 24 hours a day.7

The most overwhelming evidence that artificial sweeteners have a highly negative impact on the insulin response in humans has been in studies of diet soda’s disastrous long-term effects upon health.  In study after study, diet soda has proven to cause insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, obesity, and diabetes.8

And just about every artificial sweetener spikes insulin to some degree including:

  • Aspartame

  • Sucralose

  • Agave nectar

  • Honey

  • Acesulfame-K

Sweeteners: how they affect your skin—a three-pronged approach.

We know about sugar’s disastrous effects on the skin, and the point being made above is that the reason sweeteners are equally bad for your skin is that they cause insulin spikes and, consequently, inflammation, which is disastrous for the skin.

Blood sugar spikes lead to the release of AGEs (advanced glycation end products) and MMPs, Matrix Metallo Proteinases in the body, both of which are enzymes that eat away at collagen and elastin fibres and tissues in the body, ageing our skin and our bodily tissues faster.9,10

When it comes to alternative sweeteners and whether or not they are unhealthy for your skin, there are three important criteria you can use to evaluate the dangers they pose to your skin, your health, and to your blood sugar.

  1. The fructose to glucose ratio

Most sweet foods contain a combination of two natural sugars, fructose, and glucose. Either one of these sugars can cause inflammation and spike insulin beyond extremities. Especially if consumed alone. But together, when close in percentage, they help keep sugar out of the liver, where it is transformed into fat and, hence, a fatty liver and inflammation, and inflammation has especially negative impacts on the skin and upon overall health.

So look at the sweetener’s fructose to glucose ratio. Is it equal or is there more fructose? If glucose is equal to the amount of fructose, glucose can help shuttle fat away from the liver and toward the cells and muscles, where it can be used for energy instead.11

  1. How much the sweetening agent spikes insulin

Any sweetener high on the glycaemic index is one that massively spikes insulin, raising blood sugar and glucose levels for long periods of time. This extended spike in blood glucose causes a process called glycation in the body, a process in which sugar molecules attach to collagen fibres and other tissues in the body, causing damage and weakening collagen fibres.

These bonding molecules are called AGEs, advanced glycation end products, as we mentioned above, and just to explain exactly what they’ll do to your precious skin—AGEs age the face, causing premature wrinkling and sagging of the skin. In the body, they result in ageing of the system overall.

As one researcher notes, “AGEs lie at the very heart of the aging process—from the skin to the brain—and can be responsible for wrinkles, heart disease, cancer, diabetes and more, including age-related memory loss and even Alzheimer’s disease.”12

  1. Does the sweetener contain toxins/chemicals/even poisons?

Most alternative sweeteners such as agave nectar, aspartame, and sucralose (Splenda) contain toxins and chemicals, some of which include pesticides, herbicides, or even more deadly toxins. The more toxins you have going into the body, the more inflammation, ageing, and destruction of the skin will occur.

Since the body is not programmed to digest “toxins,” these chemicals utterly confuse our digestive, hormonal, brain, kidneys, liver, and cellular systems. Then, the body cannot properly filter or eliminate these toxins, you can develop kidney problems and liver problems, which always lead to skin problems.13

Then, heightened insulin levels lead to something called the “inflammation cascade,” which results in the release of Matrix MetalloProteinases (MMP’s), which are enzymes that break down tissue, specifically collagen and elastin fibres as well as other connective tissue.14

To understand the many negative impacts sweeteners can wreak upon the skin, let’s review sugars’ full effects upon the skin, as most sweeteners do all this and then some.

Sugar: egads, it’s bad for skin

Sugar can destroy your skin — and your health — in all kinds of ways, as we’ve discussed in other articles.

But, just to recap:

  • Sugar spikes glucose, leading to the manufacture of aging AGEs in the skin because of the glycation process (see above, number 2).

  • AGEs destroy our natural antioxidant system in the body, leaving us susceptible to sun damage and premature ageing.15

  • Sugar increases inflammation in the body by 100%. Inflammation produces enzymes that break down collagen and elastin, resulting in sagging skin and wrinkles.16

  • Inflammation also causes chronic acne breakouts which can eventually scar the skin.

  • Inflammation results in the release of MMPs which break down collagen and elastin.

  • Sugar breaks down the immune system’s ability to fight off bacteria, causing clogged pores, acne, and oily skin.

  • When sugar spikes insulin, which negatively impacts the way we synthesise crucial proteins we need to strengthen collagen and elastin.

  • Sugar manufacturers excess testosterone, which enlarges pores and makes skin ruddy and patchy looking.17

  • Sugar is very dehydrating, thus exacerbating oily skin.

  • Sugar’s increase of testosterone hardens blood vessels, leading to redness in the face and broken capillaries.

So we know sugar is bad, bad, bad for the skin. But let’s evaluate it with the Skin Danger Index criteria to see how damaging and “toxic” it is to the skin.

  1. The fructose to glucose ratio

Sugar has a 50/50 fructose to glucose ratio. So this is actually the okay part about sugar. It has glucose to shuttle it away from the liver and prevent “fatty liver disease.”

  1. How much does it spike insulin?

Sugar really spikes blood sugar and has a glycaemic index rating of 60, which is pretty high. 

  1. Does it contain toxins, contaminants, chemicals?

Although organic sugar may be grown in pesticide-free soils, not all table sugar is equal. Most sugar beets and sugar cane are treated with plenty of herbicides and pesticides to ward off predators. In fact, they are genetically modified, like wheat, to withstand strong pesticides.

Refined white sugar is extremely high in the herbicide glycosophate, which causes glycation and the release of AGEs that age the skin in extremis. 18  Agave and Stevia crops are too, so buy organic stevia extract.

Now, let’s look at how other alternative sweeteners and artificial sweeteners stack up to sugar in their effects upon the skin.

Agave nectar

Agave nectar is especially inflammatory and extremely bad for the skin. Containing a fructose to glucose ratio of 85% to 15%. So agave is especially inflammatory, insulin spiking, and, thus, bad for the skin.

Agave is also processed with chemicals that exacerbate acne and other inflammatory skin issues. Then there are the chemical catalysts involved. The polishing and clarification processes in agave nectar production rely on the use of chemicals like:

  • Dicalite

  • Clarimex

  • Inulin enzymes

  • Fructozyme

  • Activated charcoal

  • Sulfuric and/or hydrofluoric acid

  • And hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF), also known as 5-hydroxymethyl furfural.

Both hydrofluoric acid and HMF are highly damaging to the skin as well as toxic and carcinogenic. Hydrofluoric acid, in fact, contains one of the worst nightmare chemicals for causing acne: sodium fluoride.19

Raw Honey: Sweet boon for skin

Raw honey (it has to be raw or it may have toxic compounds from pesticides) is bursting with skin-friendly compounds and nutrients. Along with xylitol, which we’ll discuss in a moment, raw honey is actually beneficial to your skin. Honey contains many acne-fighting compounds, such as Methylglyoxal, a peptide known as bee-defensin 1 which kill the p.acnes bacteria and bacteria in the gut, as well. For this reason, honey is also good for breakouts when applied topically, helping to soothe the skin and draw out the bacteria.

Raw honey is also rich in an antioxidant called pinocembrin, as well as pinostrobins and flavonoids, all extremely nourishing to the skin.

Honey’s sugar profile is good too, possessing a fructose to glucose ratio of roughly 51:49. So it hardly spikes your blood sugar at all. So you don’t have to worry about your collagen and elastin fibres.

So, when it comes to honey, we’re looking at a food that is actually good for skin. It can help to eradicate acne and contains enzymes and antioxidants that are good for the skin.

So, this is one all-natural best bet for glowing, healthy, acne-free skin.20

Aspartame: The worst of the worst

Aspartame is loaded with toxins and health dangers. For one thing, aspartame is believed to raise blood sugar by destroying beneficial bacteria in the gut.

For example, in one study, mice fed aspartame for 11 weeks developed high blood sugar levels. Researchers believed this was the negative impact of the sweetener, which alters healthy gut bacteria, enhancing the transport of sugar from the intestines into the body and elevating blood sugar.21

Like stevia, aspartame can contribute to the dangerous “decoupling effect” that can lead to insulin resistance, diabetes, and inflammation.

Aspartame is also rich in highly toxic, dangerous chemicals, just one of which is methanol, a wood alcohol, and poison. Methanol is gradually released in the small intestine when the methyl group of aspartame encounters the enzyme chymotrypsin.

Here’s what methanol does when consumed:

  • That wood alcohol breaks down into formaldehyde in the body, which is a serious poison and toxic to the internal organs.

  • Formaldehyde is also a deadly neurotoxin. The EPA recommends only using 7.8 mg a day. But JUST ONE PACKET contains 37 mg. of aspartame.

  • Yes, you read that correctly. Heavy users of aspartame-containing products consume as much as 250 mg of methanol daily or 32 times the EPA limit.

Furthermore, aspartame is an excitotoxin. Excitotoxins, like MSG, massively spike insulin and cause insulin resistance, which can lead to glycation and the complete annihilation of your collagen stores.

Aspartame is also being found to cause blindness, macular degeneration, vision problems, seizures, cancer, autism, Alzheimer’s, mental retardation, heart palpitations, and hearing loss. Aspartame also interferes with DNA replication and causes birth defects.

Are you throwing out your Equal yet?

So the answer is: No. Highly unrecompensed for anyone wanting to remain healthy or have a youthful appearance—not to mention to simply live a long life.

Aspartame will not only kill you, it will give you horrible skin before it does. If you do want to read more convincing evidence on this, see Dr. Mercola’s article, “Aspartame: By far the most dangerous substance added to foods today.22

Splenda (Sucrose)

Splenda is a highly artificial sweetener that shares a lot in common with aspartame and saccharine, the real poisonous sweetener popular since the 60s but a known carcinogen today. Of course, it’s still sold at grocery stores.

Splenda contains no fructose or glucose, yet it is the most insulin-spiking of the sweeteners, spiking glucose some 20% upon consumption. So it fails criteria one horribly.

Inflammation, we know, is a huge danger to the skin.

Does it contain harmful chemicals? Oh, yes. Sucralose (Splenda), as one researcher notes, “bears more chemical similarity to DDT than it does to sugar.”23

As Dr. Mercola notes, Sucralose is, in fact, a synthetic chemical that was originally cooked up in a laboratory. The chemical process to make sucralose alters the chemical composition of the sugar so much that it is somehow converted to a fructo-galactose molecule.24

This type of sugar molecule does not occur in nature, and therefore your body does not have the ability to properly metabolise it or eliminate it via waste. Instead, it is absorbed into your fat cells.

According to James Turner, the chairman of the national consumer education group Citizens for Health states that eating Splenda (or any sucralose) is “like putting a pesticide in your body.”25

Is it bad for your skin? Extremely. In fact, as Dr. Mercola reminds us, Splenda consumption has been found to cause allergic symptoms such as redness, itching, swelling, blistering, weeping, crusting, rash, eruptions, or hives (itchy bumps or welts).

So, Splenda/sucrose? Oh no, no, no.

Stevia: Everyone’s love

There are different degrees of health when it comes to stevia. Most of all, you want to look for the extract form of this sweetener. You don’t want chemically modified stevia, as is found in Truvia.

Stevia is a plant-based sweetener. It’s completely fructose-free and 300 times sweeter than sugar. Because stevia is so intensely sweet, glucose is cleared by insulin to drop the blood sugar, but no sugar is provided. This is where cortisol comes in.

Adrenaline and cortisol are released to mobilise sugar from other sources like glycogen, in the muscles, and the liver.  As one dermatologist explains, “Cortisol works on the testosterone pathway, and one of the more common things we see in direct response to raising cortisol levels is acne.”26

Also, stevia is believed, because of its intense sweetness, to enhance the “decoupling” effect of equating sweet taste with “sweet” and leading to insulin resistance, obesity, and all that follows.

Use with caution.

Xylitol: The new kid in town—with surprising benefits for skin

Now we come to xylitol, a surprising new sweetener that, as research shows, is safe for consumption and a glorious additive for the skin.

We believe xylitol is getting ready to make a big splash in the UK and the US because it is actually good for skin and a wonderful anti-ageing, glycation-preventing, wrinkle- reversing wonder for the skin.

Xylitol is also great for blood sugar. In fact, Xylitol actually helps to stabilise blood sugar. We want our blood sugar stable so we can keep burning fat rather than storing it. Xylitol can even help prevent sugar cravings.27

Among its many benefits we’ve discovered so far, Xylitol has been proven to

  • Clear bacteria from the body, such as candida

  • Helps clear acne because of its antibacterial properties

  • Actually, helps to stabilise blood sugar28

  • Actually has proven to prevent insulin resistance in animal studies29

  • Prevents cavities and destroys staph in the mouth (which causes chronic bad breath)

  • Enhances collagen synthesis30

  • Reduces glycation in the skin (remember, glycation destroys collagen and elastin)31

  • Prevents age-related decline in collagen and age-related collagen degradation

  • Helps strengthen collagen by reinforcing the 3-dimensional proteins in collagen that make skin look full and plump32

  • Helps strengthen bones and enhances bone density.

Amazing, yes?

Xylitol is also a naturally-occurring sugar found in nature in many fruits and vegetables.

Xylitol can be processed from trees like birch, but it can also be made with an industrial process that transforms a plant fibre called xylan into xylitol, which is produced in China. Birch bark xylitol is a healthier source.

So far, xylitol looks like a great choice for more youthful looking and clearer skin, as well as especially health promoting supplement for the teeth.

Research is still being conducted on this new supplement but so far, it looks like a dream for the skin.

Conclusion

There aren’t many ways to sweeten foods and beverages that are good for you or your skin. Honey and xylitol are far ahead of the pack when it comes to possessing benefits for the appearance and health of the skin with honey reigning superior because it is a pure food, direct from nature.


  1. Liang, Y. (1987). The effect of artificial sweetener on insulin secretion. 1. The effect of acesulfame K on insulin secretion in the rat (studies in vivo). Hormone and Metabolic Research. 19(6):233-8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2887500
  2. PR Newswire. (1998). Fructose consumption may accelerate aging skin’s elasticity and softness may be affected. http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/fructose-consumption-may-accelerate-aging-skins-elasticity-and-softness-may-be-affected-77503517.html
  3. C. Khambatta. What causes insulin resistance? http://www.mangomannutrition.com/causes-insulin-resistance-lipid-overload-2/
  4. Wei-na, C., et. al. (2013).  Long-term artificial sweetener acesulfame potassium treatment alters neurometabolic functions in c57bl/6j mice. PLOS one. http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0070257
  5. Wilcox, C. (2010). Understanding our bodies: Insulin. Nutrition Wonderland [blog]. http://nutritionwonderland.com/2010/05/understanding-our-bodies-insulin/
  6. Dr. H. West. How artificial sweeteners affect blood sugar and insulin. Authority Nutrition. https://authoritynutrition.com/artificial-sweeteners-blood-sugar-insulin/
  7. Ruppell, E. (2015. Artificial sweeteners may change our gut bacteria in dangerous ways. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/artificial-sweeteners-may-change-our-gut-bacteria-in-dangerous-ways/
  8. Nettleon, J. A., et. al.  (2009). Diet soda intake and risk of incident metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes in the multi-ethnic study of atherosclerosis (MESA).Diabetes Care. 32(4):688-94. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19151203
  9. Bohm, M. and Gkogkolou, P. (2012). Advanced glycation end products. Key players in skin aging? Dermatoendocrinology. 4(3): 259–270.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3583887/
  10. Pavida, P. (2016). Role of matrix metalloproteinases in photoaging and photocarcinogenesis
    International Journal of Molecular Science. 17(6): 868.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4926402/
  11. Berriedale-Johnson, M. Fructose – the good, the bad – and the malabsorbed…Foods Matter. http://www.foodsmatter.com/allergy_intolerance/fructose_intolerance/articles/fructose_good_bad_malabsorbed.html
  12. Dr. Perricone. Your skin on sugar: How it impacts the aging process. https://foreveryoung.perriconemd.com/skin-sugar-impacts-aging-process.html
  13. Willey, J. Drinking just one bottle of diet drink a day is dangerous to your health.  http://www.express.co.uk/life-style/health/413970/Drinking-just-one-bottle-of-diet-drink-each-day-is-a-danger-to-your-health
  14. How inflammation ages skin. Just About Skin. [blog]. http://www.justaboutskin.com/anti-aging-skin-care-guide/inflammation-theory-of-aging/
  15. Livestrong.com. (2015). Sugar’s aging effects upon the skin. http://www.livestrong.com/article/75798-effects-sugar-skin-aging/
  16. Adams, R. (2013). Why sugar is just as bad for your skin as it is your waistline. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/10/sugar-bad-for-skin_n_4071548.html
  17. Hou, K. Do you have sugar face? The Cut. http://nymag.com/thecut/2016/04/sugar-skin-face-beauty.html
  18. Daily Mail. (2013). The sweet truth: Ditch sugar to look years younger. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-461095/The-sweet-truth-Ditch-sugar-look-years-younger.html
  19. Wolfstein, R. (2015). Agave nectar and acne: Why this sweetener is the unhealthiest superfood ever. http://supernaturalacnetreatment.com/does-agave-nectar-cause-acne/
  20. ibid. The ultimate guide to acne-friendly sweeteners. http://supernaturalacnetreatment.com/ultimate-guide-to-acne-friendly-natural-alternative-sweeteners/
  21. Scientific American. (2015). Artificial bacteria may change our gut bacteria in dangerous ways. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/artificial-sweeteners-may-change-our-gut-bacteria-in-dangerous-ways/
  22. Dr. Mercola. (2011). Aspartame: The most dangerous substance added to food. http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2011/11/06/aspartame-most-dangerous-substance-added-to-food.aspx
  23. Renter, E. (2013). The Dangers Of Sucralose/Splenda Revealed Again By New Extensive Review. Natural Society. rel=”nofollow”http://naturalsociety.com/review-dangers-sucralose-splenda/
  24. Dr. Mercola. (2000). The potential dangers of Splenda (sucralose).  http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2000/12/03/sucralose-dangers.aspx
  25. Dr. Mercola (2009). New study reveals shocking information about the potential harmful effects. http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2009/02/10/new-study-of-splenda-reveals-shocking-information-about-potential-harmful-effects.aspx
  26. The Huffington Post. (2012). Is acne caused by stress? Top derms explain. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/30/acne-stress-breakouts_n_2041417.html
  27. Gowing, D. Xylitol: A sweetener that can improve your health. http://davidgowing.com/xylitol-a-sweetener-that-can-improve-your-health/
  28. Islam, M. and M. Indrajit. (2012). Effects of xylitol on blood glucose, glucose tolerance, serum insulin and lipid profile in a type 2 diabetes model of rats. Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22832597
  29. Kishore, P. (2012). Xylitol prevents NEFA-induced insulin resistance in rats. Diabetologia. 55(6): 1808–1812. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3606878/
  30. Mattila, P. T. (2005). Effects of a long-term dietary xylitol supplementation on collagen content and fluorescence of the skin in aged rats. Gerontology. 51(3):166-9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15832042
  31. ibid.
  32. Gowing, D. ibid.  http://davidgowing.com/xylitol-a-sweetener-that-can-improve-your-health/

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