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Ingredient Decoder: Sugar

You may have sworn off eating sugar, but don’t swear it off entirely—the sweet stuff remains a healthy ingredient to keep in your beauty regimen, whether in a body scrub, face wash, or hair treatment.

Where sugar comes from

Traditional sugar—those refined white crystals—typically comes from sugarcane or sugar beets. Brown sugar and molasses are just less refined versions of white sugar, and then there are myriad other sweeteners made from natural (and non-natural) sources. Agave, one of our favorite smoothie additions, comes from the agave plant, a perennial native to Mexico and the southwestern U.S. whose stalk sap forms the basis of the nectar used in cooking and beauty products.

What it’s good for

In granular form, sugar is exceptional at sloughing away dead skin cells, and gentler than other common exfoliators like salt. “Sugar crystals are less jagged and dissolve faster in warm water,” says Dr. Jessica Wu, a Los Angeles dermatologist and author of Feed Your Face: Younger, Smoother Skin and a Beautiful Body in 28 Delicious Days.

Try it in: All-natural Whish Sugar Scrub leaves limbs feeling silken smooth. For the sensitive skin on your face, neck, and décolleté, Suki Exfoliate Foaming Cleanser smells like lemon meringue pie and rinses away to leave your complexion fresh and glowy.

Need to know

Sugar is a humectant, meaning it holds on to water. This is great for skin and hair, but not so much for your body. “This is why you bloat when you eat too many carbs,” says Dr. Wu. To restore dry hair (without impacting your waistline), try a hair oil packed with natural sugars. Unlike heavier oils that can sometimes deflate fine hair, agave sugars improve manageability without weighing down strands.

Try it in: Agave™ Oil Treatment, which also “retains vibrancy and extends color life,” says Fernando Romero, the brand’s founder.

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