Fact or Fiction: Does Chocolate Really Cause Acne?

We're breaking down the science on whether or not chocolate causes acne (spoiler alert: some types do, some don't) and sharing tips for how to eat chocolate without breaking out.

Fact or Fiction: Does Chocolate Really Cause Acne?

We're breaking down the science on whether or not chocolate causes acne (spoiler alert: some types do, some don't) and sharing tips for how to eat chocolate without breaking out.

Does chocolate cause acne? This question comes up constantly (because let’s be honest, who doesn’t love chocolate?), but unfortunately, there’s a lot of misinformation online about how chocolate affects acne-prone skin. If you have a sweet tooth, here is what you need to know about the relationship between chocolate and breakouts. 

Does Eating Chocolate Cause Acne?

Is chocolate actually bad for your skin, or is it all just a myth? The short answer is that chocolate does have the potential to trigger breakouts. However, there’s a lot more to uncover here, partially because it will greatly depend on the type of chocolate you’re eating. 

Here’s the thing: chocolate takes on a lot of different forms. On one end of the spectrum, you have intensely dark chocolate, while on the other end you have super sweet chocolate candy bars loaded with milk and sugar.

When thinking about chocolate’s effects on the skin, you need to consider not only the cocoa (the key ingredient in chocolate), but also all the other ingredients that are added to the recipe. With that said, here are the factors you will want to keep in mind when reaching for a sweet treat. 

Does Milk Chocolate Cause Acne? How Dairy Impacts Our Skin

One of the main added ingredients in milk chocolate is, of course, milk. If you have acne-prone skin, this might cause a problem, as there have been multiple large scale studies that link the consumption of dairy with increased breakouts

So why exactly does this happen? Consumption of dairy has been shown to increase the risk of insulin resistance, and researchers have found that acne patients (especially those with moderate to severe breakouts) typically have insulin resistance

On top of that, dairy also raises the levels of a hormone called insulin-like growth factor 1 (also known as IGF-1). This hormone is known to boost oil production and increase inflammation in the body – both of which can contribute to acne. 

Ultimately, given its dairy content, it is possible for milk chocolate to trigger breakouts, especially if you’re consuming it regularly. We don’t want to break your heart, but we have even more bad news for milk chocolate lovers: the dairy isn’t the only problem. Milk chocolate (and chocolate in general) also tends to be packed with sugar – which is another big problem for acne-prone skin. 

Refined Sugars in Chocolate and Acne

The cocoa itself isn’t responsible for the sweetness of a chocolate bar. Chocolate is often loaded with refined sugars to give the treat that irresistibly sweet taste. This is especially true of milk chocolate, but you can also find refined sugars added to dark chocolate (although generally in lower amounts). 

The body quickly digests refined sugars (in chocolate and in other foods), which leads to a rapid rise in glucose levels. As a response to these elevated glucose levels, the pancreas produces insulin to move the sugars out of the blood stream. 

So what does this have to do with acne? 

When we consume foods with refined sugar and refined carbs on a regular basis, this causes our blood sugar and insulin to go up and down like a roller coaster all day long, which increases our risk of acne. (Once in a while, or after a meal loaded with plenty of fiber, protein, and fat, consuming refined sugar is no biggie…It’s when we consume refined sugar/carbs too often, or frequently on their own, that they become problematic). 

This is because with frequently elevated insulin comes elevated IGF-1, a hormone linked to excessive oil production and breakouts, and the risk of insulin resistance, a common condition linked with acne.

Further, research also confirms that a diet consisting of frequent sugar intake has been shown to increase the risk of breakouts. Ultimately, this means that chocolate treats that are loaded with sugars (think chocolate candy bars and milk chocolate) do have the potential to cause acne.

Caffeine and Chocolate

It’s also important to remember that chocolate contains caffeine, which can have an effect on the skin. Caffeine raises the body’s levels of cortisol. This stress hormone is known to trigger the production of sebum (your skin’s natural oil), which can increase the risk of clogged pores and breakouts.

To be clear, a square of chocolate definitely isn’t as caffeine-heavy as coffee. One cup of coffee typically has around 95 milligrams of caffeine, while one ounce of dark chocolate can have approximately 20 to 60 milligrams of caffeine. Milk chocolate will contain even lower amounts of caffeine, since it is made with less cocoa (which is where the caffeine comes from). 

When it comes down to it, if your body tolerates caffeine well, the extra dose of caffeine from some dark chocolate probably won’t be a big deal for your complexion. However, those that are more sensitive to caffeine may want to keep this in mind if they’ve noticed that other caffeinated drinks tend to negatively impact their skin. 

Does Dark Chocolate Cause Acne?

Given the fact that dark chocolate typically doesn’t contain dairy or high levels of added sugar, it would seem that it’s a safe bet for acne-prone skin. Unfortunately, it’s not quite that clear cut.   

Dark chocolate contains higher amounts of cocoa compared to milk chocolate, which is why it has that rich, bittersweet flavor. There have been a few small studies that have looked at the link between cocoa (and dark chocolate with super high percentages of cocoa) and acne, but they do have some shortcomings. 

In one study, 25 male participants were instructed to eat 25 grams of 99% dark chocolate every day for four weeks. At the end of the study, the researchers found an increase in the number of pimples, and stated that the dark chocolate consumption appeared to exacerbate acne. 

Before we draw any conclusions, it’s important to note that this was a small study without a control group, and that there weren’t any female participants. We also don’t know what else they were eating throughout the day. So there isn’t enough data to conclude that it causes breakouts. 

It’s also worth reiterating that the participants were eating dark chocolate every single day for a month. The occasional indulgence in a dark chocolate bar likely isn’t going to elicit the same results!

In a similar seven day study, researchers also found that consumption of 100% pure cocoa appeared to exacerbate breakouts in males with acne-prone skin. However, there were yet again no females in the study, and with only 14 participants and 7 days of observation, it was even smaller and shorter than the other study. 

Ultimately, a lot more research looking specifically at cocoa needs to be done before we can determine whether dark chocolate truly causes breakouts. It’s also worth remembering that everyone is different. One person may notice a pattern of worse breakouts when they consume dark chocolate, whereas the other might not experience any changes in their skin. If you haven’t experienced breakouts after eating dark chocolate, there’s no need to cut it from your diet. 

Dark vs. Milk Chocolate: Which is Safer for Acne-Prone Skin?

With all of this in mind, if you’re craving some sort of chocolate, your best bet is to go for dark chocolate. A square (or two) of dark chocolate is going to be a safer choice for acne-prone skin than a super sweet milk chocolate candy bar that is loaded with breakout-triggering sugars and dairy. 

Keep in mind that, while dark chocolate typically doesn’t contain any dairy, some manufacturers do add milk or milk powder to their recipe. As mentioned above, some products also contain lots of added sugars, although as a general rule of thumb, a higher percentage of cocoa equates to less added sugar. If you’re trying to avoid chocolate made with dairy and lots of added sugar to reduce your risk of breakouts, be sure to take a look at the ingredients label prior to eating. A dairy-free dark chocolate with relatively little sugar will be your key to satisfying your craving while still being mindful of your skin’s needs. 

How Do You Prevent Pimples When Eating Chocolate?

According to Acne Nutritionist, Maria Marlowe, most people with acne can consume pure cacao/ cocoa and dairy-free dark chocolate without an issue. Here are her top tips to help prevent a post-treat breakout: 

  • Choose dark chocolate that doesn’t contain milk powder or dairy-based ingredients, and that has a higher percentage of cocoa (85% and above). 
  • Ideally, when possible, choose brands sweetened with a low glycemic sweetener, like monk fruit. 
  • Save chocolate (and other sweet treats) as a dessert after a well-balanced meal, versus eating them on their own. Simply doing this will help to minimize their impact on your blood sugar. 
  • Pair chocolate with fruit + nuts, which provide fiber, protein, and healthy fat to help prevent a large blood sugar spike. 
  • Support your gut with probiotics - a healthy gut microbiome is crucial for clear skin. Research has shown that people with acne have less bacterial diversity in their gut microbiome compared to those without breakouts. With the help of a probiotic supplement like Glow Biome (which was specifically formulated to help clear breakouts), you can give your gut the good bacteria that it needs to thrive – and as a result, help manage breakouts and promote a healthy complexion from the inside out.
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