We all have those days where nothing but chocolate will satisfy us. Maybe it’s those pre-period cravings, or an after dinner square (or 4) of chocolate. Even walking through the supermarket, you are bombarded with brightly-packaged chocolate biscuits, ice creams or brownies.
Chocolate is everywhere!
Though chocolate (well…dark chocolate) has been touted as beneficial for our health. What about for us, acne prone folks?
That’s the number one question my friend: will chocolate cause acne?
Not All CHOCOLATE is Created Equal
Do you ever break out when you eat a chocolate bar or a few too many squares of milk chocolate? Milk chocolate contain a low percentage of cocoa and a high percentage of milk and sugar – probably why it tastes so good.
In short, dairy triggers an increase in insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) which produces a cascade of events that increases testosterone, DHT (a stronger version of testosterone), overproduces skin cells and increases inflammation to the skin. ALL of which lead to acne 
Then you combine this with sugar. Sugar is something that gets absorbed rapidly into your bloodstream causing a rapid increase in insulin and the subsequent secretion of IGF-1. The hormonal reaction is then the same as milk… ACNE.
What does the research say? (for the people who need the facts like I do)
There are many studies showing that consuming conventional milk chocolate bars can increase the severity of acne [2,3].
Another small study also showed people who consumed milk chocolate (with only 30% cocoa) had increased inflammation that contributes to acne . Again, it could just be demonstrating the milk or sugar component that’s causing acne.
tl;dr: eating your standard milk chocolate or chocolate bars increases the risk of developing acne especially if you’re acne prone (for me I’ll break out the same day)
But WHat about Dark chocolate?
Cacao – praised by the Aztecs and Mayans as the food of the gods. And you can see why…
Raw cacao is full of fibre, vitamins and minerals – especially ones that are beneficial for the skin. It contains flavonoids (a form of polyphenol) which has strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It enhances your mood and improves brain function .
My favourite part is that it actually enhances the gut microbiome – it positively impacts the gut in the same way that prebiotics and probiotics do. The flavonoids increase the beneficial microbes and decrease the bad ones! 
if it doesn’t have milk or diary in it, can dark chocolate cause acne?
Okay, this surprised me.
One study analysed 25 males over 4 weeks consuming 25g of 99% dark chocolate (for visualising: it’s about 4 squares in a standard chocolate block) and found there was a significant increase in pimples post intervention . Another study that made participants consume 100% cocoa capsules, found an increase in acne a week later .
So if the sugar and milk was ruled out in dark chocolate, maybe the actual chocolate can also trigger acne?
Honestly, the debate is still out with some studies suggesting no and others yes. Here’s why people think dark chocolate can cause acne:
1. Chocolate contains cocoa butter which is made of fats like oleic acid and stearic acid. Oleic acid has been shown (in animals) to increase the sticky protein in skin cells that can result in clogged pores and acne. If we don’t have a certain good type of fatty acid in our diets (linoleic acid), the skin will produce sebum (oil) with oleic acid as the alternative which has been shown to cause blockages in the pores [8,9]. Whether this is related to the oleic acid in chocolate specifically is unknown.
2. Some studies suggest that cocoa-containing foods can increase the insulin response when consumed (compared to the same foods with no cocoa) [10, 11]. This means that there is an increase in insulin which can trigger the increase of IGF-1 which as we know can result in the hormones responsible for increased acne. On the other hand, though it can stimulate an increase in insulin response, other studies are suggesting that the polyphenols found in dark chocolate cause the body to be able to use it more efficiently (increased insulin sensitivity) and causes a reduction in blood sugar. [12, 13]
3. What about the caffeine: Chocolate contains two forms of “stimulants” known as methylxanthine’s: caffeine and theobromine. There is a far smaller percentage of caffeine compared to its cousin theobromine with an average ratio of 1:9, which has a milder stimulatory effect on the central nervous system (only one fifth the stimulant effect of caffeine) and metabolises slowly in the body [5,14,16]. So even though drinking a cup of hot cacao will gives you that boost of energy, concentration and increase your mood, it’s gentler and across a longer period of time so it doesn’t give you the big spike and crash effect that caffeine does. Dark chocolate also has more caffeine and theobromine than milk chocolate .
Because both caffeine and theobromine are processed in the liver and is a stimulant to the nervous system it has the potential to have negative implications on the skin for those that genetically have difficulty processing it (looking at myself here). So it’s about moderation.
Now that we know all that, does chocolate really cause acne? Well the jury is still out on that one. I think what it comes down to is your individual tolerance for it. Every person is different so listen to your body. I can tolerate a bit of dark chocolate every now and then. But if I ate a multiple squares every day, I notice that I start to get little pimples pop up.
And if you’re having milk chocolate or chocolate treats- it’s more likely it’s the sugar or milk in the chocolate bar or brownie to blame for your newest pimples rather than the chocolate itself.
HOW CAN YOU STILL ENJOY CHOCOLATE WITHOUT CAUSING ACNE?
- Keep a food journal to help you work out whether your acne worsens with chocolate – where’s your tolerance limit.
- Work reducing inflammation in the body – by focusing on gut health, balancing your hormones, supporting your liver and reducing stress, you’ll be able to process chocolate more efficiently (when your body’s not trying to deal with all the other shit going on in there). There was a time I would break out with any form of chocolate I ate – even 100%, but cleaning up my internal ecosystem now means I can enjoy chocolate without the breakouts! And that’s big because I LOVE chocolate
- Choose better quality chocolate – some chocolate has so many unwanted additives that are not great for the body. Be a detective and look at the ingredients list and chose the brand that where you understand ALL the ingredients.
- Eat dark over milk or white chocolate – period! (if you love a creamy milk chocolate chose a vegan version)
- Moderation is key!
Let me know in the comments below: does chocolate ever cause acne for you? Tell us your biggest tips so you can still have your chocolate – and eat it too!
Hope you find these tips useful!
P.S if your still breaking out and not sure why, you need to get my guide the: 7 Common Mistakes That Are Causing Your Acne. Best part is it’s FREE!