Is your favorite sweet treat really the cause of unfair blemishes? Chocolate has long been blamed for breakouts, but is the treat you crave really at fault?
Since 1969, chocolate has been studied as a possible contributing factor to acne. Could it be the fat, the sugar, or even the chemicals used to create those decadent bars that cause breakouts on your skin? Here’s what science says.
What the research says
Historically, studies have been dismissed due to additional ingredients in the chocolate -- like milk and sugar -- that may also impact the skin.
Early studies on chocolate and acne actually used chocolate bars and control bars (candies that were loaded with sugar, often with even more sugar than the chocolate versions).
These inconsistencies led to contradictory results and suspect study methods, all of which have kept the chocolate debate alive. So it’s no surprise that after decades of research, there is still no clear answer.
Some studies point to chocolate as the acne culprit
Some research suggests that chocolate may exacerbate existing acne or encourage new breakouts in acne-prone skin. A 2013 study on cells in a lab suggests that chocolate may increase the severity and frequency of acne breakouts by encouraging the immune system to react more aggressively to the two bacteria that cause acne.
However, this reaction hasn’t been proven in humans.
Another small double-blind, placebo-controlled study from 2014 had 14 acne-prone men take capsules that were filled with either 100 percent unsweetened cocoa, gelatin powder, or a combination of the two to determine if chocolate, and the total dose, impacted acne.
The study found that there was a positive connection between the amount of cocoa ingested and an increase in acne symptoms.
A similar study in a different journal found that after eating 25 grams of 99 percent dark chocolate every day, 25 acne-prone men had more acne after two weeks, and the changes were still present after four weeks.
A 2017 study found that just 48 hours after eating chocolate, college students with acne had more new lesions than their peers who ate a comparable amount of jelly beans.
Others dismiss the chocolate-acne link
However, a study from 2012 that asked 44 young adults to keep a three-day food diary found no link between chocolate and acne.
More research with larger, more diverse samples is needed to confirm the findings and determine what compound in the chocolate may potentially increase inflammation and worsen symptoms.
Chocolate’s effect on insulin has also been put forward as a possible influence on acne. An Australian study from 2003 found that the participants who ate foods flavored with cocoa powder had a higher insulin response than the control group who ate the same foods without the cocoa.
A study from 2015 looked at the blood levels of insulin and glucose in 243 acne-prone participants and 156 healthy adults to determine if insulin resistance might play a role in acne. The study found a positive correlation between severe acne and insulin resistance.
While there’s limited evidence that supports the idea that pure chocolate can give you pimples or make a breakout more severe, the other ingredients in the bar or cake are a different story.
Related: Anti-Acne Diet
What we know about diet and acne
Studies have shown that acne is less common in people who don’t eat a Western diet. On the flipside, high glycemic diets, those that are full of quick-digesting carbohydrates and sugars, have been linked with acne.
One study found that of the 1,200 Kitavan Islanders of Papua New Guinea and 115 Aché hunter-gatherers of Paraguay studied, not a single person had acne. Both groups eat low glycemic diets that are rich in fish and fruits and don’t include refined foods typically found in Western diets like bread, cookies, and cereals.
A 2017 study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests that carbohydrate-heavy and sugar-rich foods (like bagels, white rice, and that chocolate cake) may be related to acne and its severity.
So, will chocolate affect your skin?
Do you need to swear off that nightly indulgence and throw out the stash hidden in your desk in the name of clearer skin? Not necessarily.
Whether chocolate affects acne comes down to the individual. Despite decades of research, there has been little proof that single foods like chocolate directly cause acne.
But that doesn’t mean that diet has no influence.
It’s more likely that the sugar in your chocolate bar or cupcake are to blame for new pimples or deeper breakouts than the cocoa itself.
If you’re going to take a bite (or six), reach for dark chocolate and keep an eye on added sugars and simple carbohydrates throughout the rest of the day.