Does chocolate cause acne? How sugar can affect your skin

Let's take a look at the evidence and find out.

Written by
Marni Dixit
Medically reviewed by
min read
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Acne may develop due to several different factors, whether that be hormonal changes, clogged pores or bacteria, and it's long been reported that eating chocolate or increased sugar intake can affect your skin and cause breakouts.

You may even remember hearing from your parents that eating a chocolate bar will make acne worse. But does chocolate actually cause acne? Let's take a look at the evidence and find out.

How does food affect your skin?

Certain foods can promote inflammation in the body, and it's possible that this could cause an acne outbreak.

Your diet can also affect your hormones, which can, in turn, affect your skin and make acne worse. For example, milk and foods with a higher sugar content can trigger insulin levels to rise, altering hormones that affect the skin, with some research suggesting that milk and whey protein can cause acne [1][2].

However, the research has not found enough evidence to suggest changing your diet will help eliminate acne.

Dietary choices can be important when it comes to certain dermatological conditions, such as food allergies and dermatitis herpetiformis. In some cases, people may try to change their diet to help influence their acne or other skin conditions such as psoriasis.

However, as mentioned above, there is not a lot of research to support or reject this idea.

Does sugar cause acne?

Research supports the idea that diets rich in high glycemic index (GI) foods, such as those rich in refined carbohydrates, sugar, sugary drinks, and processed bread and snacks, may not be ideal for acne-prone skin [3]. 

Spikes in insulin from diets with high GI foods can lead to more inflammation and sebum production, leading to blocked pores and in turn, acne. 

Does eating chocolate cause acne?

In the 1960s, several research groups, including one supported by the Chocolate Manufacturers Association of the USA, looked into the connection between chocolate and acne.

The biggest group was made up of 65 people and compared the effects of chocolate consumption to placebo over a 4-week period, with the results finding that diet didn't impact acne

However, more recent research in the US, Italy, and Malaysia has found an association between dairy consumption and acne [4].

Some studies have found a stronger connection between dairy and acne with skim milk, versus other types of dairy, with the US study finding women who drank 2 or more glasses of skim milk per day to be 44% more likely to have acne than others.

The Italian study also found that, out of 205 participants, those who drank significantly more cow's milk than others were more likely to have acne.

Researchers believe this may be due to hormones, as milk is meant to increase the growth in calves, so it naturally contains growth hormones. Another suggested reason could be due to the carbohydrate content in dairy products, which can affect serum insulin and insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1).

In the US, for example, many dairy cows are treated with bovine growth hormones in order to increase milk supply, and milk from these cows will contain elevated levels of IGF-1. 

However, no evidence supports yoghurt or cheese as dairy products that may lead to acne.

One other study has managed to link chocolate and acne, with participants asked to consume either chocolate or 25 jelly beans, as both had the same glycemic load and should see the same rise in blood sugar after eating it [5].

All patients went through both rounds of eating chocolate and jelly beans, with participants only reporting acne when eating chocolate. 

Is a certain type of chocolate bad for acne?

Dark chocolate is believed to be worse for acne than milk chocolate, however, there is not a lot of evidence to prove this theory.

One 2016 study researched whether 99% dark chocolate, when consumed in regular daily amounts, would cause or worsen acne in acne-prone male participants [6]. The study saw 25 male participants consuming 25 grams of 99% dark chocolate daily for 4 weeks, with assessments of their skin taking place weekly.

Researchers state that after just 2 weeks, there were "significant changes in acne scores and numbers of comedones and inflammatory papules." At 4 weeks, the "changes remained statistically significant compared to baseline."

Interestingly, cocoa flavonoids are known anti-inflammatories, which are supposed to be good for the skin. However, dark chocolate also includes cocoa butter, which contains fats such as oleic acid and stearic acid. Researchers have reported that oleic acid clogs pores in animals. 

Another study was performed at the University of Miami and showed that ingesting 100% pure chocolate in the form of capsules, with no milk and sugar, caused greater instances of both inflammatory and non-inflammatory acne lesions than the placebo [7].

So, it may be that dark chocolate exacerbates acne, however, more studies likely need to be conducted to confirm this.

What are the impacts of consuming sugary foods on your skin?

Consuming sugary foods has many impacts on your skin, not just acne breakouts. Consuming too much sugar can contribute to the worsening of inflammatory skin conditions such as psoriasis, rosacea or eczema. 

Increased sugar intake can also lead to premature ageing of the skin because sugar breaks down collagen and elastin, the proteins which give your skin its shape, structure and firmness. If you lose collagen and elastin, you'll find your skin will start to wrinkle and become saggy, dry and dull.

Besides reducing sugar, ensure you drink plenty of water, get enough sleep, exercise regularly, maintain a good skincare routine, and reduce your stress to keep your skin looking its best.

How do I prevent acne after eating chocolate?

A good skincare regime is the best way to prevent acne. If you're unsure as to whether you do get acne after eating chocolate, it may help if you were to keep a food journal and log every time you eat chocolate so you can link whether it is affecting your skin and acne.

If you can see a difference when you eat chocolate, you may want to consider minimising your consumption to see if the symptoms disappear.

How to treat acne

Taking care of your complexion through skincare products is your best bet when it comes to treating acne-prone skin.

Software's Acne Kit is a great way to do this by targeting acne at all stages — and better yet, you don't have to leave the house to get it. You can simply order online and have it shipped straight to your door.

In the kit, you will receive our:

  • Salicylic Acid Foaming Wash: A gentle exfoliating cleanser that clears dead skin cells, dirt and skin impurities while balancing, hydrating and repairing the skin barrier
  • Ceramide Repair Balm: A moisturiser that restores the skin barrier and leaves your skin glowing
  • AHA/BHA Pimple Patches: Microdart pimple patches that fast forward the acne healing process with micro-needles, which deliver alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), beta hydroxy acid (BHA) and poly hydroxy acid (PHA) to deeper layers of your skin, fighting the pimple on top and underneath the skin
  • Acne Supplement: Daily capsules that decrease oil production, relieve inflammation and prevent cellular free-radical damage from the inside out

However, if you want a more individualised skincare regime, Software's acne treatment is perfect for you, as you can speak with one of Software's Australian health practitioners, who will then order your custom skincare and have it shipped straight to you.

You might find ingredients such as medical-grade retinoids, niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, and azelaic acid in your personalised formula — all of which help to reduce acne, brighten and hydrate the skin and prevent clogged pores and inflammation. 

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