Does Chocolate Really Cause Acne?

Cynthia Bailey, MD|September 3, 2010

Probably not…..but it's complicated. The controversy:

  • Patients for years have noticed pimples after eating chocolate-containing 'junk foods'
  • The original scientific studies done in the 1960's which 'proved' to doctors that chocolate did not cause acne were flawed because both the chocolate bar and the non-chocolate 'control' bar had high trans fats and sugar, ingredients which we now know cause acne

In short, doctors don't yet have a conclusive scientific answer, but it's looking like the trans fats, sugar and milk, and not the chocolate, causes acne. Most chocolate-containing foods are full of sugar, trans fats and dairy ingredients. We now know that these ingredients probably cause acne. My recommendation is that if you love chocolate but suffer from acne, try natural chocolate bars with less sugar and higher cacao content before you give up chocolate all together. Look for bars with 60% or higher cacao content and that are made with cocoa butter, not hydrogenated vegetable oil. I've found that, for my taste, 72% cacao is the perfect combination of chocolate taste and sweetness. My favorite brand is Endangered Species Chocolate. It's fairly well priced and widely available where I shop. There are many other brands and it makes a fun experiment to try different types. Others I've personally 'tested' include Dagoba, Whole Foods Brand, Green & Black, Valrhona, Chocolove, Scharffenberger and a bunch of boutique brands. Why eat chocolate, other than because it's a well-loved treat for most of us? Chocolate contains valuable nutrients that include antioxidant, vitamins and minerals. It also contains natural substances that have slight antidepressant effects and that also help with PMS. Scientific studies have also shown that chocolate may provide some protection against heart disease, high blood pressure and blood clots. Eaten occasionally, and in moderation, I consider the natural chocolate bars a healthy, whole food treat and put it in that tiny top of my Alkaline Mediterranean Food Pyramid that guides my personal dietary goals. 4 key points to choosing chocolate products that MIGHT not aggravate your acne:

  1. Don't chose really sweet products with a lot of sugar.
  2. Look for cocoa butter as the fat in the product, not hydrogenated vegetable oil or cow dairy butter.
  3. I'd recommend trying to avoid 'milk chocolate' because we now know that dairy products can aggravate acne. Also, the cacao content is typically lower in milk chocolate products.
  4. Eat small quantities and only occasionally! Remember there's sugar in sweet chocolate products; sugar is of course a high glycemic food and high glycemic foods worsens acne.

The good news is that the acne and chocolate connection is probably one of those acne myths that's being debunked as we learn more about what foods actually trigger acne. The key point, however, is to enjoy chocolate in moderation. I'd love to hear what foods you've found trigger your acne? Please send me your stories using the email link at the top of the page or in comments to this blog post. If You Found This Information Helpful, You May Also Want To Read: 4 Diet Changes That Can Improve Your Acne Treating Teenage Acne; Dermatologist's Complete Info To Clear Acne Fast Reference: Diet and acne, Whitney P. Bowe, MD, J Am Acad Dermatol 2010;63:124-41 Photo Attribution: / CC BY 2.0

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