Does Chocolate Really Cause Acne?

·5 min read

Experts settle the debate once and for all.

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It's a commonly held belief that one of the few — if not only — downsides to eating chocolate is that it might contribute to causing acne. It's proven that what we eat has always been connected to the health of our skin, so it makes sense that one of our favorite snacks could determine when we break out. But does chocolate really cause acne? And if so, does that mean you must give up such a beloved food forever? We turned to the experts for answers.

Before you go and dump out your stash of chocolate snacks, read on to get to the bottom of whether or not chocolate causes acne. See what they had to say below.

Does Chocolate Cause Acne?

The short answer is maybe. Angela Lamb, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and associate professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, says some compelling studies show that chocolate could be connected to breakouts. Dr. Lamb explains that the studies found that sugary foods increase your glycemic index, which can then trigger your acne. But, she emphasizes that we need more research to be done to say definitively whether or not chocolate does, in fact, cause acne.

“Unfortunately, the verdict is still out there,” adds Nicole Negbenebor, MD, board-certified dermatologist and fellow at the University of Iowa Mohs Micrographic Surgery & Dermatologic Oncology. “Some studies show no link, and some link, particularly white chocolate and dark chocolate, to having a higher likelihood of causing or exacerbating acne. There needs to be further high-quality research that specifically looks at the effects of food and acne.”

Related:Fungal Acne Might Be Why You're Breaking Out — Here's How to Get Rid of It

So Why Might You Break Out When You Eat Chocolate?

Dr. Negbenedor says that anything with a high sugar content (which some chocolate has) can lead to increased inflammation which will further trigger breakouts, and she points to studies that have found foods like white chocolate can induce acne for those who are already prone to it.

“The exact reason that chocolate promotes acne is not known,” says Sarina Elmariah, MD, board-certified dermatologist and co-founder of ARAMORE. She adds that refined grains and flavonoids, which are natural plant compounds found in cocoa, have also been suggested to worsen acne development. But Dr. Elmariah says that the exact reason why chocolate may cause acne is still not known.

“Really, it is the sugar and also the saturated fat content that contribute, not necessarily the chocolate,” adds Dr. Lamb. “Also, many chocolates have dairy in them, which has also been linked to acne.”

Related:9 Expert Makeup Tips for Anyone with Acne-Prone Skin

Do Other Foods Cause Acne?

Again, more studies are needed to definitively prove the link between food and breakouts. “Some of this is hypothetical because we do not have any good gold standard studies,” says Dr. Lamb. “But what we know about what causes acne supports the following theories.”

According to Dr. Lamb, any food that spikes your blood sugar abruptly — white bread, rice, pasta, and other highly processed foods — and food with high-fat content, such as butter and meat with saturated fats, can contribute to acne. She adds that food containing dairy can contain high saturated fat content and hormones that will trigger breakouts. 

Related:The 15 Best Acne Treatments for Every Type of Spot

How Do You Treat Acne Triggered by Food?

All the experts agree that the first step to treating acne that is triggered by food is to change your diet. “If that one food — or type of food — provokes your acne, it’s best to avoid having it,” says Dr. Elmariah.

Dr. Negbenebor recommends transitioning to a diet that is low in sugar. Dr. Lamb agrees and adds that your diet should be high in whole fruits and vegetables. But she does go on to say that, in reality, we are constantly eating things that might cause acne from time to time. That’s where using the right skin care products come in.

For a basic acne-focused skincare routine, she says to look for a cleanser that has benzoyl peroxide, which is known for killing acne-causing bacteria, or glycolic acid, an alpha hydroxy acid that exfoliates the skin to keep pores clear. When choosing a moisturizer, she suggests something lightweight and non-comedogenic. Dr. Elmariah suggests treatments that reduce inflammation and help with skin cell turnover, such as prescribed antibiotics (if your board-certified dermatologist believes this is the right treatment for you) or topical retinoids.

Related:The Best Skincare Routine for Acne, According to Dermatologists

If you have mild to moderate acne, Dr. Negbenebor says that a dermatologist may prescribe topical treatments, such as tretinoin or clindamycin, or oral treatments, like doxycycline. Accutane may also be prescribed in the event that you have severe acne.

In the end, treating acne is a holistic approach that involves a healthy lifestyle and a well-regimented skincare routine. “The most important thing is eating well, getting enough sleep, and using your medications [that have been prescribed] correctly after your visit with a board-certified dermatologist,” she says. “There needs to be more research on this topic given more studies have shown the link between what we eat and how it affects our bodies.” 

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