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Is chocolate to blame for your breakouts?

Your favorite treat might be contributing to acne.

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Curology Team
Dec 01, 2022 · 5 min read

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Does chocolate cause acne
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.
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  3. > Is chocolate to blame for your breakouts?

Ah, chocolate. (Better said, mmm, chocolate!) For many, it’s undeniably a sweet treat. But does chocolate cause acne? Or is that just a myth? Experts have been studying chocolate and its potential pros and cons for decades, and, in short, the jury’s still out regarding how it may affect your skin. But if you’re wondering whether this beloved treat could be contributing to your breakouts, we’re here to tell you what we know thus far.

Sugar, dairy, and your skin 

When it comes to knowing what foods may cause acne, first things first: Everyone’s skin is different, so what may cause your skin to break out might not be the same for someone else. Chocolate, specifically, often contains a lot of sugar and dairy, which are ingredients that are linked to breakouts in some people. Chocolate’s simple sugars make it a high glycemic index (GI) food, and studies have shown that high glycemic load diets may exacerbate acne.¹

Foods high in sugar and refined carbohydrates have been shown to increase the skin’s sebum (oil) production,² which means that eating processed chocolate may make it harder to keep your skin clear. Not to mention, many chocolates also get their creamy texture from added butter, cream, and milk, and dairy products have been linked to acne in some people.³

Happy young woman hugging chocolate - Does chocolate cause acne?

The potential benefits of eating chocolate (and using it)

We have some good news: Eating chocolate also has potential benefits! But here’s the catch: It’s all about the kind of chocolate you eat. Choosing the correct type can go a long way toward providing your body with some healthy antioxidants and more. Generally speaking, the darker the chocolate, the better. Here are a few great reasons to include dark chocolate to your diet:

It contains antioxidants 

A growing body of studies suggests that cocoa rich in flavanols may help protect against the sun⁴ (but aren’t a substitute for a broad-spectrum UV sunscreen) and are important for maintaining skin health. These antioxidants fight free radical damage from things like UV rays and environmental pollution, which contribute to the signs of aging, like fine lines and dark spots. However, several studies have also shown that the beneficial effects of cocoa vary among the wide range of cocoa and chocolate products.⁵

It contains essential vitamins 

Cocoa contains vitamins and minerals that help your body function at its best, including iron, copper, and magnesium.⁶ Copper helps boost collagen and elastin production,⁷ which may help make your skin appear smoother and plumper. Magnesium can help balance thyroid  hormones⁸ (which gives a whole new meaning to some of those chocolate cravings).  

It contains cocoa butter 

Cocoa butter, the fat derived from cocoa beans, is a powerhouse ingredient that’s high in vitamin E, which is important for skin health and repair.⁹ Vitamin K can help with skin injuries like burns and bruising.¹⁰ In its raw form, cacao also has anti-inflammatory properties,¹¹ meaning using cocoa butter in products like lotions and body butter may help skin conditions like eczema and other types of dermatitis. Just be aware this ingredient is highly pore-clogging—so we don’t advise using cocoa butter topically on acne-prone skin!

It contains fatty acids

The fatty acids in pure cocoa butter make it an excellent ingredient for certain skincare and makeup products like creams, lip balms, foundations, bronzers, and more. Fatty acids help maintain the skin’s moisture barrier,¹² providing a deep level of moisturization. Fatty acids play an essential role in the skin. Without them, the skin is more likely to become dry and inflamed and experience acne. Cocoa butter also melts on contact, which gives products a silky feel and texture.

Plate full of chocolate - Does chocolate cause acne?

So, does cocoa cause acne breakouts?

Don’t toss your stash yet—we’re still working to understand if there is a link between chocolate and acne. In fact, some research suggests chocolate does not cause acne to worsen. This includes a study of young adults who were asked to keep three-day food diaries, which did not find a link between chocolate and acne.¹³ The effect of chocolate on insulin and its potential impact on acne is currently being researched; one study found that individuals who consumed foods flavored with cocoa powder had a higher insulin response than those who consumed foods not containing cocoa powder.¹⁴ Another study found a positive correlation between insulin resistance and severe acne.¹⁵ 

It all boils down to this: While there’s limited scientific evidence that supports the idea that purer chocolate can cause breakouts or worsen your existing acne, the other ingredients (sugar, dairy, etc.) may be a different story. And that leads us to the next logical question:

Does milk chocolate cause acne? 

If it seems you’re breaking out after consuming sweet treats like milk chocolate bars, cake, and cupcakes, you may want to consider if ingredients like dairy and sugar are playing a role. But that’s not to say you can’t have your cake and eat it too. You can lower your risk of pimples while still enjoying your favorite desserts by opting for dark chocolate and reducing your added sugar consumption throughout the day.

Curology Model with Dark Spot Formula - Does chocolate cause acne?

Curology is here to help

Narrowing down what triggers your acne and finding effective treatments isn’t always easy. At Curology, we help take the guesswork out of your skincare routine—our licensed dermatology providers will work with you to examine your skin, assess your skincare goals, and provide custom treatment options. 

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

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Signing up is easy. Just answer a few questions and snap a few selfies to help us get to know your skin better. If Curology is right for you, one of our in-house licensed dermatology providers will create a personalized prescription formula that targets your specific skin goals. They’re always available to answer any questions you may have and modify your formula if necessary as your skin’s needs naturally shift over time.  

Best of all, Curology is free to start*—you’ll get your prescription formula, plus any of our recommended skincare products, for just $4.95 (plus tax) to cover shipping and handling.

FAQs

Are there benefits to eating chocolate?

Eating chocolate also has potential benefits! But here’s the catch: It’s all about the kind of chocolate you eat. Generally speaking, the darker the chocolate, the better. It contains antioxidants, fatty acids, and essential vitamins including iron, copper, and magnesium.

Does cocoa cause acne breakouts?

Some research suggests chocolate does not cause acne to worsen. This includes a study of young adults who were asked to keep three-day food diaries, which did not find a link between chocolate and acne. The effect of chocolate on insulin and its potential impact on acne is currently being researched.

Does milk chocolate cause acne?

If it seems you’re breaking out after consuming sweet treats like milk chocolate bars, cake, and cupcakes, you may want to consider if ingredients like dairy and sugar are playing a role. You can lower your risk of pimples while still enjoying your favorite desserts by opting for dark chocolate and reducing your added sugar consumption throughout the day. 

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1.  Bowe, W. P., Diet and acne. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (2010).

  2.  Lim, S., Shin, et al. Dietary Patterns Associated with Sebum Content, Skin Hydration and pH, and Their Sex-Dependent Differences in Healthy Korean Adults.Nutrients. (2019).

  3.  Mahmood, S. N., & Bowe, W. P. Diet and acne update: carbohydrates emerge as the main culprit.Journal of Drugs in Dermatology. (2014).

  4.  Williams, S., et al. Eating chocolate can significantly protect the skin from UV light. Journal of cosmetic dermatology, (2009).

  5.  Scapagnini, G., et al, Cocoa bioactive compounds: significance and potential for the maintenance of skin health. Nutrients. (2014). 

  6.  Scapagnini, G., et al, Cocoa bioactive compounds: significance and potential for the maintenance of skin health. Ibid. 

  7.  Harris, E. D., et al. Copper and the synthesis of elastin and collagen. Ciba Foundation symposium, (1980).

  8.  Kolanu, B. R., et al. Activities of Serum Magnesium and Thyroid Hormones in Pre-, Peri-, and Post-menopausal Women. Cureus, (2020).

  9.  Keen, M. A., & Hassan, I.  Vitamin E in dermatology. Indian dermatology online journal.  (2016).

  10.  Pazyar, N., et al. Wound healing effects of topical Vitamin K: A randomized controlled trial. Indian journal of pharmacolog. (2019). 

  11.   Scapagnini, G., et al, Cocoa bioactive compounds: significance and potential for the maintenance of skin health. Ibid. 

  12.  Huang, T. H., et al. Cosmetic and Therapeutic Applications of Fish Oil's Fatty Acids on the Skin. Marine drugs, (2018).

  13.  Ismail, NH., et al, High glycemic load diet, milk and ice cream consumption are related to acne vulgaris in Malaysian young adults: a case control study. BMC Dermatol. (2012).

  14.  Brand-Miller, J., et al, Cocoa powder increases postprandial insulinemia in lean young adults. J Nutr. (2003).

  15.  Emiroğlu, N., et al, Insulin resistance in severe acne vulgaris. Postepy Dermatol Alergol. (2015).

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Nicole Hangsterfer is a licensed physician assistant at Curology. She obtained her masters in physician assistant studies at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern in Chicago, IL.

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Nicole Hangsterfer Avatar

Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C

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