Myth or Fact: eating chocolate causes acne

If you’ve ever eaten a piece of chocolate and then studied your face for signs of an acne breakout, you’re not alone. Generations of teenagers have been cautioned that chocolate causes acne, but is there any truth behind the warning?

Duke dermatologist Diana McShane, MD, says the connection between chocolate and acne is, in chocolate terms, only semi-sweet.

“Chocolate has been implicated in the role of acne for decades without any convincing data to support or refute this theory,” McShane said.

The food-skin connection

It’s unclear where the link between chocolate and acne first came from, but well-intentioned adults have been passing it on for at least 100 years.

One reason for this long life may be that there has only been one controlled medical study on the idea. To the delight of chocolate lovers, the trial, performed in 1969, found no relationship between chocolate and acne. However, it wasn’t conclusive enough to close the book on the matter.

“Studies that specifically address the association of diet and acne are difficult to design with enough power to determine true cause and effect,” McShane said.  This makes it difficult to determine not only what foods might be bad for your skin, but also what foods promote skin health.

There is some evidence that foods high in anti-oxidants, such as green tea, blueberries, and pomegranate, may contribute to skin health; other studies have indicated that diets high in dairy or carbohydrates may promote acne, but none of them have been proven definitively.

“I wish we knew more about which foods were best for skin health, but until we do, I suggest a balanced diet with a full complement of the recommended vitamins and minerals as the best way to promote skin health and overall body health,” McShane said.

Good skin through good choices

Knowing how your skin reacts to foods or products is important because each person’s skin is unique and will have varying reactions to different triggers.

McShane recommends paying attention to what foods or products cause breakouts and make good choices about what you use and eat. If you notice your skin reacts badly to a food or product, stop using it for a while and see if there is improvement. If satisfying your sweet tooth with chocolate doesn’t cause any reaction, it’s probably okay to indulge every so often.

Keep in mind that how your skin behaves may change from season to season. In winter, dry air can make skin more sensitive; spending more time in the sun during warm months can encourage acne flare-ups.

Certain foods may also interact badly with the sun and cause a rash. “In particular, limes are a common culprit,” said McShane. “Other foods that can cause this include fig, parsnip, parsley, and celery.”

Simple daily skin care

Clean skin is also important in preventing outbreaks, and while there are hundreds of products available that claim to do just that, McShane recommends adopting a simple routine.

“I find that many of my patients try to fight acne with aggressive cleansing routines, which can actually irritate the skin and make acne more noticeable,” McShane said.

Instead, McShane suggests washing once or twice a day with a moisturizing cleansing bar or facial cleanser containing benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid, which helps keep mild acne under control.

In cases of moderate to severe acne, or acne that causes scarring, a dermatologist may be able to help find a treatment to restore healthy, blemish-free skin.

Written by Staff for Duke Medicine    |    Added February 6, 2014