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Ask A Dermatologist: Is Chocolate Bad for Your Skin?

First things first, there’s no upper age limit on chocolate advent calendars – cased closed. 

With that out of the way, the festive period is awash with chocolate-y delights, from yule logs and Santas, to selection boxes galore. As a result, you might be wondering how much of an impact it’s going to have on your skin. We asked Dr Malvina Cunningham, consultant dermatologist at Skin + Me, and here’s what she told us.

Is chocolate bad for my skin?

In general, the relationship between diet and skin, and in particular acne, has been controversial.

Doctors previously said the things we eat had nothing to do with skin diseases, whereas now we definitely know it plays a role but the exact relationship between diet and skin disease isn’t clear. One thing’s for sure – it’s really difficult to perform studies in nutrition

While a number of studies have evaluated the effect of sugar consumption and low-glycaemic load diets on acne, however, there’s currently not enough evidence to support these when treating acne. 

Studies have shown an association between the two, but since large numbers of participants are needed for these studies, it’s too difficult to isolate one food or nutrient only to show a specific effect. 

Participants may have varying food patterns, daily behaviours, genetics and risk factors that will all influence the outcomes. When it comes to chocolate for example, there’s a big difference between different types of chocolate, for example: milk and dark chocolate, added sugar content and other added ingredients.

As a result, a study may show an association with a particular food, but this may not prove causality and may be influenced by many other confounding factors.

How does sugar and dairy affect my skin?

“A number of studies have shown an association between sugar consumption and dairy, in particular semi-skimmed milk and acne.”

dr malvina cunningham

Several studies provide evidence that amino acids derived from milk can stimulate insulin and IGF-1 secretion – a growth hormone known to be essential in the development of acne. Indeed, a number of studies also report that dairy intake (whether full fat or skimmed) is associated with a higher incidence of acne.

When it comes to sugar and acne there is evidence that high glycaemic index foods are associated with increased inflammation and acne

However, these studies only show a link between dairy, sugar and acne, and can’t tell you if dairy or sugar is actually the cause of the acne. And, more importantly, these studies don’t prove that cutting sugar or dairy out of your diet can actually help to get rid of acne.

Dr Malvina explains, “These studies also vary greatly in quality, and they don’t take other dietary factors into account, such as a lower glycaemic index, or calorie intake in individuals who consume less dairy as part of their natural daily diet.”

“Currently there is no specific diet advice for patients with acne as the evidence is not conclusive.”

dr malvina cunningham

Is dark chocolate better for acne than normal chocolate?

“Not all chocolate is the same, and the amount of sugar and other additives will vary, as will other factors such as fats. In theory, chocolate with lower amounts of sugar is less likely to cause acne, but the lack of substantial evidence to link the two would mean that no one can say for sure.”

General advice says to go for dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa content and the least amount of added sugar.

Should I stop eating chocolate?

In short, only if you don’t want to eat it! Acne is a complex condition with multiple triggers and our understanding of the condition currently does not suggest that avoiding chocolate alone will reduce your chance of acne.

“That is not to say however that nutrition doesn’t play a role. On the contrary, the field of nutrition and its influence on health is exploding.” A healthy, balanced diet is more relevant to your overall health and wellbeing than ever and that will ultimately also be beneficial for your skin.

“I do have patients that have benefited from reducing sugar and or dairy in their diet but many haven’t noticed any difference in their acne at all.”

dr malvina cunningham

As always there doesn’t seem to be one piece of advice that fits all and it is becoming increasingly clear that diet advice has to be individualised and the same goes for diet and acne. Dr Malvina tells us, “I do have patients that have benefited from reducing sugar and or dairy in their diet but many haven’t noticed any difference in their acne at all.”

Instead, Dr Malvina suggests “managing acne with a combination of evidenced-based medical treatment as well as individualised healthy lifestyle advice. This is to get the best out of your medical treatment, but also to maintain the benefits of any treatment and to prevent future breakouts.” 

Good news then. Anyone else fancy a slice of yule log?

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