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How Does Chocolate Affect Our Skin?

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What’s your go-to comfort for when the chips are down? A glass of wine? Bubble bath and a book? A phone call to your mum? What about food-wise? Your local takeaway? Something more indulgent? Chocolate?

In this article:

The Benefits of Antioxidants in Chocolate
What’s the Impact of Sugar on the Skin?
Can Dairy Products Have a Negative Impact on the Skin?
What About the Fat Content of Dairy?
How Much Chocolate is too Much Chocolate?
Getting Our Skincare Spot On

For many of us, the answer is always chocolate. Even if the answer isn’t chocolate, we’ll still try chocolate to see if it is the answer. I love chocolate, adore it even. Stress, upset, worry, boredom - they’re all made at least temporarily better by eating chocolate.

Maybe you love chocolate just as much, and you eat it to help make unwanted emotions disappear. Or maybe you just like chocolate, well, because? Maybe you just like to eat chocolate, end of. I certainly do.

However, what if chocolate was somehow affecting the health and appearance of our skin? It’s the age old, old wives’ tale isn’t it, that chocolate “gives you spots” and causes acne. But is this true? Not necessarily. What about sugar, and dairy? Can they cause our skin to break out? Can food allergies affect our skin? Quite possibly, yes.

So let’s take a look at the key ingredients in chocolate, and one by one, consider what they could be doing to our skin. And we’ll begin with the good news, by looking at one of the huge skin benefits to eating chocolate…

The Benefits of Antioxidants in Chocolate

Chocolate, or rather, cacao, contains antioxidants. Cacao is the raw form of chocolate as it’s extracted from the cacao seeds from the Theobroma cacao tree. I like to think of it as chocolate before all the sugar, fat and fun has been added to it. (That said, a spoonful of cacao in a protein smoothie is really good. See our article, Eating Greens to Benefit Your Skin for more detail.)

What’s the difference between cacao and cocoa?

Note that I’m using the word  ‘cacao’ not ‘cocoa’. Cacao is the unrefined, unprocessed product that comes straight from the cacao seed that’s found in natural cacao powder and other, more natural products. It’s unsweetened and has a fairly bitter taste, but is still reminiscent of chocolate.

Cocoa, on the other hand, tends to refer to the powder that’s produced by processing cacao beans and mixing it with sugars and fats to make cocoa products such as powder and the chocolate we all know and love.

Because cacao comes straight from the plant it’s full of beneficial plant based compounds, including antioxidants called flavonoid phenolics. Whilst this sounds like something you’d find in a chemistry lab, these are very good for us indeed. They’re similar to the beneficial flavonoids found in green tea and red wine.

What are Antioxidants and Free Radicals?

Antioxidants help to neutralise damaging, unstable molecules called free radicals. Free radicals move around the body looking for spare electrons to help stabilise themselves. They ‘steal’ these electrons from unassuming oxygen atoms in turn, turning these into unstable free radicals and so a constant chain reaction is happening within the body.

Free radicals are unavoidable since they’re produced as a by-product of normal biological functions such as breathing and digestion. They’re also introduced into the body by breathing in pollution and environmental toxins, smoking and eating a diet high in processed, high fat, high salt, high sugar foods.

The consequence of free radicals is cellular and DNA damage, which can lead to, amongst other things, skin damage and skin ageing.

So consuming an antioxidant rich diet helps to keep these nasty free radicals at bay. The most antioxidant rich foods are fruits and vegetables. But chocolate also contains free radical busting antioxidants. Hurrah!

Can I Go All Out With the Chocolate, Then?

Generally, dark chocolate and chocolate that’s from more ‘natural’ brands that have less sugar and no dairy products added tend to contain higher concentrations of antioxidants. Also in the good camp is the fact that this kind of  chocolate also provides certain minerals that are important for our health. These include iron, magnesium and potassium.

Just keep in mind that chocolate that does contain refined sugars and dairy is also calorific, so a few squares a day should be our limit.

For more information on how free radicals can cause skin ageing and how antioxidants can help, read our article, What Are Antioxidants in Skincare.

Now, sadly, the downside to eating regular chocolate on a regular basis...

What’s the Impact of Sugar on the Skin?

Sugar is, quite rightly, demonised as a food. Consume too much, and we run the risk of developing obesity, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. This is because sugar is an inflammatory food which can lead to chronic inflammation.

Chronic inflammation can then lead to chronic inflammatory diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis and certain forms of dementia.

Not only this, but inflammation can cause skin conditions such as acne, rosacea and eczema to become worse.

So for this reason, it could be beneficial for you if you have acne prone skin to really consider your sugar intake and avoid the foods that you think might be causing your acne. You might also want to consider the impact of a high carb diet on your skin since complex carbohydrates are broken down into simple sugars.

Can Dairy Products Have a Negative Impact on the Skin?

For many of us, our hormones have a direct effect on our skin. Or rather, when our hormones are out of balance, they’ll cause our acne prone skin to break out. Puberty, periods, pregnancy, breastfeeding, the perimenopause and the menopause will all mean that our skin misbehaves.

Dairy products by default contain hormones from the cows (or sheep) that produce milk and the milk that then becomes other dairy products such as butter cheese and yogurt.

Therefore, consuming dairy products can cause our skin to react, and this is all due to the hormone, insulin like growth factor 1, or IGF-1. Consuming IGF-1 in dairy products triggers the production of another hormone, insulin. This can then lead to inflammation and the production of excess sebum, the oily substance naturally produced by the skin.

As we know from above, inflammation can lead to stressed out skin, and excess sebum causes the skin to become oily, with blocked pores and more chance of acne breakouts and spots.

We recently wrote a detailed article on Dairy Alternatives for Sensitive Skin which is well worth a read for more detail on choosing dairy free alternatives, including chocolate.

What About the Fat Content of Dairy?

Dairy products don’t just affect the skin due to their natural IGF-1 content. There is a suggestion that the natural fats found in milk could lead to a worsening of acne symptoms, but this is still unproven.

Interestingly, studies have shown that skimmed, low fat milk can lead to worse acne symptoms than full fat milk. This could be down to the fact that we might consume more skimmed milk than full fat, believing that it’s better for us. But in fact, we’re consuming more dairy animal hormones that could be upsetting our skin.

There is also evidence that fatty foods can cause acne around the mouth, due to the oils laying on our skin and blocking our pores. This is unlikely with chocolate (unless we're really messy eaters) and therefore we don't think fat in chocolate is a skin concern. It is however a calorie concern, (as it’s still high in calories) if we’re actively choosing to consume a low calorie or a calorie controlled diet.

How much Chocolate is too Much Chocolate?

Since we’re all individuals, each one of us will have a different tolerance level to eating highly sugary or fatty chocolate and how much it might have an impact on the health of our skin.

As all health professionals and dieticians will tell us, chocolate is a ‘treat’ food and should be consumed as such. This means limiting it to perhaps once or twice a week. If we know that chocolate is one of our trigger foods that causes acne breakouts or skin condition flare ups, then sadly we’ll have to limit it further.

But for a chocolate fix (albeit without the sweetness), adding a teaspoon of cacao to a protein smoothie (I make mine using hemp powder to avoid the dairy content of most protein shakes that contains whey) is a great idea. You get all the benefits of the antioxidants, minus the potential inflammation and skin flare ups.

Getting Our Skincare Spot On

We all have our vices (mine is red wine) and we all know that sometimes, the lure of what we fancy is quite simply, ok. No matter what the consequences.

So, to give our skin the best chance of defence against our desires (even if they are foods that might cause acne), we need to be using skincare products that are respectful of our skin's needs. That’s why we developed our range of alkalising skincare products.

Our hero ingredient is our unique silica salt complex that nourishes the skin deep within the lower levels to encourage healthy cell regeneration and hydration, and tackle skin problems at their source.

So if you haven’t tried our amazing skincare range, then why not try us out today? It could be the best thing you ever did for your skin, and that definitely deserves a chocolate based celebration!


References

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-21967574

https://www.verywellhealth.com/does-chocolate-cause-acne-15519

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/cacao-vs-cocoa

https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(05)65262-2/fulltext

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2007/apr/07/foodanddrink.uk1

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/02/200218161720.htm

https://www.healthline.com/health/does-chocolate-cause-acne#What-we-know-about-diet-and-acne

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3481796/

https://www.verywellhealth.com/does-drinking-milk-cause-acne-15684
Hannah de Gruchy BSc(Hons)

About Author

Hannah de Gruchy is a freelancer writer who specialises in health and wellness. She has a keen interest in the biology of skin and loves using her words to help separate the real science of skincare from the pseudoscience of some skincare brands. Hannah has a degree in Human Biology and many years’ experience working in laboratories around London. Using this experience, Hannah enjoys turning complex science into interesting, engaging and easy to digest pieces to read. In her spare time, Hannah runs, practices yoga and loves cooking plant based foods.

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