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Is chocolate bad for your skin?

Easter’s just around the corner and, whether you’re a creme egg fan or prefer something darker, there will probably be chocolate on the menu.

We’ve all been told in our childhood that chocolate causes spots and as adults we’re constantly bombarded with information about which foods might be good or bad for our skin.

But what’s the truth?

Is chocolate really bad for your skin?

We asked our team of skincare experts…

Does chocolate give you spots?

The link between cocoa and acne

This has long been a contentious issue. A study in the 1960s appeared to show that there is no evidence that increased chocolate consumption lead to increased acne. However, the research has received criticism in recent years, not least because the ‘Chocolate Manufacturers’ Association of the United States of America’ was involved in conducting it!

More recent studies in the USA by Samantha Block, presented to the American Academy of Dermatology, focussed on pure cocoa (excluding other ingredients such as sugar). These do appear to show that there is a link between cocoa consumption and an increase in acne, if you are prone to it already.

To date, the studies only included men between the ages of 18 and 35. So for now, women might relax a little…but be warned, Block is planning further studies with larger groups of participants!

Fats and carbs

The bad news for chocolate-lovers doesn’t stop there. While properly researched evidence is still somewhat lacking in this field, experts believe that chocolate bars which are high in saturated fat or trans fat may increase skin inflammation and therefore worsen acne conditions.

Studies have also shown that a low-sugar and low-refined carbohydrate diet reduces the levels of androgens. These are hormones that stimulate oil production in the skin and, as a result, can trigger acne outbreaks.

Is there more bad news for chocoholics?

Unfortunately, yes.

Collagen breakdown

When your body breaks down sugars, they enter your blood stream and from there move into your cells, where they are converted to energy. Sometimes the sugars bond to collagen (a tissue which holds cells together) in a process called glycation. This breaks down both the collagen and elastin in your skin, leading to a loss of elasticity and accelerating the aging process.

Glycation can also aggravate pre-existing skin conditions such as rosacea and acne (another reason why chocolate gives you spots!).

The situation worsens if you frequently consume excessive levels of sugar, which will cause your body to produce high levels of insulin (a hormone which controls the movement of sugars out of your blood stream and into your cells). You run the risk of developing insulin resistance, so even more insulin needs to be produced to balance out the sugar spikes. This can further aggravate acne and cause dark patches to appear on the skin.

Is there any good news?!

Antioxidants in chocolate

There’s a theory that the high levels of the antioxidant flavanol contained in raw cocoa beans could contribute to protecting the skin from the sun’s UV rays. Three different studies in Germany, the UK and Canada have shown conflicting evidence, so the jury’s still out on this one. This means you definitely shouldn’t skimp on the SPF just because you’ve had a Mars bar!

However, all the studies did show a positive influence on skin elasticity from consuming antioxidant-packed chocolate. But don’t crack open the Dairy Milk just yet – most of the antioxidants in cocoa are lost in the chocolate-making processes! Manufacturers are experimenting with new processes to retain as much goodness as possible, so there is hope for the future.

Other health benefits

Eating chocolate does appear to offer other health benefits. Research suggests that it can give you protection against heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure.

However, there are plenty of other ways to reduce your risk of these conditions which don’t involve the damaging sugar and fat consumption involved in eating chocolate!

Chocolate can make you happy…sort of!

There are a few compounds in chocolate that help to explain why we love it so much:

  • Tryptophan – this amino acid is used to make serotonin in the brain, a neurotransmitter that can boost feelings of happiness.
  • Phenethylamine – this feel-good chemical is associated with feelings of excitement and nervousness and it combines with dopamine to produce an anti-depressant effect.
  • Theobromine – this is a stimulant which, alongside the caffeine in chocolate, gives you a little ‘high’.

So, can I eat chocolate this Easter?

Yes, of course you can! But, like all treats, it should be in moderation. Darker chocolates with less fat and sugar are the best choice.

And don’t binge on five Easter eggs in one day, spread them out over the holidays. This will allow your body to process the sugars more gradually and you won’t end up making yourself nauseous!!