Is Chocolate Bad for Your Skin?

Sweet news for Valentine's Day: that chocolate heart is probably no more likely to cause zits than a nonchocolate treat. After reviewing studies on chocolate's effects on the skin, researchers at the University of Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia, concluded, in a report published in the Journal of Family Practice in 2005, that there is no evidence that it triggers blemishes. New science suggests that there is a connection between your diet and your complexion. The potential acne-causing ingredient isn't cocoa, however. The problem is sugar and other high-glycemic foods that the body burns fast. And dark chocolate is actually a low-glycemic food. Even milk chocolate isn't all that bad, as long as you don't eat the whole box.

In the 1950s and 1960s dermatologists advised acne patients to avoid sugar. But the evidence for their warnings was only anecdotal, and in recent years the medical community has largely dismissed the idea that any particular food causes skin blemishes. New studies, however, are beginning to show a link between breakouts and diets heavy in high-glycemic foods—including highly refined carbs like white bread, pasta and potatoes, as well as sweets like doughnuts and jelly beans. "It does appear from these initial studies that there may be a role for reducing refined carbohydrates in both treating and avoiding acne," says Neil Sadick, professor of dermatology at Cornell University.

Last July the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a study of men ages 15 to 25 that found that those who spent 12 weeks on a diet of protein and low-glycemic slow-metabolizing carbohydrates reduced their acne by twice as much as participants in a control group. Studies have also found that a low-sugar, low-refined-carb diet that reduces the level of insulin in the blood also lowers the level of androgens, a hormone that stimulates the glands in the skin to produce oil and, hence, zits. (The increase in androgen toward the end of the menstrual cycle helps explain why some women get monthly breakouts.) The American Acne and Rosacea Society is funding another study exploring the impact of low-glycemic diets on acne later this year. "This has again become a hot topic," says AARS board member Diane Berson, a New York dermatologist.

While you needn't fret that one milk chocolate caramel will end up on your chin in the form of a zit, you're best off limiting the total number of chocolates you consume and sticking to dark chocolate. Not only does dark chocolate have less fat, it has antioxidants that can help reduce blood pressure and confer other health benefits.