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Clearing Up the Chocolate-Acne Myth

Does chocolate cause acne? It’s a question generations of teenagers and adults have asked when faced with an outburst of angry, red spots. Many would assert that chocolate is the culprit, while others maintain that food cannot be linked to the appearance of your skin. Let’s clear a few things up.

Food does indeed influence the health of the skin, as has been proven repeatedly in countless scientific studies. Every part of the skin is, like the rest of the body, made from the nutrients you eat; and since all the body systems are linked together, your systemic health can certainly affect your skin. Poor gut health can produce breakouts, zinc deficiency leads to scarring, vitamin C deficiency can cause easy bruising, and the list goes on.

I am passionate about skin health; it’s a big part of the reason I got into the career I did. Having acne at a young age I soon learned that chemical-laden cleansers didn’t hold the solution to pure skin; and with an aversion to drugs even then, I knew deep down that nature had more answers for me. Key dietary changes healed my skin in a way that nothing else could. My devotion to natural health developed alongside an almost equally strong devotion to chocolate, without compromising my health or the clarity of my skin.

The catch? You have to get the good stuff.

Theobroma cacao, commonly known as cacao or cocoa, has myriad health benefits when consumed in its raw state. Raw cacao is packed with vitamins A, C and E which are essential skin nutrients; as well as chromium to balance blood glucose levels, healthy fats to balance oil production, and zinc for skin repair. Consider that cacao also contains magnesium and tryptophan to reduce stress, and too many antioxidant, anti-inflammatory nutrients to name, and it’s starting to sound like a recipe for perfect skin. So how did my beloved chocolate become the scapegoat for inflamed, oily pimples?

It seems that the chocolate-acne connection originated from a few poorly conducted studies some forty years ago, in particular these frequently cited articles - from 1969 and 1971. The idea has perpetuated ever since, despite a complete lack of scientific evidence supporting this link, and the fact that on closer examination, the 1969 study inadvertently demonstrates that cacao plays no role in the development of acne.

For most Westerners, the word ‘chocolate’ conjures up images of that processed stuff lining the confectionary aisle of the supermarket, rather than the sacred Amazonian ‘food of the Gods’ revered by the Mayans and Aztecs for eons. Processed chocolate has been heated, which chemically alters the fats and destroys vitamin C; and also typically contains milk, sugar, emulsifiers and flavouring, which are all inflammatory in the body. This type of chocolate certainly doesn’t hold the golden ticket to glowing skin.

Two foods that we know do cause acne are dairy and sugar. Most of the studies done on acne and chocolate included these confounders, both of which alter hormonal levels and blood sugar balance. This effect can cause acne by increasing the turnover of skin cells, encouraging excessive oil production and preventing the skin cells from separating completely. This leads to oily skin and plugged pores, resulting in inflammation and pimples.

In short; minimise your intake of sugars, refined foods, damaged fats and dairy if you want gorgeous skin. Milk chocolate will rob your skin of beauty, but instead of giving up chocolate altogether, go the other way and treat yourself to only the best raw, dairy-free chocolate, which will actually boost the health of your skin and your entire body. I have a soft spot for the handmade, love-in-a-box Pana chocolate, but it’s also surprisingly easy to make your own. While you’re at it, smooth some real cacao butter onto your body for topical nourishment and you’ll have velvety soft skin good enough to eat.

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