Does chocolate really give you pimples?

Monday, June 5, 2006
Very few people don't like chocolate, so how come we often end up feeling guilty after eating it? Is it that somehow, by eating chocolate, we're going to end up with a face full of pimples? Is this another example of an old wives' tale?

Also, how can something as horrible as a pimple be caused by something as delicious as chocolate? But is chocolate the bad guy when it comes to acne?

Although there's never been absolute proof of chocolate causing pimples, dermatology books in the 1950s routinely claimed that chocolate caused acne.

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So in order to find out the truth, Michael Slater becomes a chocoholic for a week, of course, it's all in the name of science, to find out.

Michael will eat a chocolate-heavy diet for one week and see if there is any change in the amount of sebum that his pores produce.

Before the test, Michael heads off to see dermatologist Dr Natasha Cook.

Why is it that some people get them and others don't?
Dr Cook says that acne is due to a couple of things: "First of all, your genetics — what sort of skin you're born with and how it functions. Secondly, the hormones. Hormones are basically predominantly testosterone, which makes your skin increase its oil production. It tends to make you produce sticky oil that gets blocked in the pores and therefore causes the pimples."

According to Dr Cook, the oil our pores naturally produce is meant to drain to the surface of the skin. But sometimes the pore gets blocked as the dead skin inside the pore forms a plug, trapping the oil. Bacteria and oil then build and build, eventually rupturing the plug and popping up as a pimple.

Before Michael gets started eating chocolate, he has to undergo a test, by Dr Gavin Greenoak, who runs a photobiology facility at The University of Sydney, to check the oil content, or sebum in his skin.

If you have clear skin, you will typically record a sebum reading around 200 milligrams per square centimetre of skin. However, someone with pimply skin is more likely to spike the chart with a reading in excess of 300 milligrams.

Michael's reading is 177. Dr Greenoak takes three measurements around Michael's face, before calculating his average sebum level at 178 milligrams per square centimetre of skin.

"Slightly below normal ... averaging out, your face has a normal level of sebum," says Dr Greenoak.

Chocolate time!
All Michael needs to do now is go away and eat an obscene amount of chocolate!

Michael heads to Melbourne to join Chocoholic Tours of Melbourne to kick-start his seven-day chocolate binge. "I can't imagine anywhere I'd rather be!" he says.

Suzie Wharton, author of Spoil Yourself, a Chocoholic's Guide to Melbourne runs the tour.

Following the tour Michael's feeling full and his concern is more about getting love handles than bad skin. But most importantly, his skin's as clear as ever. Only six more days to go.

Day seven of the test, Michael again heads off to see Dr Greenoak again. He's going to do the same skin test as done a week earlier to find out if the sebum level has increased in Michael's skin. If it has, he might be more likely to get pimples and that will mean it has been caused by the huge amount of chocolate that he's been eating this week.

Remember, when Michael did this test a week ago, he scored an average sebum reading of 178 milligrams — pretty normal for good skin.

To prove the theory that chocolate causes pimples he will need to score an average of at least 300 milligrams.

The results

  • First reading: 112 milligrams of sebum per square centimetre (a normal reading that's lower than day one).
  • Second reading: 131 (another normal reading)
  • Third reading: 152

Therefore Michael has scored an average sebum reading of 131 milligrams — much lower than last week and proof positive that eating chocolate won't cause breakouts.

There was no change to Michael's skin. Research has not identified any components of chocolate that can either trigger acne or make existing acne worse.

Acne is most common in teenagers and young adults — it's the skins way of coping with surging testosterone levels in boys, and oestrogen in girls.

So if you like chocolate, you can eat it and not worry that it will do harm to your skin's sebum.
However, while it's great that chocolate doesn't give you pimples or cause acne, that's not to say that diet can't have an effect on skin, particularly if you're lazy about eating healthily.

"In particular, you need to avoid high processed, high GI foods like fizzy drinks, sugary foods and cakes. And take care of yourself in general," says Dr Cook.

So if you're worried about acne, it's not chocolate that you should be concerned about, look at avoiding processed, high GI and high sugar foods and you'll help keep your skin spot-free.

Chocolate facts

  • Chocolate contains ingredients which increase our serotonin levels — a naturally occurring brain chemical that makes us feel happy, which is why we feel so good when we eat it.

  • Our natural body temperature is set at 37° Celsius while chocolate melts at less than 36° — so it's a mouth-melter in every sense of the word!

  • In it's purest form, dark chocolate has a high cocoa content. Studies have shown that when eaten in moderation, it can help to promote cardiac health. The bad news? Milk, white and drinking chocolate have a higher sugar and fat content.


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