Regardless of how your romantic perspectives are shaping up this year, there’s one bit of sweetness that won’t be in short supply: chocolate. Whether you are sharing it out of a heart-shaped box with a lover or splurging on discounted packages you bought from the store, Valentine’s Day is a great opportunity to indulge in this guilty pleasure.
But why exactly is it considered a “guilty” pleasure? While your dentists may have (literally) drilled into you the dangers of eating too many sweets, most people’s main concern with chocolate stems from it’s rumoured reputation of causing acne breakouts. According to a 2007 survey, among 312 teens, 66 percent of them believed that eating chocolate exacerbated acne (Rigopoulos et al., 2007).
Does chocolate cause acne?
This is a question that is widely debated among dieticians and dermatologists, and one that they’ve been trying to answer for decades. In a study conducted in 1969, a group of subjects with acne consumed chocolate containing 10 times more cocoa than the standard bar, while another group ate bars that contained no cocoa. No difference in acne formation was found between the two groups (Fulton et al., 1969). In short, the test provided proof (albeit one based on a small sample size of 65 males, using procedures far outdated by today’s standards) that chocolate itself does not cause acne.
If ignorance is truly bliss we could have left it at that. Alas, over the years many more similar experiments and research has been conducted, with conflicting findings that pose more questions than they answer. In fact, the link between acne and diet in general is still not well defined, to the point where some even doubt that there is a significant relationship between the two.
So you might be asking the question, “What DOES cause acne then?”
Addressing this curiosity requires us to first answer an even simpler question, “What IS acne?”
Acne occurs when pores in your skin become clogged with dead skin cells and an oil secreted by your glands, called sebum. A bacteria called Propionibacterium acnes, which is present on your skin, is believed to be the culprit partly responsible for the inflammation and redness associated with the condition. Therefore, many different processes are responsible for the formation of acne, from the overproduction of sebum to the overgrowth of P. acnes, and there are countless natural factors that play a role in these processes. For example, it has been proven that genetics is big determinant, and that production of different hormones is also key, which is why most people experience acne during puberty.
Essentially, diet is a very small piece of the puzzle. One general trend, although not an absolute certainty, is that foods high in glycemic loads (basically sugary foods), increase production of sebum which could consequently induce acne formation (Alicja Kucharska et al., 2016). Similarly, consumption of dairy products might alter hormone production, causing acne. This could partly explain why milk chocolate has a reputation for being the harbinger of pimples, since it is high in sugar and contains dairy. However, almost all sweet snacks share these qualities. In other words, as long as you avoid eating too many other sugary desserts and confectionaries, it is unlikely that having a chocolate bar every once a while will cause you to break out.
To eat or not to eat?
Still, if you are a hopeless lover of chocolate who is disheartened by the findings mentioned above, consider going dark! Cocoa (which is found in higher concentration in dark chocolate), is known to have numerous health benefits. A study found that regular consumption of chocolates high in flavonal (dark chocolate), can protect your skin from UV light and its negative effects, which includes premature ageing of the skin and skin cancer (Williams, et al., 2009). Furthermore, many findings are showing that dark chocolate can have a positive impact on your cardiovascular health, immune system, and mood.
Another thing to keep in mind is that stress also has a negative impact on skin health, especially acne formation. So, if the occasional treat of chocolate brings you legitimate happiness and benefits your mental health, it would be counterproductive to stop enjoying it. Ultimately, a balanced and well-informed diet, coupled with exercise, a thorough skincare routine, and self-care is the best way to ensure that you can enjoy a healthy body and all the joys that come with it.
If you’re in Montreal, why not treat yourself or a loved one to some delectable vegan chocolates this valentines day from Sophie Sucrée – I know I will be!