True or False: Eating Chocolate (or Other Fatty Foods) Causes Acne
by Jacquelyn Rudis
Have you heard rumors that your favorite snacks may be causing your face to break out? Should you cut out chocolate, pizza, or nuts from your diet? If your reasons for considering such sacrifices are to prevent acne, then the answer is no! No foods have been scientifically proven to cause acne. Acne has a genetic basis, and is caused by factors such as hormonal changes, overactive oil glands in the skin, and bacteria.
Evidence Against the Health Claim
Chocolate, like many other foods, can be bad for your body if it is eaten in excessive quantities. Many researchers claim that acne is not affected by chocolate, and a variety of studies have examined the role of diet in acne. Some studies on the influence of genetics versus environment (including the foods you eat) on acne have followed sets of twins. For instance, a study of female twins in the United Kingdom found that despite different environmental exposures, acne levels were very similar and could mainly be attributed to genetics.
Various dermatologists have studied chocolate’s effects on acne, and have recently made statements denouncing diet altogether as an influential factor for acne. Dermatologist James E. Fulton, Jr., MD, PhD, conducted a placebo-controlled trial examining 65 acne clinic patients and male prisoners with mild or moderate acne. He saw no difference in acne levels between the group that ate chocolate and the group that ate non-chocolate placebo bars. Dr. Fulton has been adamant in saying, “Chocolate doesn’t cause acne.”
Dr. Phillip Swarbrick, an Australian dermatologist, has also said, "There was a time when people used to seriously think that things like chocolate would cause acne but [now] we know that diet is not a factor.”
The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Dermatology and the National Institute of Health also back the dermatologists’ claims, and these sources agree that chocolate and other fatty foods do not cause acne. Guidelines for the treatment of acne do not recommended diet as a way to control the condition, but focus on antibiotics and other medications.
Evidence for the Health Claim
Studies examining the role of nutrition and other environmental factors on acne have mostly been small, short, and poorly designed. Thus, it is possible that some dietary factors may yet be found to influence acne if and when larger, more rigorous studies are performed.
One popular theory proposes that if a person is acne-prone for hereditary reasons, it is important to maintain a balanced diet. Some nutritionists contend that because of the way your body metabolizes food, diet may play an indirect role in acne. The chemicals that your body releases while breaking down certain types of foods can influence factors that cause acne, and a breakout may be triggered or worsened. Such foods include those with high fat content.
The theory holds that eating high-fat foods may increase oil levels in the skin, thus increasing bacterial growth and promoting acne. One study, published in the Archives of Dermatology, provided some support for this theory. It showed that non-western cultures whose diets are rich in roots, fruits, and vegetables have little or no incidence of acne, as compared to the 78%-95% rate among American teenagers (who tend to consume lots of fatty foods). However, the rate difference may also be attributed to other non-dietary factors, including genetics.
Some people are adamant that certain foods worsen their acne. If you think that a particular food causes you to break-out, by all means, stop eating it for a while and see what happens. However, there is no compelling evidence that the average American will notice a connection between their acne and their diet. So if you need to feel bad about eating that piece of chocolate cake for dessert, focus your guilt on your waistline, not your skin.
Acne: 18 remedies for smoother skin. The Doctors Book of Home Remedies. Available at: http://www.mothernature.com/Library/bookshelf/Books/47/2.cfm . Accessed November 5, 2008.
Acne in Teens: Ways to Control It. American Academy of Family Physicians. Family Doctor.org website. Available at: http://familydocto.... Updated September 2010. Accessed November 15, 2010.
Bataille V, Snieder H, MacGregor AJ, et al. The influence of genetics and environmental factors in the pathogenesis of acne: a twin study of acne in women. J Invest Dermatol . 2002;119:1317-1322.
Cardwell G. The science of chocolate and health. Glenn Cardwell website. Available at: http://www.glennca... . Accessed June 6, 2006.
The chocolate and acne myth. The Acne Resource Center Online website. Available at: http://www.acne-resource.org/acne-articles/chocolate-myth.html . Accessed November 5, 2008.
Does diet play a role in acne? The Acne Resource Center Online website. Available at: http://www.acne-resource.org/understanding-acne/dietrole.html . Accessed November 5, 2008.
Magin P, Pond D, Smith W, et al. A systematic review of the evidence for ‘myths and misconceptions’ in acne management: diet, face-washing, and sunlight. Family Practice . 2004;22:62-70.
EBSCO Information Services is fully accredited by URAC. URAC is an independent, nonprofit health care accrediting organization dedicated to promoting health care quality through accreditation, certification and commendation.
This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.
To send comments or feedback to our Editorial Team regarding the content please email us at email@example.com. Our Health Library Support team will respond to your email request within 2 business days.