Acne & Diet: Dark Chocolate Good, White Chocolate Bad!

Researchers are now finding increasing evidence that nutrition can have a profound effect on skin health

Nearly 90% of us will be troubled by acne at some time in life; most frequently but not exclusively, in adolescence. Researchers are now finding increasing evidence that nutrition can have a profound effect on skin health. Although it is widely claimed that acne is not linked with diet, intuitively it seems right that eating a healthy diet might improve the symptoms of acne. It is becoming increasingly clear that poor nutrition can make symptoms of acne worse.  But worry not if you are addicted to dark chocolate – this is not likely to be the culprit when you peer in the mirror to be greeted by pimples and blackheads! If however you have a passion for white chocolate, then you may just want to find another way to “sin”. Read on…

Oily Skin, Blackheads & Pimples

Oily skin, blackheads and the pimples that are symptomatic of acne are caused by: hormonally driven excesses of sebum – blockage of sebaceous gland ducts by skin cells to form blackheads - development of pimples when black heads become colonised by the bacteria. 

Researchers are starting to realise that diet can influence all three of these factors. The four dietary factors that are attracting most interest include diets high in refined “carbs” & sugars, milk, red meat and an imbalance in Omega 3 & 6.

Glycemic Load

Acne is not just a problem for teenagers: as many as 54% of women and 45% of men over the age of 25 show some degree of facial acne. But in later life acne symptoms are often linked with being overweight, and with increased production of insulin and related hormones as a result of a high glycaemic diet - a diet that contains significant amounts of sugars and refined carbohydrates, and which causes rapid swings in blood glucose levels and insulin secretion. Higher levels of the hormones driving sebum production and skin cell generation can result.


Milk contains sugars such as lactose, plus growth factors and hormones that can increase insulin and hormone levels. A study of over 4,200 boys found that those consuming more than 2 servings of milk per day were  more likely to have acne than those consuming dairy products less than once a week. Similar results were found in a group of over 6000 adolescent girls. 

Red Meat

Red meat contains hormone-like substances that may affect hormone levels and production of sebum.

Omega-3/Omega-6 Balance

An imbalance between our intakes of Omega-3s and Omega-6s has been linked with worsening of symptoms in inflammatory diseases such as asthma and rheumatoid arthritis, and may also play a role in acne symptoms.  

Omega-3 fatty acids (oily fish is a great source) are converted in the body into substances that reduce inflammation. In contrast, most Omega-6 fatty acids (derived from vegetables oils such as sunflower, safflower and corn oils) are converted into substances that promote inflammation.

Dark Chocolate Good – White Chocolate Bad

Although it is often claimed that chocolate makes acne worse, there is actually no evidence that this is the case. In fact, dark chocolate containing at least 72% cocoa solids might be expected to improve symptoms as it is one of the richest dietary sources of anti-inflammatory antioxidants. BUT no benefits are likely with white chocolate: it contains few antioxidants and lots of fat and sugar.