You nestle into your couch on a cozy Friday night with your comfort movie on the TV and your favorite chocolate bar in hand. All is well. But just a few short days later you notice a brand new pimple on your face, and you’re worried that little treat might be the culprit. But does chocolate really cause acne?

The skin-care myth that eating chocolate leads to breakouts has been circulating for so long that we can’t blame anyone who’s assumed it was the case. While it’s true that the road to healthy skin can be just as much about what goes into your body as what goes on top, the link between chocolate and pimples is a little more complicated. So, we asked some dermatologists to explain the connection.

Meet the experts:

  • Naana Boakye, M.D. is a board-certified dermatologist in New Jersey
  • Mona Gohara, M.D. is a board-certified dermatologist in New York City

In this story:

Does chocolate cause acne?

A study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology gave one group of 28 college students one milk chocolate bar and another group of equal 15 jelly beans. Four weeks later, they swapped the candy that each group would receive. Forty-eight hours after both instances, a dermatologist assessed photos of the participants and noted that the chocolate groups “had a statistically significant increase in acne lesions” compared with the jelly bean eaters. The authors of that study hypothesized that this is because chocolate flavonoids can cause your body to release more cytokines, a protein that tells your immune system to create more inflammation to fight off potential infection. 

While this one small study sure seems to pit milk chocolate against jelly beans, it’s likely a bit more complicated. (The study concludes with a note that more research is needed — including studies that monitor the participants’ total diets more diligently — to reach a true consensus.) The dermatologists we spoke to for this story explain that it’s not fair to place the blame on chocolate alone; there are plenty of treats that could play a part in a sudden breakout. “High glycemic foods, processed foods, and sugar are definitely triggers for acne,” says board-certified dermatologist Naana Boakye, M.D., who confirms that chocolate with high milk and sugar content falls into these categories. “It’s not chocolate alone, it is the group of foods to which it belongs as a whole,” says board-certified dermatologist Mona Gohara, M.D.

Why am I breaking out while eating chocolate?

To understand what exactly about sugar and milk in chocolate causes acne, we have to get a bit science-y. “Whey protein isolates in the milk are basically binding to insulin-like growth factors,” says Dr. Boakye. “There’s this huge inflammatory cascade that occurs that causes your sebum to increase and causes microcomedones (acne) to occur.” According to the American Academy of Dermatology, that “inflammatory cascade” can happen when your blood sugar spikes too. The inflammation, in turn, causes your skin to make more sebum (oil) and, in turn, you could end up with a breakout.

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