Beauty SOS: Is Chocolate Giving You Adult Acne?

By Tor Cardona - 3 December 2014

Contributing Writer

Cameron Diaz and Emma Stone have suffered from acne [Getty]

Bad news sugar rushers, new research proves that daily bar of chocolate could be to blame for stubborn bouts of breakouts. (Not to mention that skinny latte and bowl of spaghetti) Grazia reports on the pimple provocateurs that could be giving your complexion a bumpy ride.  Prepare to be surprised…

1. In Your Diet


Scientists used to dismiss the idea that chocolate gave you spots. But two new studies say otherwise. The first, published in ‘The Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology’ asked participants to eat up to 360g of chocolate p/day (that’s four large bars which, when you’re got PMS, is just a little snack, isn’t it?) and then studied their skin. The more chocolate scoffed, the worse the pimples.

The acne/chocolate link has been confirmed by a second study, published in ‘The Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’. The reason?  It’s not the cocoa in chocolate that messes up your skin, it’s the fat. Some cheaper bars contain ‘partially hydrogenated fats’ (aka trans fats). These are known to be inflammatory and so may make adult acne (an inflammatory condition) worse.

Complexion Clearer: For a cocoa hit, make your own hot chocolate with organic cacao powder instead.

Calvin Klein SS14 (Jason Lloyd Evans)


A bowl of linguine with pesto may be exactly what you want after a stressful day, but your skin will not thank you for it. When we digest pasta, rice, bread or any other processed carbohydrate food (even wholegrain ones) they break down into sugar. Sugar not only causes cross-linkage of collagen and elastin skin fibres in a process called glycosylation, which can cause sagging and wrinkling, it can also cause spots.

A high carb diet can lead to see-sawing blood sugar which can unbalance hormones, including the sex hormones oestrogen and testosterone. Raised testosterone is associated with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). One of the main symptoms of PCOS is adult acne, not just on the face, but sometimes on the back, chest and tummy too.

Complexion Clearer: Eat more lean protein, such as chicken breast, eggs and white fish as this helps balance blood sugar.

Lorde tackles her pesky spots with her favourite acne cream on Instagram (@lordemusic and Getty)


If that coffee, picked up on the way to work, is your favourite AM jump start, think again.   A grande café latte (16 ozs) contains 150mg caffeine and caffeine also stimulates testosterone. A recent New Zealand study revealed that caffeine can push testosterone by as much as 50 – 60%. The more coffee, tea or diet cola you drink, the more you may be spiking testosterone and the more problems you may have with your skin.

Complexion Clearer: swap coffee for herbal tea.

Hilary Duff and Kate Hudson getting their Starbucks fix- is coffee the culprit behind your acne? (Getty)


Tomatoes are high in an antioxidant called ‘lycopene’ which has been shown to protect against skin sun damage, so aren’t they good for your complexion? The problem is that tomatoes are also a so-called ‘nightshade’, a group of vegetables to which many people are intolerant, often without knowing it.  Intolerance can cause skin inflammation, redness and a worsening of acne rosacea.

Acne Rosacea is characterised by a butterfly pattern of redness with bumps under the skin across the nose and cheeks. It is sometimes called ‘the curse of the Celts’, as pale skinned people, most usually women over 35, are afflicted.  Other nightshades include potato, peppers, chilli and aubergine. The reason they cause spots is that nightshades contain ‘alkaloids’, compounds that these plants use to protect themselves from insects but which can irritate skin.

Complexion Clearer: cook your tomatoes. This can reduce alkaloid content by 40 – 50%

Katy Perry and Keira Knightley admit they still suffer from adult acne (Getty)

2. In Your Bathroom Cabinet


You’ve been out for drinks the night before, so when you wake up with the mother of all hangovers, it’s only natural to pop a pill. The trouble is while that little pill will get you to work, it can also give your pimples.

Ibuprofen and aspirin are part of a group of medicines called Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs). These have been shown by many studies to cause perforation of the gut; tiny holes through which minute particles of food can slip, triggering the immune system and leading to skin ‘hypersensitivity’.  Immune cells in the skin called Mast Cells are activated, giving off histamine (the same hormone stimulated by touching stinging nettles), resulting redness and spots.

Complexion Clearer: Milk thistle is a herb used traditionally to support the liver, which processes alcohol. Pop a milk thistle tablet before you go out to help lessen your hangover.


When you have an infection, or go into hospital for an op, it’s routine for you to be prescribed antibiotics. However, while these knock out harmful bacteria, they can also wipe out the friendly bacteria in your gut which can impact your skin in a process known as ‘Post Antibiotic Syndrome’ (PAS).

Friendly bacteria not only help us digest food, providing important skin-nurturing nutrients, they also block receptor sites on the gut wall that can be taken up with pathogenic bugs. PAS happens because a lack of friendly allows more pathogens to thrive and among other nasties, these may release toxic substances that have to be excreted from the body. One way is through the skin, which means break-outs.

Complexion Clearer: Take probiotic tablets during and after a course of antibiotics to spare and replenish friendly gut bacteria.

Antonio Berardi SS14 (Jason Lloyd Evans)

3. In Your Body


No-one ever said that the sleep deprivation involved in looking after a newborn was a recipe for a youthful complexion (eyebags the size of suitcases and an overall greyish tinge to the skin, anyone?). However, childbirth can also make you pimply.

The female hormone oestrogen is associated with young-looking skin. During the last three months of pregnancy, oestrogen rises to 50 times its normal level, giving you that expectant mum’s ‘glow’. Within three days of giving birth, however, oestrogen plummets again by as much as 1000%.

This hormonal helter skelter can leave your liver struggling to cope as it tries to process excess sex hormones and all the other stuff of modern life (headache tablets, caffeine, food additives…) Your body may then recruit its second organ of detoxification (the skin) to get rid of toxins, resulting in spots.

Complexion Clearer: eat plant-source oestrogen from foods such as fermented soy (tou, miso) and chick peas.

Is chocolate getting in the way of you and a clear complexion? (Jason Lloyd Evans)


None of us enjoys that moment when we try on last year’s summer clothes and they appear to have shrunk in the wardrobe. Even worse is the news that putting on a few pounds could also make you spotty.

Fat cells are not just blobs that do the cellular equivalent of sitting on the sofa watching Cash in The Attic. They are highly active – in a bad way. Importantly for skin, they raise the level of inflammation in the body. Inflammation worsens adult acne and can damage skin cell membranes, releasing destructive enzymes called proteases and Matrix Metalloproteases (MMPs). These break down the soft skeleton of the skin, causing thinning and wrinkling as well.

Complexion Clearer: Invest in fish oil tablets which are anti-inflammatory and can aid weight loss.

Additional words by Lowri Turner


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