Does Chocolate Cause Oily Skin and Acne?

dairy and chocolate linked to acne


Probably the tiredest thing we hear about periods is that you get cravings for chocolate and while chocolate gives you comfort, it can also give you spots and oily skin.

I've heard it so many times I've stopped listening. Kind of like when my mum told me to wear a hat in winter. 

But here's why I should've listened - chocolate causes spots and greasy because of two things. Sugar and dairy. Both of which are super not great if you struggle with oily, spotty skin.

Here's why: your hormones.

As you will know as a woman with more than enough experience with whacky hormones, the way they fluctuate is often reflected on your skin. It may get worse around your period, or perhaps during pregnancy and then suddenly improve as you lose some weight. The reason for all of this is that any event that causes changes in hormones, can also cause changes in your skin. And unfortunately dairy can cause changes in your hormones. 

dairy can cause acne and oily skin through hormone disruption

One of the main mechanisms that it does so is through elevating your insulin and your IGF-1 or insulin-like growth factor-1, two hormones that have both been linked to oilier skin and acne.

IGF-1 - what is it and how does it contribute?

The first, IGF-1, typically surges in puberty and has been shown to be a critical contributing factor in acne. Studies show that an increased level of IGF-1 goes hand in hand with increased sebum production, the necessary first step to oily skin and acne. And unfortunately, increased levels of IGF-1 and consumption of dairy have also bee shown to go hand in hand, as the proteins contained in dairy (casein) work to increase IGF-1 levels. Interestingly, this link is so strong that these results have even been reported in a study done by Nestle, the world's largest food processing company with large divisions for dairy and chocolate products.

Insulin - what is it and how does it contribute?

The second hormone with an impact on your skin's oiliness, insulin, works through a different pathway. Increased insulin levels in the body are linked to increased androgen levels (male sex hormones) and lower sex hormone-binding globulins (SHBG - proteins that bind excess androgens) which are both linked to more sebum and acne on the skin. For dairy products specifically, it is the whey in them that is responsible for the insulin reaction. 

What to do?

So as we can see, the regular consumption of dairy (and in particular low-fat dairy which has been shown to have an even greater impact on sebum production than full-fat dairy) leads to higher insulin and IGF-1 hormone levels and more problems with oiliness and acne.

If you're like me, this is a disaster to hear, because you love dairy. Cheese, some butter on toast, a bit of sour cream with your blinis or some chocolate to end the meal... Dairy in all its yumminess is everywhere.

There's no sugarcoating it - this one is a difficult one. But some substitutions that have worked for me are:

  • avocado or ghee instead of butter. (Interestingly, even though ghee is made from butter, the clarifying process gets rid of both the whey and the casein so its acne-causing powers are removed)
  • nutritional yeast instead of cheese (as a topping)
  • nut mylks instead of milk (especially oat)
  • nut-based ice desserts in stead of ice creams (in the UK try Booja Booja, you can't tell the difference)
  • coconut yoghurt diluted with water instead of yoghurt (diluting it makes it less thick and taste less strongly of coconut if you don't enjoy that taste)

Those are some of the best substitutions I've found, I'd love to hear if you have any others? Leave a comment below with your favourite!


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