Can Chocolate cause Pimples? The science of acne & what you eat


It’s the Easter Sunday tally of chocolate and hot cross buns and it’s time to get science to help me prevent pimples popping-up like bunny rabbits!

Don’t believe me that chocolate and hot cross buns can cause acne?  Studies on twins have proven, whilst the tendency to spots can run in families, diet has a very large impact on whether or not your face has an outcrop of zits (6).

In fact the Journal of Dermato-Endocrinology said “nutrition is one of the most important parameters that is involved in modulating skin health and condition” (3).

Causes of acne:

  • Cows milk including skim milk. Proven by studies on girls before the onset of their period and in adult women (6).

  • High glycemic foods, that is, foods high in sugar alter insulin and hormone production and function causing the skin to produce more oil (6).

  • Type of fat eaten.  Healthy fats in fish, avocados and meat do not promote pimples but unfortunately fats in processed foods may (6).

  • Chocolate. The (scientific) jury is still out on milk chocolate, however, if your chocolate has dairy, sugar and was not made in your kitchen it is more than likely to be pimple promoting (6).

Well considering afternoon tea was a high sugar nougat filled Easter Egg it’s too late for analysis of causes – time to research solutions!

When I was an image obsessed teenager I insisted my GP prescribe a course of antibiotics to fix my acne promising like a junkie jonesing for a fix “this would be my last time”!  Fast forward 20 years and my personal history of multiple immune disorders is a warning to all that antibiotic abuse is a short-sighted, short-term solution.

Natural solutions to Acne:

Vitamins and Minerals: Pimples typically leave a wound that is red, lumpy, and inflamed and nutrients like vitamins A and C, zinc and glucosamine may reduce pimple healing time and improve the appearance of the wound (3). 

Low sugar, high fibre:  Not only are high sugar diets linked to acne but a study on male volunteers noticed a greater improvement in total acne lesions while eating a low sugar, high fibre diet (3).

Avoid dairy and processed fats (6). 

Scientific theory but little research on vitamin D. Vitamin D is produced by your skin after sun exposure and scientists believe it may play some role in helping with acne.  Whilst this has not been proven there are many other benefits to regular sun exposure so I’ll make sure I top up my Vitamin D every day this week* (4,5).

Natural antiseptic: If pimples do turn up I will pop a drop of topical antiseptic tea tree oil (an essential oil of the Australian native tree Melaleuca alternifolia) on the bumps.  A single-blind, randomised clinical trial on 124 patients of 5% tea-tree oil compared with 5% benzoyl peroxide lotion found both treatments had a significant effect in reducing the number of inflamed and non-inflamed lesions and improving acne.  Although the onset of action in the case of tea-tree oil was slower it also had fewer side effects (1).

My own theory with my own research: When dodging the very real possibility of pizza face I make sure my “organs of excretion”, that is, my liver, kidneys, bowels and lungs are working to move out the indulgences of the weekend.  In practical terms this means I add vegetables to every meal to increase fibre and the possibility of a big poo, drink over 2L (0.5 gallon) of water a day and go for a walk in the fresh air. On my face I use a clean salt based stick as an antibacterial solution just in those areas I am most likely to break out.

If you find that you have acne that is not responsive to these simple lifestyle measures you might have an underlying condition requiring further investigation and targeted treatment personalised to your body and circumstances.  

Happy Easter Sunday!

Sonia x

*Please always be sun safe.  I get my sun exposure before 11am, protect my face from the sun and leave before I turn pink.


1. Bassett, I. B., Pannowitz, D. L., & Barnetson, R. S. (1990). A comparative study of tea-tree oil versus benzoylperoxide in the treatment of acne. The Medical Journal of Australia, 153(8), 455-458.

2. Melnik, B. C. (2013). The role of mTORC1 in acne pathogenesis and treatment.  Expert Review of Dermatology, 8(6), 617-622. doi:10.1586/17469872.2013.846514.

3. Piccardi, N., & Manissier, P. (2009). Nutrition and nutritional supplementation: impact on skin health and beauty. Dermato-endocrinology, 1(5), 271-274.

4. Reichrath, J. (2007). Vitamin D and the skin: an ancient friend, revisited. Experimental dermatology, 16(7), 618-625.

5. Schwalfenberg, G. K. (2011). A review of the critical role of vitamin D in the functioning of the immune system and the clinical implications of vitamin D deficiency. Molecular nutrition & food research, 55(1), 96-108.

6. Spencer, E. H., Ferdowsian, H. R., & Barnard, N. D. (2009). Diet and acne: a review of the evidence. International journal of dermatology, 48(4), 339-347.

Sonia McNaughton