Science Questions with Surprising Answers
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Dr. Christopher S. Baird

Why does chocolate cause acne?

Category: Health      Published: April 8, 2013

By: Christopher S. Baird, author of The Top 50 Science Questions with Surprising Answers and Associate Professor of Physics at West Texas A&M University

Chocolate has no effect on acne. Public Domain Image, source: HHS.

Chocolate does not cause acne. Acne is caused by overactive sebaceous glands. Sebaceous glands are microscopic glands connected to the hair follicles. Their job is to secrete skin oil (sebum), which travels up the shaft of the hair and out onto the skin in order to waterproof the body. If the glands secrete too much skin oil, the channel along the hair's shaft becomes clogged. As a result, a buildup of skin oil and dead cells occurs in the glands and the hair follicle. This stagnant, clogged mass just below the skin's surface becomes infected with bacteria and turns into a pimple. Sebaceous glands accelerate their secretions in response to high levels of sex hormones, such as present during puberty. The causes of acne are therefore: 1) elevated sex hormones, 2) sebaceous glands that are overly sensitive to sex hormones, and 3) the presence of bacteria that take advantage of the situation.

Chocolate has no effect on acne, according to a study done by Dr. James E. Fulton. Dr. Fulton divided 65 subjects with mild acne into two groups; one group had people eating chocolate bars, and the other had people eating bars that looked like chocolate but contained no chocolate. In the end, there was no difference in the acne of the two groups. Though chocolate does not affect acne, anything that raises the levels of sex hormones will worsen acne. For example, using testosterone replacement therapy to boost abnormally low testosterone levels can worsen acne. For women, menstruation leads to fluctuations in hormone levels and can therefore worsen acne. Because of the three factors that combine to cause acne, various treatments work by addressing one or many of these factors. Some treatments lower sex hormone levels, while others kill the bacteria. Also, some treatments work by widening the follicle shafts to reduce blockage.

Topics: acne, chocolate, chocolate causes acne, food, hormones