Does Your Skin Love Chocolate as Much as You Do?
Chocolate used to take the rap for acne and all sorts of hives, rashes and skin allergies. But now chocolate is the darling of the health food world – especially dark chocolate.
The question is, if you have a chronic or recurring skin condition, will chocolate make it better or worse? The answer is “It depends.”
Chocolate and Sun Exposure
Chocolate is full of antioxidants and catechins. These antioxidants may reduce skin-damage from sunlight and UV radiation. This natural sun-protection can in turn reduce the appearance of aging.
The polyphenols and antioxidants in chocolate also improve skin density and hydration and make it a natural anti-inflammatory food. (However, the sugar added to the chocolate is inflammatory and can often negate its anti-inflammatory benefits.)
Why it’s the Gift of Love
There’s no secret to why we associate a gift of chocolate as an expression of love, especially on holidays like Valentine’s Day. Chocolate contains a compound called phenyethylamine, which triggers the same euphoric feeling you get when you fall in love. Plus, chocolate may increase your serotonin levels. Serotonin is the “feel good” hormone and may be why many people reach for a chocolate to soothe themselves when they’re feeling down.
The Darker, the Better
Dark chocolate is a respectable source of dietary fiber, manganese, copper, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, and zinc. One study also listed chocolate as higher in antioxidants and polyphenols than blueberries or acai berries.
If you want to experience the health benefits from chocolate, stick to dark chocolate, since it offers a higher percentage of pure cocoa. White chocolate contains no cocoa solids, and milk chocolate has less cocoa, but much higher amounts of fat and sugar.
Chocolate is not only hot on the health food lists these days, it’s also making an appearance in the skin care aisles and at high end spas! Since cocoa contains caffeine, products claim it reduces surface inflammation through the vasoconstriction of small capillaries. Cocoa butter is an excellent topical skin moisturizer that is often tolerated well by people with sensitive skin.
Why Does Chocolate Cause Skin Flare-Ups?
Chocolate can be an outright allergen for some people, and should be entirely avoided by those experiencing itching, sudden rash, or shortness of breath after eating it. But an allergy to chocolate isn’t the only explanation for why it can trigger a flare-up in your skin condition.
In a study by the National Rosacea Society, 1 in 5 rosacea sufferers reported that chocolate triggered a flare-up. A theory behind this reaction is the theobromine in chocolate, one of the beneficial alkaloids that make it a healthy food. Theobromine is a vasodilator that increases blood flow in the capillaries, thereby increasing skin flushing and redness.
Read the Label!
Flare-ups can be caused by other ingredients– not the cocoa itself. If you’re sensitive or allergic to dairy, it could be the milk or butterfat that’s triggering a reaction. Also, cheaper brands of chocolate contain hydrogenated oils, artificial chemicals and flavorings that can cause skin reactions.
Keep in mind that cocoa also contains caffeine – so if caffeine is a trigger for your skin, too much chocolate can have the same effect as tea, cola, or coffee.
If you can’t give up eating chocolate, but you think it may be aggravating your skin, try eating a small amount of high-quality dark chocolate made with at least 70% cocoa and pure cocoa butter. Make sure your chocolate contains no milk, cream, butterfat, hydrogenated fats, or chemicals. If there is no flare-up, the trigger you experience when eating chocolate may be from dairy, hydrogenated fats, or another additive.
About the Author
Dr. Olivia Hsu Friedman, DACM, LAc, Dipl.OM, is the owner of Amethyst Holistic Skin Solutions and treats eczema, TSW, psoriasis, and acne patients throughout the US in person and via video conferencing using only herbal medicine. Olivia earned a Doctorate in Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine as well as a diploma in Traditional Chinese Medicine Dermatology. Outside of the office, Olivia serves on the Board of Directors of the American Society of Acupuncturists, the Advisory Board of LearnSkin and the faculty of the Chicago Integrative Eczema Support Group sponsored by the National Eczema Association.