There is plenty of evidence to suggest that a moderate amount of chocolate – especially dark chocolate – is good for our gut health, cholesterol levels, and brain. It may even lower the risk of developing heart disease and stroke.
The health benefits of chocolate are thought to be due to the high levels of antioxidants found in one of the nation’s favorite snacks.
But what about our skin health? Can chocolate prevent skin aging, sunburn, and possibly even skin cancer?
Chocolate and sunlight
Too much sunlight leaves most people with sunburn. However, excessive sunlight exposure is also a key contributor to skin cancer and skin aging.
Could chocolate, with its high antioxidant levels, protect us from the sun’s damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays? Some believe that it could.
The raw cocoa bean has very high levels of flavanols, a type of antioxidant. But most of these are lost during the process that turns the bean into the chocolate that we know and love.
That being said, chocolate manufacturers are now experimenting with new processes that preserve higher levels of antioxidants.
A study by led Prof. Wilhelm Stahl – from the Institute for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf, Germany – and colleagues investigated whether higher antioxidant levels in chocolate could improve the skin’s ability to withstand damage from UV radiation.
For the study, 24 women consumed a chocolate drink that contained either 27 milligrams of flavanols (normal chocolate) or 329 milligrams (high-antioxidant) each morning for 12 weeks.
Prof. Stahl found that the skin of participants who had consumed the high-oxidant chocolate drink did not become as red when exposed to a controlled dose of UV radiation.
But is there a difference between a chocolate drink and solid chocolate?
In order to further examine the effects of high-antioxidant chocolate, Dr. Stefanie Williams – from the Cosmetic Science Group at London University of the Arts in the United Kingdom – and colleagues performed a study with 30 participants.
The volunteers ate 20 grams of either high-antioxidant or standard chocolate every day for 12 weeks. The high-antioxidant chocolate contained in excess of 600 milligrams of flavanol per portion, while the normal chocolate had fewer than 30 milligrams of flavanols.
What the authors found correlated with Prof. Stahl’s results; the skin of the participants who had eaten the high-antioxidant chocolate was not as sensitive to UV damage.
But the most recent clinical study by Dr. Sylvie Dodin – a professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at St. François d’Assise Hopital, Université Laval in Quebec, Canada – and colleagues did not see the same effect.
For their study, Dr. Dodin and her team used the same high-antioxidant chocolate that Dr. Williams used for her research. But rather than eating 20 grams of chocolate in one sitting each day, the 74 women participating in the study ate 10 grams of chocolate three times per day for 12 weeks.
However, contrary to the findings of Prof. Stahl and Dr. Williams, the consumption of high-antioxidant chocolate did not have a protective effect in the participants.
The one difference that the authors noted was that skin elasticity, or suppleness, was increased in the high-antioxidant chocolate group.
Chocolate and skin health
So, the jury is still out on whether or not chocolate is a panacea for preventing UV skin damage.
While much is known on the benefits of chocolate on cardiovascular, brain, and gut health, the field of skin research is still in its infancy when it comes to the effects of chocolate.
For now, it might be best to rely on other forms of skin protection and simply enjoy chocolate as part of a healthful, balanced diet.