I’m not sure about you, but when I hear cocoa, the first thing that springs to my mind is a tasty bar of chocolate. I love it dark; I love it white; I love it plain. Yet, I never thought I’d love it on my skin too! Why might you ask?
Abundant in saturated fatty acids and polyphenols, cocoa is known for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Prised for its anti-ageing effect, it keeps the skin soft, smooth and moisturised – a perfect choice for dry, itchy skin suffering from dermatitis, eczema or psoriasis.
Sensual, soothing and irresistible cocoa butter is an alluring skincare ingredient. But what exactly are cocoa’s properties, and how to use it? To learn more, keep scrolling to find out everything you need to know about cocoa and how you can incorporate this wonderful butter into your everyday skincare.
- What Is Cacao?
- The History of Cacao
- Cocoa Butter Composition
- Cocoa Butter Skin Benefits
- How To Use Cocoa Butter In Skincare
- Cocoa Butter In Haircare
- How To Use Cocoa Butter In Haircare
- Cocoa v Cacao
- 5 Health Benefits of Cocoa Powder
What Is Cacao?
Cacao, known as Theobroma cacao, is a small evergreen tree native to tropical regions of the northern part of South America. Theobroma cacao grows in clusters along river banks in its natural habitat, with roots often flooded for long periods of the year.
Although Theobroma cacao is cultivated mainly for consumption, cacao is beneficial for an array of medicinal purposes. It helps stimulate the nervous system, lower blood pressure, prevent heart disease, manage diabetes, and soothe and soften damaged skin. It also helps against anaemia, angina, bruises, chapped skin and burns.
The History of Cacao
Cultivated throughout history for its value, Maya and Aztec people used cacao beans, also known as cocoa beans, in engagement, marriage ceremonies and religious rituals. However, cacao beans were so expensive that only the royals, warriors and the wealthy could enjoy them.
The Discovery of America opened many possibilities. One of them was the discovery of cacao beans. Spanish explorers brought the beans home, sweetened the water-based recipe and spread this sweet treat throughout Europe, becoming one of the most enjoyed delicacies today.
Interesting fact: “Cacao (cocoa) beans were used as currency to purchase goods among native Maya and Aztec people.”
Cocoa Butter Composition
As many of us are concerned with our health, a natural shift to a healthier lifestyle demands the end products to be ethically sourced and natural. Cocoa butter, among many others, is a highly sought after natural ingredient in the cosmetics industry. Valued for its nutritional and remedial benefits, it is a popular option in lip balms, bath melts, scrubs and hair products.
High in saturated fatty acids, skincare formulators value this unique light yellow butter for its moisturising and emollient properties. Cacao butter absorbs easily by the skin, making it smoother and softer while forming a protective layer over the skin and locking moisture.
Some of the notable compounds found in cocoa butter include:
- Fatty acids: Palmitic, stearic and oleic acids are the primary fatty acids found in cocoa butter. In comparison, oleic acid is known for its softening, moisturising and regenerating effect on the skin and hair, while palmitic acid locks in the moisture. Stearic acid is a powerful cleanser and effective facial moisturiser.
- Antioxidants: Cocoa contains many antioxidants called polyphenols with a range of potential skin benefits. They protect the skin from the inside by neutralising oxidative stress (a major factor of premature skin ageing), reducing inflammation, and protecting the skin from sun damage. You may find polyphenols primarily in cocoa powder, not necessarily in cocoa butter.
Tip: Boost the curative effect of your skincare products by adding cocoa powder into cocoa butter. The smell is divine!
Cocoa Butter Skin Benefits
Valued for its antioxidants and anti-inflammatory activities, cocoa is invaluable in maintaining healthy skin. Highly curative, it soothes and moisturises the skin. Moreover, antioxidants in cocoa protect the skin from the inside by neutralising oxidative stress, which is a significant factor in premature skin ageing, making it a popular ingredient in skincare products.
Softens the skin
Abundant in fatty acids, cocoa butter absorbs quickly into the skin, leaving it smoother, softer and healthier.
Keeps the skin moisturised
High content of fatty acids makes cocoa butter well-suited as a primary ingredient in skincare products. Oleic acid nourishes, repairs and replenishes the lipid skin barrier – protecting it against toxins, irritants, and other environmental stressors. In addition, the fatty acids found in cocoa butter, similar to lipids in the skin, form a protective barrier that locks in moisture and prevents skin from drying.
It is soothing
As you have learned above, cocoa butter is a gentle moisturiser well suited to soothe burns and rashes. It’s even gentle enough for the skin as a natural treatment for eczema, psoriasis and dermatitis.
Can have a healing effect on the skin
Rich and moisturising, cocoa butter is a primary component of many local treatments for eczema, psoriasis and dermatitis. The rich moisture content and protective oil-based nature of cocoa butter may ease itching and allow the skin to heal after a flare-up.
May protect against sun damage
Oxidative stress caused by UV radiation can cause skin texture changes, damage skin cells, and even increase skin cancer risk. The antioxidants in cocoa butter may protect against skin damage from harmful UV rays and lower your risk of skin disease.
How To Use Cocoa Butter In Skincare
If you consider adding cocoa butter to your skincare recipes, you will find it widely available and inexpensive. Cocoa butter is typically available in two forms: refined or unrefined. In its raw, unrefined state, cocoa butter is hard in texture, pale yellow with a rich chocolaty smell.
Although I personally prefer to keep the ingredients in their simplest natural form, formulating with overpowering butter can be challenging. Thus, many manufacturers choose refined cocoa butter stripped away from the scent and colour and regrettably its beneficial qualities.
Unrefined Cocoa Butter has a relatively hard texture compared to shea, mango or cupuacu butter. Unlike softer butter, cocoa doesn’t scoop easily and need to be chopped or melted before use. Softening, dense and hydrating cocoa butter makes a great additive to lip balms, body butter and scrubs. It keeps products stable and melts on touch.
Let’s take a look at simple ways of incorporating cocoa butter into your skincare.
- Break off a small piece or shaving of cocoa butter and rub it between your palms until it melts; then, you can massage it against your skin. The butter will melt as it will touch the skin, absorbing to the skin effortlessly. You can apply the butter generously throughout the day, soothing the skin.
- If you find the butter too hard, you can soften or even melt the cocoa butter in a bain–marie. Be careful not to overheat the butter as it could destabilise. More importantly, be careful not to burn yourself!
- Another way to make the most of the cocoa butter is by applying the cocoa butter to the damp skin. While in a shower or bath, let the hot water melt the butter while rubbing it into the skin.
- Cocoa butter is an excellent additive to help you achieve both a nice body butter, balm or salve without using much beeswax.
Side Effects of Cocoa Butter: If you’re prone to acne, cocoa butter might not be the best option for you as it can clog pores. Look for a lighter substitute, such as shea butter or mango butter, perhaps?
Cocoa Butter In Haircare
I get it. Looking after your hair can be a chore by itself, especially if your hair is long or curly. Our daily routine of straightening and blow-drying can leave the hair looking rather dull in our quest to look good. “So what can cocoa butter do for me?” you might ask. Cocoa butter can preserve hair’s moisture, rebuild damaged hair follicles and strengthen it, bestowing your hair with shinier, softer hair.
Let’s take a look in more detail at what cocoa butter can do for you!
Strengthens the hair
Colouring, blow-drying and straightening your hair can leave it dry, rigid and brittle. Although applying moisturisers after shampooing can help restore moisture, have you ever considered pre-shampooing your hair? Using cocoa butter before shampooing adds a protective layer to hair strands protecting them from the shampoos drying effect.
Having a healthy, happy scalp is essential for healthy hair. Applying cocoa butter to your hair can help regulate sebum production – minimising dandruff and nurturing healthy hair follicles, resulting in thicker, stronger hair.
Adds shine to your hair
If your hair is dry and brittle, it can hugely benefit from the gentle care of cocoa butter. The fatty acids in cocoa butter wrap around the hair strand, increasing shine and reducing hair frizz.
Soothe the scalp
Beautiful hair comes from a healthy scalp. Nutrient-dense cocoa butter can penetrate deeply into the scalp, rejuvenating it and supporting hair growth.
Boosts the effectiveness of your conditioner
Cocoa butter is a fantastic moisturiser that doesn’t apply just to the skin.
This unique butter works rather well also as a hair conditioner. Applying the cocoa butter before washing your hair will lock the hair’s moisture, resulting in stronger locks, less likely to break.
How To Use Cocoa Butter In Haircare
Although cocoa butter melting point is low, about 34°C to 38°C, it solidifies at room temperature. When hardened, cocoa butter needs to be chopped or melted before applying it to your hair. You can either use your fingertips to soften it, microwave it or soften the butter using a bain-marie. The choice is yours.
Here are a few ideas on how to use cocoa butter in your haircare.
- Pre-shampoo your hair using cocoa butter: Cocoa butter makes a gorgeous pre-shampoo treatment. If you are using raw cocoa butter, you might like to melt it before you can massage the butter into your hair and scalp. Leave it on between 10 to 15 minutes and wash it off. Please do not leave the butter on for longer, as it might harden on the hair. Not a look you want to go for!
- Use it as a conditioner: Double the moisturising effect of cocoa butter by either melting it and adding it into your conditioner or use it by itself. Gently apply softened cocoa butter to the ends, staying away from the scalp.
- Apply and leave it on: If you are short of time and don’t have time for a conditioner to work its magic, apply a small amount of cocoa butter into the ends and leave it on. That should help with frizz while keeping the hair soft and shiny.
Cocoa v Cacao
I always assumed cacao and cocoa were pretty much the same until I embarked on a natural skincare journey. That’s when I learned these two ingredients aren’t entirely equal. Although cocoa is similar to cacao, there is a vital difference between them- in the process method used, flavour, and, more importantly, nutritional value.
Both cacao powder and cocoa powder are made from the cacao bean of the Theobroma cacao. The crucial difference is in how the cacao beans are processed. It is the process method that alters the cacao bean’s health benefits.
Cocoa powder v Cacao powder
Cocoa powder refers to highly processed cacao. Manufacturers roast the cacao beans at high temperatures to produce cocoa powder, often adding preservatives, textural agents, sugar or sweeteners to the powder – taking off the bitter taste. This method flattens the rich chocolate flavour and increases the shelf life of processed cocoa powder.
Heating cacao beans at high temperatures degrade their beneficial nutrients – losing valuable nutrition.
Cacao powder relates to minimally processed cacao beans. Naturally fermented, dried beans are crushed into nibs, roasted at low temperatures (below 45C) and grounded into a fine cacao powder after extracting the cacao butter.
Minimally processed cacao retains its robust flavour and maintains the cacao bean’s nutritionally dense properties that make it a superfood.
It is an abundant source of iron, magnesium, potassium, fibre, and flavanols – antioxidants that support cardiovascular and brain health. When it comes to skincare, you can use raw cacao powder to soften, clear, or detoxify your skin. It can also increase skin elasticity, which helps with fine lines and wrinkles and reduces scars’ appearance.
Cacao butter v Cocoa butter
Now that we covered the difference between cacao and cocoa powder, the same principle applies to butter. Cacao butter is a cold-pressed oil of the cacao bean paste. Once the naturally fermented cacao beans have been dried, crushed and roasted at low temperatures, cacao paste is pressed, extracting the raw cacao oil.
Cocoa butter is a product of cacao beans heated at high temperatures. Nevertheless, both are edible, stable vegetable fats used in the cooking and preparations of skincare products.
5 Health Benefits of Cocoa Powder
Cocoa powder: so far, I have been raving about cocoa butter benefits in skincare and hair care. Little did I mention cocoa powder, rich in flavonoids, epicatechins, and catechins – antioxidant polyphenols that offer many health benefits. Here are a few you might like to know about.
Reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases
Cocoa contains flavanols; therefore, consuming cocoa powder or products that contain cocoa may reduce the risk of heart diseases. In addition, research conducted in 2002 indicated that the regular consumption of cocoa extract reduces oxidative stress, which protects against heart diseases.
Flavanols present in cocoa powder protect the body against heart diseases, improve blood circulation, and reduce stroke danger.
A study conducted on 2,000 people with hypertension issues and metabolic syndrome found that cocoa supplements effectively reduce cardiovascular events.
It can boost your mood
Chocolates have shown to be a great mood regulator. According to the research, cocoa contains a mood-boosting chemical known as anandamide, which can help you feel elated and euphoric. In addition, cocoa interacts with your neurotransmitter systems to release compounds like dopamine, endorphins, serotonin that can make you feel better.
Improve your gut health
Cocoa powder contains a fair amount of fibre that stimulates the body’s digestive enzymes, helping with better absorption of nutrients and improving gut health. Without enough fibre in your diet, you might experience digestive difficulties and constipation. Enjoying products rich in cocoa can improve bowel function and provide relief from gastrointestinal discomfort.
Lower blood pressure
Consumption of cocoa powder can lower blood pressure as it protects against the harmful effects of oxidative stress and widens the blood vessels. Studies have suggested cocoa to be effective in reducing blood pressure. Consider adding cocoa powder to your diet after consulting with the doctor or physician if you suffer from hypertension.
Good source of dietary magnesium
Vitamins and minerals are essential for our body to function well. For example, magnesium protects the body against high blood pressure, osteoporosis, risk of metabolic syndrome and type II diabetes. Cocoa powder is an excellent magnesium source, where two tablespoons of cocoa powder cover 14% of the body’s daily magnesium requirement.
Cocoa, a food of gods, is hugely successful for its taste and its therapeutic effect. So whether you choose to include it into your diet as a tasty treat or make the most of it by incorporating it into your skincare and haircare, you can’t go wrong with it. After all, chocolate makes everything better!
What’s the difference between cacao butter and cocoa butter?
Cacao butter is a cold-pressed oil of the cacao bean paste. Once the naturally fermented cacao beans have been dried, crushed and roasted at low temperatures, cacao paste is pressed, extracting the raw cacao oil. In contrast, cocoa butter is a product of cacao beans heated at high temperatures. Compared to cocoa butter, cacao butter is made using low temperatures, retaining its nutrients. Nevertheless, both are stable vegetable fats used in the preparations of skincare products.
What is the cocoa butter melting point?
Cocoa’s butter low melting point of 34°C to 38°C. Due to its firm texture, unrefined cocoa butter is usually melted down for use in skin care products such as bath bombs, lip balms and body butter. To melt the cocoa butter, you can either place it in the heat-proof container into the microwave for 30-second short sessions until it has softened or use bain-marie.
What is the cocoa butter shelf life?
Cocoa butter is edible fat extracted from cocoa beans. It is used not only for cooking but also in natural cosmetics. Naturally rich in fatty acids and antioxidants, cocoa butter is a stable butter that stays fresh for a long time, giving it a shelf life of about two years. To keep it fresh for longer, store the butter in a cool and dry place in an airtight container.