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What exactly is cocoa butter?

Cocoa butter may be reminiscent of decadent desserts such as chocolate bars, fudge cakes, and chocolate ice cream. However, this delicious ingredient is also the main ingredient in skin creams and other health and beauty products. Unlike cocoa butter in desserts, cocoa butter in skin care regimens will not make you fat. But can it improve your appearance?

Cocoa butter is a fat derived from cocoa beans. In order to utilize cocoa butter, the cocoa beans are removed from the larger cocoa plants. They are then roasted, peeled and pressed to separate the fat-cocoa butter. The residue is then processed into cocoa powder.

Cocoa has been used in medicine for about 3,000 years. It was the favorite ingredient of the ancient Aztecs and Mayans, who even used cocoa as currency. Recently, researchers have discovered that compounds called phytochemicals in cocoa may help keep the body and skin healthy.

Can cocoa butter really improve the appearance of your skin? Let's take a look at the science behind the claims about this sweet beauty.

Physical properties

Cocoa beans are fermented on a farm east of Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands.
The melting point of cocoa butter is usually around 34–38 °C (93–101 °F), so chocolate is solid at room temperature, but it melts easily once it enters the mouth. Cocoa butter exhibits polymorphism, with different crystalline forms and different melting points. Generally, the distribution of cocoa butter crystalline forms uses the nomenclature of Wille and Lutton, where the melting points of I, II, III, IV, V, and VI are 17.3, 23.3, 25.5, 27.5, 33.8, and 36.3 °C, respectively. The production of chocolate aims to crystallize the chocolate so that the cocoa butter is predominantly V-shaped, which is the most stable form that can be obtained from melted cocoa butter. (Type VI is either formed in solid cocoa butter after long-term storage or obtained by crystallization from a solvent). The uniform V-shaped crystal structure will produce smooth texture, luster and elasticity. This structure is obtained by tempering chocolate. Melting cocoa butter in chocolate and then allowing it to solidify without tempering will result in the formation of unstable polycrystalline cocoa butter. This can easily happen when the chocolate bar melts in a hot room and causes white patches to form on the surface of the chocolate, called fatty frosting or chocolate frosting.

What are the benefits of cocoa butter?

Cocoa butter is rich in fatty acids, which is why it is often touted as being able to moisturize and nourish the skin and improve elasticity. The fat in cocoa butter forms a protective barrier on the skin to retain moisture.

Cocoa butter is also rich in natural plant compounds called phytochemicals. These substances can improve the blood flow of the skin and slow down skin aging by protecting it from the harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun.

A common use of cocoa butter is to smooth scars, wrinkles and other marks on the skin. Many women believe that cocoa butter creams and lotions can be used during and after pregnancy to prevent and reduce the appearance of stretch marks. Cocoa butter has also been promoted to treat skin rashes caused by diseases such as eczema and dermatitis.

What the research says

When you rub cocoa butter on your body, it may smell good and feel luxurious, but there is not much evidence that it improves the appearance of the skin. When it comes to treating scars and stretch marks, so far this research has not been very convincing. Recent studies using credible sources of cocoa butter to treat stretch marks indicate that it is no better than inactive or placebo creams.

Some studies have indeed shown that cocoa butter has the potential to prevent and treat skin diseases. It also protects the skin from damage that can lead to premature aging. These effects still need to be confirmed by future research.

How does cocoa butter compete with other moisturizers?

Due to its high fat content, cocoa butter has a richer, denser feel than many other moisturizers. It is often compared to shea butter, which comes from the seeds of the shea tree in West and Central Africa.

Shea butter is also high in fatty acids, although it does not smell as sweet as cocoa butter. Unlike cocoa butter, shea butter contains vitamins that are believed to help repair skin damage and accelerate healing.

How to use cocoa butter

You will often see cocoa butter as an ingredient in body lotions and creams. Because it is edible, it is also an additive for some lip balm. Many cocoa butter products have added sunscreen or vitamins. As part of your skin care regimen, you can apply one of these cocoa butter products to your skin or lips every day.

Many cocoa butter emulsions and other products contain only small amounts of cocoa butter and other ingredients and additives. If you are looking for purity, please buy it in stick form, which contains 100% cocoa butter. Or, if you are worried about additives, take a piece of unrefined whole cocoa butter and melt it in hot water to make your own product.

Some do-it-yourself people have gone beyond basic creams and lotions. They created their own line of cocoa butter skin care products. Some people mix cocoa butter with various oils, such as coconut oil or vitamin E oil, and use the mixture as a moisturizing shampoo. Others use it to make their own shaving lotion.

Risks and warnings

Cocoa butter is believed to be safe for use on the skin. The manufacturer of cocoa butter cream says it is safe to use during pregnancy. For people who are sensitive to cocoa butter or other ingredients in cocoa butter products, it may cause skin rashes or other allergic reactions.

Some people question the impact of ingredients added to cocoa butter products. A trusted source from a 2015 study found that a cocoa butter product had anti-estrogen effects. This means that it reduces or prevents the effect of the female hormone estrogen on the body. Exposure to products with anti-estrogen effects may affect the development of adolescents. However, this evidence is still new, and cocoa butter has not been proven to affect the development of children.

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