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Savoring the numerous health benefits of chocolate is a nourishing treat for skin and hair—adding shine, vibrancy and improving the general health of both. By using chocolate and cocoa butter products on your hair and skin, you get to enjoy the delightful chocolaty aroma and reap the benefits of antioxidants, vitamin and mineral, while skipping the fear and guilt of overindulging this February 14th.

The Theobroma Cacao tree grows in the tropical rainforests of Central America and Africa (particularly Ghana), where it makes a significant impact on the local economy. The tree is a remarkable sight. It has dark brown bark, resembling the color of chocolate. White flowers grow directly from the branches and trunk of the tree. The delicate, light-colored blossoms create a sharp visual contrast against the deeply colored, rough-looking bark. In fact, the cacao tree is one of the more unusual trees that I've seen. The scent emitted by the trees is subtle—not the rich chocolate aroma you might expect.

The part of Theobroma Cacao used in most in natural beauty products is also edible, derived from the processed beans. This article examines cocoa butter and its benefits for the hair and skin. Then we'll focus on the tree's other gift: chocolate.

Cocoa Butter

Cocoa butter is created from hydraulic pressings of the cocoa nib or cocoa mass from cocoa beans, which are further refined through filtering or centrifuge. The scent of cocoa butter is removed using steam or a vacuum. Some herbalists massage therapists and aromatherapists prefer the scentless substance called deodorized cocoa butter.

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Cocoa butter is a useful ingredient for vegans (those who prefer no animal products including beeswax) since cocoa butter is a serviceable hardener, thickener and counterbalance to stickier ingredients like shea butter. An additional contribution of cocoa butter is that no solvents are involved in its manufacture; it is a human food-grade, edible ingredient. The edible aspect is appealing to those who desire wholesome, nurturing ingredients in homemade potions, creams and healing balms. Cocoa butter is widely available, ships well, is reasonably priced and has a shelf life of two to five years.

The high stearic composition allows cocoa butter to increase the hardness in handmade soaps and healing balms. In a pinch, I have substituted it for bees ax with good results. It can also be used as base oil in soap-making. When used this way, it is best combined with other oils, such as coconut oil, to produce a lather. The addition of tropical oils—coconut, palm or almond oil—also helps create a looser healing balm or salve that melts faster.

A hard soap, containing large concentrations of cocoa butter lasts for a long time in the bath. Cocoa butter-enriched soap will also hold intricate patterns of elaborate molds.

One of my favorite ways to use cocoa butter is simply to hold a small chunk of the butter in my hand as I run hot water in the bathtub. The cocoa butter melts and acts as a skin softener in the bath. After the bath, particularly during winter, I find cocoa butter useful on rough skin areas. I apply it nightly to my heels after a bath and then promptly put on cotton socks for an evening of foot softening. This also works well on calloused hands.

Black Cocoa Butter

Black cocoa butter is one of my newest obsessions. Most of you are probably familiar with the eggshell-colored cocoa butter that has been widely available for quite a while. Most of the ordinary cocoa butter that comes from Africa is processed before the seeds are allowed to germinate. With black cocoa butter, the cacao pods are germinated first, which produces a deep, espresso-colored butter that smells like roasted cocoa. As body butter, it truly lives up to the botanical name Theobroma cacao—"food of the gods."

If you want to try something a little different in your skin-softening regimen. consider black cocoa butter because it is softer and more readily malleable than the cream-colored type. Black cocoa butter [2] is very easily absorbed by the skin,* and a nice addition to soaps, lip balms and body butters. It is useful as a hot oil treatment to condition the hair. I purchase this from Shea Terra Organics, Inc., a supplier that buys oils and butters directly from African cooperatives.

Chocolate

Chocolate itself is a newer arrival onto the skin and hair-care scene. Chocolate is derived from the same parts of the cacao tree, but is processed adding in other ingredients, such as milk, which is also good for the hair and skin. This derivative of the cocoa pod contains flavonoids called catechins—very effective antioxidants. Dark chocolate, which has hardly any sugar, is preferred for health benefits taken internally or applied externally in a spa treatment or hair-care formula. Dark chocolate has 35 percent more of the brown paste of ground cocoa beans than other chocolate so it is a concentrated formula. Lactose acid in milk has been shown to help deter wrinkles as well as smooth and refine skin texture.

For hair, lactose acts as a good humectant that helps curly tops retain moisturizer. The protein in chocolate is boosted by the milk, making it good for "natural" (without chemical relaxers or permanent colorants) hair.

Antioxidant Benefits

Many of you are already familiar with the health benefits of green tea, and you may have noticed that it's showing up in a growing number of hair and skin-care products. You might not be familiar with the fact that cocoa has more flavanoids, which means you are gaining a huge antioxidant boost from cacao-imbued products. In fact, chocolate may well be the best available source of flavanoid to use as a dietary ingredient, so just think of what that could do for your hair and skin.

What’s So Good In Chocolate?

Nutrients in chocolate include:

  • Protein
  • Riboflavin
  • Vitamin A
  • Thiamine

The minerals:

  • Potassium
  • Calcium
  • Iron
  • Phosphorous
  • Copper
  • Magnesium

Chocolate and Community

There are a wide variety of botanical-based beauty products containing cocoa butter and chocolate available in spas, salons and shops. As I mentioned, cacao is a huge economic boon to some countries. Unfortunately, the way that wealth is distributed is not always fair. It is best to buy chocolate products involved with fair-trade programs. Otherwise you may be supporting child labor or even the slavery industry, which has cropped up in parts of Africa around the chocolate industry. No organic chocolate products have been indicated in such activities, so you're safe buying organic chocolate, cocoa butter and cacao health and beauty products.


Products containing ingredients from the cacao tree:

Oyin Handmade Burnt Sugar Pomade

Oyin Handmade Grand Poo Bar

Oyin Handmade Whipped Pudding

Wild Woozle Tiare Pommade

Curl Junkie Guava & Protein Curl Creme

Curl Junkie Hibiscus & Banana Honey Butta Leave-in Conditioner

Curl Junkie Hibiscus & Banana Honey Creme Leave-in Conditioner

Jessicurl Weekly Deep Conditioning Treatment

Miss Jessie's Baby Buttercreme

Miss Jessie's Curly Buttercreme

Circle of Friends Niklas & Heidi's Yodel-Ay-He Chocolate Shampoo

Carole's Daughter Hair Milk

Carole's Daughter Khoret Amen Shea Butter Hair Smoothie

Carole's Daughter Tui Shea Butter Hair Smoothie

Carole's Daughter Hair Balm

Carole's Daughter Healthy Hair Butter

Somerset Toiletry Co. Cocoa Butter Intensive Hair Conditioner

Philip B. Chocolate Milk Body Wash

Hairlox Cocoa Butter All-Purpose Cream

African Vision Shea Butter Daily Hair Cream


About the author: “Four Seasons of Mojo: an Herbal Guide to Natural Living”