chocolate1.jpgThe cacao tree is as beautiful and intriguing as it is useful. One of the top economic botanical plants, Theombroma cacaos pods yield cocoa butter, cocoa powder and that confection we desire most of all during February: chocolate.

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.

cocoabeans.jpgCocoa beans are 15 percent fat. Cocoa butter has been traditionally used as a skin softener, emollient, belly rub and soothing substance for burns. The oil is a very attractive as an ingredient in herbal cosmetics. It is useful as a superfatting[1] agent in soap. Oils and fats have different saponification value—”SAP values”—which is the amount that it will take to fully saponify 1 oz. of that oil. Because of this, each fat requires a different amount of lye to convert the fat to soap. Cocoa butter has a SAP value of 0.137.

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.

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