Famous American actress and singer/songwriter, Katy Perry, recently told Glamour magazine that she literally can’t leave the house without it, and Victoria Secret models, Candice Swanepoel, Leighton Meester and Nicki Minaj, all confess to being die-hard fans of this superfood secret to beautiful skin – cacao butter.
So, what exactly is cacao butter and what makes it one of the finest natural beauty treatments for your skin? Time to find out!
What is cacao butter?
Cacao butter is made by cold pressing cacao nibs (small pieces of raw cacao beans, which grow on the Amazonian cacao tree) into a yellow vegetable fat that is also known as theobromine oil and commonly used to make raw chocolate. Indeed, cacao butter is not only an intensely nourishing and superbly moisturising skin lotion that’s often used in cosmetic products and massage oils, it’s also a highly sought-after superfood ingredient with a rich chocolaty aroma that’s particularly delicious when stirred directly into smoothies, shakes, protein drinks and nut milks, or used to create a mouth-watering range of raw chocolate desserts, biscuits and chocolate bars.
Cacao butter melts at approximately 35 degrees Celsius, contains almost no caffeine and is utterly oozing in nutrients that are beneficial for your skin, as well as your overall physical and mental wellbeing, including:
- Vitamins – such as vitamin C, which helps to protect your cells and keep them healthy, is necessary for the maintenance of healthy connective tissue, provides support and structure for other tissue and organs and helps to heal wounds, as well as vitamin E, which helps to maintain cell structure by protecting cell membranes.
- Minerals – including iron, chromium (which has been directly linked to weight loss), magnesium (in fact, cacao butter and other cacao products are the richest dietary source of magnesium on the planet) anandamide, theobromine, manganese, zinc and copper.
- Fibre – which can help to prevent heart disease, diabetes, weight gain and certain types of cancer, as well as improve your digestive health.
- Essential fatty acids – cacao butter contains omega-6 fatty acids, which can help to lower blood pressure, combat weight gain and obesity, and reduce your risk of osteoporosis (or brittle bones).
- Phenylethylamine – cacao butter also contains PEA, the so-called ‘love drug’ that is believed to help boost energy, heighten libido, increase alertness and sharpen concentration.
- Tryptophan – an amino acid that your body converts into serotonin, which in turn aids sleep, combats depression and encourages feelings of happiness and general wellbeing.
But before we uncover how cacao butter can be harnessed to promote beautiful, radiant skin, let’s first take a look at why healthy skin is so important in the first place.
Why is healthy skin so important?
Your skin, which replaces itself every 35 days, is your largest organ – it consists of three very distinct layers:
- The top layer or ‘epidermis’ – where skin cells and pigment are manufactured.
- The middle layer or ‘dermis’ – which contains collagen and elastin.
- The bottom layer or ‘sub cutis’ – which is mostly made up of fat cells.
The skin protects your underlying muscles, bones, ligaments and other internal organs, and acts as your first line of defence from external toxins, pathogens and the sun’s UV rays. It’s also responsible for insulation, temperature regulation, sensation and the production of vitamin D folates. And your skin provides a valuable indication of your inner health – indeed, problem skin, such as acne, eczema or psoriasis, is often the result of a build-up of toxins, oxidative stress or inflammation, or due to a lack of those nutrients that your body needs to help cleanse itself and keep your skin pure and clean, including water, protein, unsaturated fats, vitamins, minerals, carotenoids and polyphenols.
Healthy, glowing skin is equally important for your mental wellbeing and self-esteem too – around half of the UK population suffers from some type of skin problem and, according to the British Skin Foundation, some 47% of these are subject to verbal abuse as a result.
Why is cacao butter especially good for your skin?
Healthy, flawless looking skin can only be achieved by taking care of your body, both on the inside as well as the outside.
Cacao butter – taking care of your skin from the inside
Adding cacao butter to your daily diet will help to supply your body with many of the essential nutrients that it requires to keep your skin in tip-top condition:
The vitamin C (which is also known as ascorbic acid) found in cacao butter plays a central role in the production of collagen – the structural protein found in the dermis layer that is responsible for your skin’s firmness and strength. It’s also a powerful antioxidant that helps to combat the damaging effects of free radicals, which can lead to dry skin, in addition to unwelcome fine lines and wrinkles, when left unchallenged. New research from the University of Leicester suggests that ascorbic acid 2-phosphate, a derivative of vitamin C, not only neutralises free radicals, but can also reverse the DNA damage they cause.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, vitamin C may also help to reduce sunburn caused by exposure to UV radiation and might therefore help to prevent the development of skin cancer.
Vitamin E is actually a collective term for a group of fat-soluble compounds that include tocopherols and tocotrienols. Vitamin E is present in cacao butter in the form of tocopherol – tocopherol boasts superior moisturising and anti-inflammatory properties that can help to prevent the signs of premature aging (inflammatory skin conditions are actually the leading cause of skin aging), possesses outstanding wound-healing capabilities and has been scientifically proven to help defend skin from environmental pollution and protect it from UV radiation.
Omega-6 fatty acids
Unsaturated fats form a protective layer on your skin, preventing moisture loss and resulting in soft, supple skin. At least 25% of your skin is comprised of these so-called ‘healthy’ fats. Cacao butter specifically contains omega-6 fatty acids, which have been linked to a reduction in the symptoms of the common skin condition known as eczema (De Spirt et al., 2009).
Iron, magnesium, phosphorous and zinc
As already mentioned, cacao butter contains the minerals iron, magnesium, phosphorous and zinc. Iron plays an integral role in the growth, maintenance and healthy appearance of your skin, magnesium and phosphorous both contribute to its antioxidant content, whilst zinc actively encourages the production of collagen.
Cocoa mass polyphenol
Lastly, cacao butter contains cocoa mass polyphenol (CMP), which can help to relieve dermatitis and troublesome skin rashes. CMP may also inhibit the growth of cancerous cells and tumours, although more research is required.
Cacao butter – taking care of your skin on the outside
Cacao butter is an occlusive emollient, which means that it acts as a barrier to help keep your skin soft and prevent moisture loss when applied directly to the skin. Its high fatty acid content also allows cacao butter to penetrate further than many other skin treatments (including even the most expensive of face creams!), deep down into the dermis, where it demonstrably improves elasticity and tone. And the vitamin E in cacao butter is readily absorbable by human skin, allowing its intensively moisturising and anti-inflammatory properties to get straight to work, helping to relieve dry or irritated skin at the source.
In addition to being an effective and incredibly sweet-smelling moisturiser, cacao butter may also help to:
- Visibly reduce scars and pregnancy stretch marks.
- Prevent dehydration and the associated development of fine lines and wrinkles (especially under the eyes).
- Gently soothe sunburn and other skin irritations, such as eczema and allergic dermatitis.
- Provide welcome relief for chapped lips when used as a lip balm.
How to apply cacao butter directly to your skin
Simply break off a small chunk of cacao butter and rub gently over your skin – the light friction will cause it to gently dissolve allowing for rapid absorption without a greasy residue.
Alternatively you can prepare a lovely homemade cacao butter massage oil by melting a little cacao butter in pan and stirring in a few drops of sweet almond oil, argan oil, or another essential oil of your choice. This lush, aromatic massage oil costs a fraction of the price of commercial skin treatments and its natural formula will leave your skin feeling beautifully soft and wonderfully cared for.