Chocoholics delight, feed your skin with your favourite treat. A way to indulge this Easter weekend without the calories!
Given that chocolate is one of the world’s most loved foods, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that much research has been undertaken into the chemical compounds contained within cocoa. And luckily for us chocoholics, chocolate isn’t just thought to be good for us on the inside (the dark stuff anyway!), it’s also great in skincare.
The physics and chemistry of cocoa beans is very complex and changes throughout the life of the bean, depending on the processing it receives. Theobroma cacao, the cacao tree, contains approximately 380 compounds.
A number of these phyto-compounds are thought to have therapeutic value for the skin. Some studies have shown that the application of cocoa on the skin has positive effects on skin elasticity and skin tone. A growing body of scientific evidence also suggests that the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of cocoa contribute to the photoprotection (protection against the sun’s UV rays) of the skin. Here we take a look at some of the key compounds in chocolate, and the benefits they have on our skin.
Cocoa is a rich source of polyphenolic compounds with a high amount of flavonoids, specifically flavanols. The bitterness of chocolate comes primarily from its high levels of flavanols, and they form a fundamental part of the way that chocolate tastes and smells. One research team in South Korea found that cocoa contains more polyphenolic compounds and a higher antioxidant capacity than teas and red wine.
Cocoa polyphenols, mainly flavanols, have been shown to act as strong antioxidants. They have the potential to effectively intercept and neutralise free radicals, helping minimise damage within the skin. The skin application of cocoa polyphenols has been shown to positively affect several parameters of skin elasticity and skin tone. Moreover, cellular studies and results from topical application studies provide evidence that cocoa polyphenols, especially those belonging to the flavanol family, can offer effective photoprotection – they minimise the damage the skin undergoes when exposed to UV radiation.
When it comes to skin health, cocoa components have also been utilised in skin conditions, such as acne and wound healing. It is interesting to note that it has been shown that cocoa has great potential not only for the treatments of certain skin conditions, but also for their prevention.
Cocoa doesn’t just contain polyphenols - it also contains compounds known as ‘methylxanthines’ or ‘xanthines’, which include theobromine and caffeine. Methylxanthines are a variety of stimulants produced by plants and animals - they are also produced by human cells. Caffeine contains them naturally, and these molecules are one of the main reasons people often feel their hearts racing after consuming a lot of caffeinated foods or drinks.
Methylxanthines are considered the main active components in cocoa, coffee, and tea. They enhance arousal, mood, and concentration levels. But what do methylxanthines do to the skin?
Both theobromine and caffeine work as a diuretic, which means that they remove moisture from the skin, temporarily firming the skin and its connective tissue. This temporary firming process reduces the appearance of cellulite. This effect is only temporary, alas!
Theobromine however is also able to break down fats and can have draining properties on fatty cells. All of these cosmetic properties mean that theobromine can be used to target cellulite when applied to your skin.
One study concluded that topical application of plant extracts and xanthine derivatives suppressed wrinkle formation, dermal connective alteration, and collagen accumulation. It is suggested that xanthine derivatives prevented inflammation caused by UV-irradiation.
Here are our favourite chocolate-containing beauty products:
1. Lee, et al. 2003. Cocoa Has More Phenolic Phytochemicals and a Higher Antioxidant Capacity than Teas and Red Wine. J. Agric. Food Chem. 2003, 51, 7292 – 7295.
2. Scapagnini, et al. 2014. Cocoa Bioactive Compounds: Significance and Potential for the Maintenance of Skin Health. Nutrients. 2014, 6(8), 3202-3213.
3. Mitani et al., 2007. Topical application of plant extracts containing xanthine derivatives can prevent UV- induced wrinkle formation in hairless mice. Photodermatol Photoimmunol Photomed. 2007 Apr-Jun;23(2-3):86-94.