You may have caught the scent of cocoa butter in body or after sun lotions. You may have even rubbed it on your belly during pregnancy. Cocoa butter has been prized for its scent as well as its purported ability to soften skin. Derived from the cream-colored fat of the cacao seeds, cocoa butter may actually possess qualities that go beyond aroma. Research studies are being conducted on its potential health benefits.
Cocoa butter is a fat that is solid at room temperature, states Encyclopedia Brittanica's website, but melts near the human body's temperature. This melting point makes it an ideal ingredient in skin care products, as it will be absorbed easily into the skin. As a fat, it can soften skin, forming a protective barrier and helping to alleviate skin conditions like dermatitis. It is a highly stable fat, states the website, with antioxidant properties. These antioxidants keep the fat from spoiling, giving your lotion a long shelf life. Although cocoa butter can be included in lotions, use of the pure butter itself can be more potent.
Although research results are mixed, many women claim that daily applications of cocoa butter on the belly during pregnancy can reduce or prevent stretch marks. A study conducted in France at the Laboratoire BIO-EC aimed to discover the effects of the polyphenols contained in cocoa butter. Published in the "International Journal of Cosmetic Science" in October 2008, the researchers found that the polyphenols in cocoa butter improved skin elasticity and tone. During pregnancy the skin of the belly will stretch; thus, cocoa butter applications may be helpful in increasing elasticity and maintaining healthy skin tone.
Another study conducted at the University Hospital of the West Indies in Jamaica showed insignificant results. Published in the "International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics" in January 2010, the researchers found that 44 percent of women who used cocoa butter developed stretchmarks, compared with 55 percent of the placebo group. The researchers concluded that age played a more significant role, with younger women having greater tendency to develop stretch marks.
According to a study published in the "British Journal of Nutrition" in June 2010, cocoa butter's polyphenols have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Researchers from Seoul National University in Korea discovered that cocoa polyphenol extract, or CPE, inhibited substances associated with tumor growth in mouse epidermal, or skin, cells. The results, states the study, indicate that CPE has chemopreventative potential. Although results seem promising, cocoa butter should not be used alone as a cancer treatment or prevention.
Heart Disease Prevention
Ingestion of cocoa beans may help to increase plasma levels of antioxidants, states an article by John Weisenberger, published in "Experimental Biology and Medicine" in November 2001. This action is needed in the prevention of oxidation of LDL cholesterol levels. The article states that "the antioxidants in cocoa can prevent the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, related to the mechanism of protection in heart disease." If you have potential heart risks, talk to your doctor. Cocoa butter and cocoa products should not be used alone to treat or prevent cardiovascular diseases.