As one of the most popular ingredients in skin care products today, cocoa butter has quickly become a favorite of consumers worldwide. But have you ever wondered, what is cocoa butter? A natural moisturizer that melts at body temperature, cocoa butter is a useful byproduct of the cocoa industry. It’s high in saturated fat and contains fatty acids as well as traces of caffeine and theobromine.1 As we will see in this article, cocoa butter enjoys a growing reputation as a natural moisturizer in the cosmetic industry.
So where does cocoa butter come from? Raw cocoa butter is obtained from mature cocoa beans, found inside cocoa pods.1 The cocoa plant is scientifically known as the Theobroma cacao plant and grows across West Africa, Central and South America, as well as tropical areas of Asia.1,2 Because this, cocoa butter also sometimes goes by the name ‘theobroma oil’.3
The extraction of butter from cocoa is not an easy process. After the fruit is harvested, it is opened to expose the seed. After fermentation, the pulp and the beans are separated and the beans are then left to be dried, roasted and shelled. The nibs are ground to make cocoa liquor. While the liquor is used to make chocolate, some of it is pressed in hydraulic and mechanical presses to extract natural cocoa butter.1
Cocoa Butter for Stretch Marks
Also known as Striae distensae, stretch marks are narrow and long streaks that form on our skin when it undergoes sudden stretching.4 It is often caused during pregnancy, and for ages, women have tried to find therapies to counter such scarring. The most common treatment is the application of topical products.4 Studies suggest that one of the most popular choices is using cocoa butter for pregnancy related stretch marks.5 Thanks to its excellent moisturizing properties, it has even been recommended to pregnant women by midwives and some physicians.6
But does cocoa butter get rid of stretch marks? Research suggests that the polyphenols found in cocoa have been found to have a positive effect on skin elasticity and skin tone.7 In a 2010 study, researchers compared cocoa butter and a placebo for helping reduce the severity of stretch marks. When compared to the placebo group, 44% of mothers who used cocoa cream experienced stretch marks compared to 55% in the control group. Stretch marks may also be determined by the age of pregnancy and size of the child at birth.11
As we age, fatty acids like stearic acid, oleic acid and palmitic acid in the human epidermis, especially on the outermost layer decrease.8 Cocoa butter comprises of these very fatty acids, 33% oleic acid, 33% stearic acid and 25% palmitic acid.2 Oleic acid, is in fact known as a topical penetration enhancer, which helps increase a product’s ability to be absorbed by the skin.9 This allows the butter’s hydrating properties to penetrate the skin tissues.10
While research concedes that cocoa butter could have an emollient or soothing effect on one’s skin, clinical trials have failed to establish that its usage could prevent stretch marks indefinitely.6,11
Other Cocoa Butter Benefits
Apart from the belief that it prevents stretch marks, there are a large number of other purported benefits of cocoa butter. Investigative studies have found that among various compounds in cocoa butter, antioxidants are abundant. 2 Using cocoa butter for skin care may help protect against potential harmful free radicals that can influence skin quality.
In recent years, there’s been a growing trend of using cocoa butter for scars, its application on chapped lips and mouth sores, as well as using cocoa butter for hair. As a natural fat that helps condition and lock-in moisture, cocoa butter is immensely popular in many cultures.
Believers of its efficacy also apply cocoa butter on face at night or use a cocoa butter stick directly on skin. While emollients like olive oil and cocoa butter are natural alternatives to expensive moisturizers, is cocoa butter good for acne prone skin? Studies suggest that the usage of cocoa butter for dark spots, acne and lesions tends to block the pores of skin and may cause blackheads. Topical antimicrobials and antibiotics remain the preferred therapies recommended by dermatologists.12
Pure Cocoa Butter Uses
Thanks to its growing popularity, the beauty industry is finding extensive uses for cocoa butter in cosmetics. With natural hydrating and emollient properties, one of the biggest brands in the cosmetic industry offer cocoa butter lip balm, cocoa butter soap and cocoa butter body wash.
Apart from its conventional uses discussed so far, more recent cocoa butter uses include application as shaving cream, face masks, hair masks and foot lotion. Due to its moisturizing and healing properties, people put cocoa butter on tattoo scabs, burns, infections and rashes.
Shea Butter vs Cocoa Butter
Compared to cocoa butter, shea butter is higher in its fatty acid composition.13 It is not surprising then, that in the cosmetic industry, there is now a growing demand for shea butter.
Like cocoa butter, shea butter’s moisturizing properties make it a popular ingredient for soaps, lotions and candles.14 However, shea butter has also been noted to have natural ultra-violet light protection and anti-eczema properties that warrant further investigation.15
Where to Buy Cocoa Butter
If you’re wondering where to get cocoa butter, cocoa butter is readily available online, in local markets as well as at large supermarkets and chain stores. To get organic cocoa butter or raw cocoa butter, Walmart is a great choice. For the best selection, users can search popular online retailers like Amazon for great deals that are conveniently shipped right to your door. For cosmetic purposes, large cosmetic brands like Palmers, Lush and The Body Shop carry a variety of cocoa butter based cosmetics and toiletries.
Scientific Research Referenced in this Article
- Naik, B. and Kumar, V. (2014). Cocoa butter and its alternatives: a review. Journal of Bioresource Engineering and Technology, vol 1; pp. 07-17. http://jakraya.com/journal/pdf/2-jbetArticle_1.pdf
- Yıldırım, E., Çınar, M., Yalçınkaya, I., Ekici, H., Atmaca, N. & Güncüm, E. (2014). Effect of cocoa butter and sunflower oil supplementation on performance, immunoglobulin, and antioxidant vitamin status of rats. BioMed Research International, vol. 2014, Article ID 606575, 8 pages. http://doi.org/10.1155/2014/606575
- Attama A.A., Schicke, B.C. & Muller-Goymann, C.C. (2006). Further characterization of theobroma oil–beeswax admixtures as lipid matrices for improved drug delivery systems. European Journal of Pharmaceutics and Biopharmaceutics, vol 64, issue 3, Nov 2006, pp. 294-306. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ejpb.2006.06.010
- Ud‐Din, S., McGeorge, D., & Bayat, A. (2016). Topical management of striae distensae (stretch marks): prevention and therapy of striae rubrae and albae. Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, 30(2), 211–222. http://doi.org/10.1111/jdv.13223
- Brennan, M., Clarke, M. & Devane, D. (2016). The use of anti stretch marks’ products by women in pregnancy: a descriptive, cross-sectional survey. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, 16, 276. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12884-016-1075-9
- Osman, H., Usta, I., Rubeiz, N., Abu-Rustum, R., Charara, I. & Nassar, A. (2008). Cocoa butter lotion for prevention of striae gravidarum: a double-blind, randomised and placebo-controlled trial. BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, 115, 1138–1142. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1471-0528.2008.01796.x
- Gasser, P., Lati, E., Peno-Mazzarino, L., Bouzoud, D., Allegaert, L. & Bernaert, H. (2008). Cocoa polyphenols and their influence on parameters involved in ex vivo skin restructuring. International Journal of Cosmetic Science, 30(5), 339-45. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2494.2008.00457.x
- Kim, E.J., Kim, M.K., Jin, X.J., Oh, J.H., Kim, J.E. & Chung, J.H. (2010). Skin aging and photoaging alter fatty acids composition, including 11,14,17-eicosatrienoic acid, in the epidermis of human skin. Journal of Korean Medical Science, 25(6), 980-983. doi: 3346/jkms.2010.25.6.980
- Naik, A., Louk, A.R.M.P., Potts, R.O. & Guy, R.H. (1995). Mechanism of oleic acid-induced skin penetration enhancement in vivo in humans. Journal of Controlled Release, 37(3), 299-306. https://doi.org/10.1016/0168-3659(95)00088-7
- Barry, B.W. (1987). Mode of action of penetration enhancers in human skin. Journal of Controlled Release, vol 6, issue 1, Dec 1987, pp. 85-97. https://doi.org/10.1016/0168-3659(87)90066-6
- Buchanan, K., Fletcher, H. M. & Reid, M. (2010), Prevention of striae gravidarum with cocoa butter cream. International Journal of Gynecology & Obstetrics, 108: 65–68. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijgo.2009.08.008
- Davis EC, Callender VD. A review of acne in ethnic skin: pathogenesis, clinical manifestations, and management strategies. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2010;3(4):24-38. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20725545
- Mattson, F.H. & Lutton, E.S. (1958). The specific distribution of fatty acids in the glycerides of animal and vegetable fats. World Agro Forestry. – View Reference
- Ugese, F.D., Baiyeri, K.P. & Mbah, B.N. (2010). Proximate traits of the seed and seed cake of shea butter tree (Vitellaria paradoxa C. F. Gaertn.) in Nigeria’s savanna ecozone. Journal of Applied Biosciences 31: 1935-1941 http://www.m.elewa.org/JABS/2010/31/7.pdf
- Lovett, P.N. (2005). Shea butter industry expanding in West Africa. Inform, 16 (5). Retrieved October 24, 2017 from http://aocs.files.cms-plus.com/inform/2005/5/p273-275.pdf