December 19, 2023

The Health Benefits of Cocoa Butter

Pure cocoa butter can help keep your skin supple, with a subtly delicious scent

hands using mortal and pestle with cocoa powder, surrounded by soaps and bath salts

“Cocoa butter” sounds luscious, doesn’t it? And it actually is quite a treat — for both your taste buds and your skin.

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“You can find cocoa butter in many skin products, and it gives chocolate its decadent creaminess,” says dermatologist Alok Vij, MD. “You can also buy pure cocoa butter on its own.”

But what exactly is this magical-sounding substance, and what makes it so good for your skin? Dr. Vij discusses what cocoa butter is, how to use it and the risks and benefits involved.

What is cocoa butter?

Cocoa butter comes from the beans of the cacao plant, which grows in hot, tropical areas. Processed cacao beans produce a fatty substance. After further heat treatment, it becomes cocoa butter. The rest of the bean becomes cocoa powder. Pure cocoa butter is solid at room temperature and smells mildly of chocolate.

What is the difference between cocoa butter and cacao butter?

Product manufacturers often use “cocoa butter” and “cacao butter” interchangeably, but some people argue they’re not quite the same. They claim that cacao butter is the true raw form of the butter while cocoa butter is a refined version.

Cacao gets processed at a low temperature, which is why some people consider it “unrefined.” But cocoa butter gets refined at a high temperature. While some people see them as distinct from each other, you can use them in the same ways, and they offer similar benefits.

Cocoa butter benefits for skin

Cocoa butter provides some excellent skin care benefits. According to Dr. Vij, cocoa butter may:

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  • Moisturize skin and lips. “Cocoa butter is excellent for dry skin and chapped lips,” says Dr. Vij. “It’s high in several different fatty acids, which help hold in water to keep your skin from drying out.”
  • Protect against premature skin aging. Cocoa butter contains vitamin E. This antioxidant may help protect skin cells from damage that leads to signs of aging.
  • Relieve eczema and itchy psoriasis plaques. “There’s not much research supporting using cocoa butter for itchy skin conditions such as eczema,” notes Dr. Vij. “But many cocoa butter products are specifically formulated for rashes and psoriasis, and you may find them helpful.”

So now, you might be wondering, is cocoa butter a miracle cure for scars or stretch marks? Not quite.

“There’s no solid evidence that cocoa butter vanishes pregnancy stretch marks or reduces scars, unfortunately,” cautions Dr. Vij. If you’re looking for stretch mark treatment that’s more likely to work, skip the cocoa butter and talk to a dermatologist instead.

How to use cocoa butter on your skin

If cocoa butter is solid at room temperature, how do you use it on your skin? If you have a chunk of pure cocoa butter, you can rub it directly on dry areas. It will become creamy on your skin because it melts at body temperature. But that can get messy.

The easiest way to use cocoa butter on your skin and lips is to look for products that contain it. Drugstores, natural food markets and online stores are good places to find cocoa butter body creams and lip balms.

“Products including cocoa butter smooth on easily and feel less oily or tacky than pure cocoa butter,” says Dr. Vij.

Can you eat cocoa butter?

Some skin products smell good enough to eat. That’s especially true if you’re using straight cocoa butter! But is it actually good enough to eat?

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Yep! Cocoa butter is, in fact, edible. “Cocoa butter is in most chocolate products,” Dr. Vij explains. “It’s also an ingredient in some desserts.”

You can eat pure cocoa butter or use it in recipes. But while this sumptuous butter is delicious and (at least somewhat) nutritious, it’s also very high in calories. So, beware of overindulging. And definitely don’t eat your skin care products just because they say they have cocoa butter in them!

What are the risks of cocoa butter?

Dr. Vij notes that there are a couple of potential risks that come with using cocoa butter on your skin:

  • Acne. Cocoa butter can cause acne to flare up, especially if you’re prone to breakouts.
  • Hormonal effects. A study using human breast cancer cells suggests that cocoa butter may have an anti-estrogenic effect. This means cocoa butter could potentially lower estrogen levels. If you’re concerned about products affecting your hormones, you may want to avoid cocoa butter.

Those risks aside, cocoa butter is generally safe, both to eat and use on your skin. If you’re eating it, just be sure to buy cocoa butter that’s labeled safe for consumption. If you’re using it on your skin, Dr. Vij encourages you to do a spot test first, just to make sure you don’t have an allergic reaction.

If you don’t like the smell or feel of cocoa butter on your skin but want natural skin care, try African black soap or shea butter instead. Like cocoa butter, shea butter is in many skin care products. The two butters have similar moisturizing properties, but shea butter is odorless and softer at room temperature.

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