If we had to guess, the word "cocoa" makes you think of chocolate initially. Hopefully, though, by now you know that while it's related in a roundabout way to the chocolate we eat, cocoa butter is a vastly different product. We're not saying it's inedible—cocoa butter is sometimes actually used as a food product. Still, it's more often regarded as a topical because of how great it is for your skin. We spoke to NYC dermatologist Nava Greenfield, Jennifer L. MacGregor, M.D at Union Square Laser Dermatology, and Adarsh Vijay Mudgil, M.D., founder of Mudgil Dermatology to get the low-down on this scrumptious ingredient.
Meet the Expert
Type of ingredient: Hydrator
Main benefits: Heals chapped skin, moisturizes, fights aging
Who should use it: In general, anyone who is in need of a body moisturizer—however, if you easily get body acne, you might want to skip this one.
How often you can use Ii: As much as you want, really.
Works well with: Vitamin E oil, shea butter
Doesn't work with: Other potentially pore-clogging ingredients
What is Cocoa Butter?
A little background: Cocoa butter comes from the cacao bean, which is found inside the cocoa pod, which grows on the cacao tree. The cocoa pod is a large, gourd-shaped fruit; inside the pod are 30 to 40 cocoa seeds. After these seeds are dried, roasted, and pressed, the vegetable fat is extracted from the beans; you can even do it at home if you want. That fat is what we know as cocoa "butter," and what's left over can be ground down to become cocoa powder. Solid at room temperature, cocoa butter has a low melting point and a super long shelf life of around two to five years.
Benefits of Cocoa Butter for Skin
"Cocoa butter is an amazing moisturizer, as it's rife with fatty acids. It's also rich in antioxidants!" says Dr. Mudgil. Don't believe us?
- It's an antioxidant powerhouse: Cocoa butter is high in antioxidants, which help fight off free-radical damage, which can cause skin aging, dark patches, and dull skin. Protecting your skin from free-radical damage is crucial to keep it healthy and youthful-looking. Cocoa butter is also an anti-inflammatory—just another way it helps your skin withstand the passage of time.
- It reduces stretch marks and scars: Many women claim that the regular use of cocoa butter kept stretch marks at bay both during and after pregnancy. Now, those claims are obviously anecdotal, but you will find a ton of anti-stretch mark cocoa butter products to choose from. In fact, Palmers, a skincare line devoted to cocoa butter, offers a product just for stretch marks. Similarly, the ingredient is reputed to help heal scars.
- It's a rich moisturizer: Cocoa butter is high in fatty acids and hydrates the skin deeply, making it a wonderful addition to body moisturizers and lip balms. It contains oleic, palmitic, and stearic acids, all of which nourish the skin.
- It heals sensitive skin: Again, no guarantees, but cocoa butter has been noted by some to help skin irritations such as eczema and dermatitis.
How to Use It
Cocoa butter is widely available and inexpensive, in tubs and convenient, easy-to-use sticks. You also can buy raw cocoa butter in large batches online if you prefer the DIY skincare route. If you're out searching, you'll find cocoa butter in two forms: refined or unrefined. Creamy yellow, unrefined cocoa butter is simply cocoa butter in its rawest form. It's easy to find, and all of the above-mentioned skin care benefits naturally come with the unrefined product. However, it smells pretty strongly of chocolate, which can be divisive. Some cosmetics manufacturers prefer not to use it because it masks the scents of the fragrances they add
Refining cocoa butter strips away the scent and color, making it easier to incorporate into cosmetic recipes without standing out—so when you buy a pre-made cocoa butter product, you're usually getting a verson of refined cocoa butter. Purists claim that processing dilutes some of the beneficial properties of cocoa butter, but we find it's a preference thing. Plus, pre-made products often have other nutrients cocoa butter might not provide alone.
"Cocoa butter products should be gentle on the skin but also thick and hydrating," Dr. Greenfield tells us. Cocoa butter is actually rather hard at lower temperatures. But put a piece of cocoa butter in your palm, and it will begin to melt immediately—this property is why it makes a great additive to products like lip balm. It keeps products thick, but melts upon contact with the body. Of course, the melting point won't be a concern if you purchase it in a whipped or cream form. The way you use it is the same, though. "Use a generous amount 1-2 times per day on your trunk and extremities," Dr. Greenfield recommends. "Using on damp skin helps retain the moisture," she also notes.
Side Effects of Cocoa Butter
"Caution should be exercised if you're acne prone, as this can clog pores," Dr. Mudgil says.
"Now for a quick PSA," quips MacGregor. "Don’t put it on your face if you break out. Also, it does not magically prevent or treat stretch marks.
Cocoa Butter Recipes
If you do like to make your own skincare products, there are a few different things you can to try that incorporate cocoa butter. Lifestyle blog Keeper of the Home provided readers with two amazing cocoa butter recipes, one for a scrub and one for a butter, so your skin gets exfoliated and hydrated. Similarly, the blog Our Little Green Dot offers up a luxurious, heavenly-smelling recipe that combines cocoa butter, coconut oil, and sweet almond oil. If you're looking for a lip balm, though, Lovely Greens has a super easy recipe to make cocoa butter lip balm. Double or triple the recipe to have a stock of lip balms at hand. (They make great gifts, too.)
For those who prefer to purchase their beauty products instead of make them, we've included some of our favorite cocoa butter-based beauty buys below.
The Best Products With Cocoa Butter
Aspen Naturals Raw Cocoa Butter is unrefined, and perfect for making your own lip balm and lotion. When you make your own, you do know exactly what you're putting on your skin.
Lipsticks are fickle things, particularly if you're going around trying out new formulas. These Lip Creme lipsticks are actually as nourishing as they claim to be, which means you can keep hydrated lips without having to sacrifice pigment in the process.
This particular product has been on store shelves since the 1980s, so it's clearly beloved. You can thank beta-carotene, squalane, and of course, cocoa butter, for its continued popularity. The quick-dry, non-greasy cream is perfect for anywhere on your body, which makes it great for a gym bag or a beach bag.
Most lip tints are sheer, which is the point. But once fall and winter come around, we often find ourselves reaching for un-colored chapstick or lip balm, just because the tints are too thin. Not the one from Kora Organics, which—although it may be too thick to put on without a mirror—is substantial enough to see you through a cold winter day without sacrificing color for moisture.
The Cococare Cocoa Butter Stick ($2) is a good one to try if you're looking into the ingredient; it's made of 100% cocoa butter and super affordable. Use it on your lips, cuticles, elbows—anywhere you could think it would help.
Eve Lom's cleanser is a beauty editor favorite, and one of the first cleansing balms people really fell in love with. It's a great cleanser thanks to essential oils like clove (for blemishes) and eucalyptus (for toxins), but it's also super nourishing due to its inclusion of cocoa butter.
Scapagnini G, Davinelli S, Di Renzo L, et al. Cocoa bioactive compounds: significance and potential for the maintenance of skin health. Nutrients. 2014;6(8):3202-3213. doi:10.3390/nu6083202