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 dermatologists to get the low-down on this scrumptious ingredient.
Meet the Expert
Keep reading to learn more about the benefits of cocoa butter.
Type of ingredient: Hydrator
Main benefits: Heals chapped skin, moisturizes, anti-aging
Who should use it: In general, anyone 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 it: As much as you want.
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 leftover 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 Mudgil. Don't believe us? Check out the other benefits, below.
- 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 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 skincare 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 version 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," says Greenfield. Cocoa butter is 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 one to two times per day on your trunk and extremities," 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," Mudgil says. "Don’t put it on your face if you break out," adds MacGregor.
Cocoa Butter Recipes
If you do like to make skincare products, there are a few different things you can 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 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 making them, we've included some of our favorite cocoa butter-based beauty buys below.
Can cocoa butter cause breakouts?
If you're prone to acne, proceed with caution when using cocoa butter as it can clog pores.
Does research support the benefits of using cocoa butter on skin?
No studies have proven the benefits of cocoa butter in skincare; most of the benefits are anecdotal.
Can cocoa butter help with scars?
Yes, cocoa butter can help with the appearance of scars less than two years old.
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