According to Derms, Cocoa Butter Is a Naturally-Occurring Moisturizer for Dry Skin

cacao nibs on white background
Liz DeSousa for Byrdie.

No, it's not a decadent dessert—and there's no place for it in your morning smoothie. But you probably already knew that if you've been around these parts for awhile. Cocoa butter may sound (and smell) like a scrumptious ingredient, but it's actually much, much more. It's an absolute moisturizing powerhouse for treating a myriad of beauty concerns from dry skin to stretch marks and scars. And while we're not saying it's inedible—cocoa butter is sometimes actually used as a food product—we're far more interested in its topical skincare benefits. So, we spoke to top dermatologists to get the low-down on this sweet treat for dry skin.

Meet the Expert

Cocoa Butter

Type of ingredient: Hydrator

Main benefits: Heals chapped skin, moisturizes, anti-aging properties

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. "Cocoa butter is an amazing moisturizer, as it's rife with fatty acids. It's also rich in antioxidants," says Mudgil. Solid at room temperature, cocoa butter has a low melting point and a super-long shelf life of around two to five years. That means a tub of the good stuff can go a long way in caring for your skin.

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.

Benefits of Cocoa Butter for Dry Skin

  • 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.
benefits of cocoa butter illustration
Michela Buttignol​/Byrdie

Potential Side Effects of Cocoa Butter

While there are no dangers to the topical use of cocoa butter, the heavy consistency may be too much for skin that's easily congested. "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 vs. Shea Butter

Deliciously fatty and evenly beloved, choosing between shea butter and cocoa butter can be a difficult task. Both products have a satisfyingly thick consistency and skin-loving, moisturizing properties. The main difference comes down to composition. Cocoa butter is made of saturated fats like oleic, palmitic, and stearic acid which moisturize the skin, repair the skin barrier, and may prevent premature aging. (Also, it smells like chocolate.) Shea butter also consist oleic, palmitic, and stearic acid, but contains arachidic and linoleic fatty acids as well. It has anti-inflammatory—in addition to it's moisturizing—properties which may help repair skin damage, reduce trans-epidermal water loss, and increase collagen production.

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. "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.

If you do like to make skincare products, there are a few different things you can try that incorporate cocoa butter. Adding brown sugar to its melted state creates a scrub that keeps the skin exfoliated and hydrated. Similarly, you can combine cocoa butter, coconut oil, and sweet almond oil for a luxuriously moisturizing and decadently scented mix.

  • 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.

Article Sources
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. Scapagnini G, Davinelli S, Di Renzo L, et al. Cocoa bioactive compounds: significance and potential for the maintenance of skin healthNutrients. 2014;6(8):3202-3213. doi:10.3390/nu6083202

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