Cocoa butter is an edible ingredient found in food and also a common ingredient in skin products. It has nothing to do with butter from milk, but instead cocoa butter is what comes from cocoa beans. Cocoa butter is actually made from cocoa beans.
The beans are taken from cocoa fruit and are cleaned, roasted and pressed. The remaining ingredients are the cocoa butter, a semi solid liquid that is an off white color and cocoa powder.
Chocolate is made by combining the cocoa butter, cocoa and other ingredients like sugar or milk. Therefore, chocolate products are a source of cocoa butter.
Cocoa butter is mostly made from saturated fats, specifically stearic acid. Stearic acid has been shown to have a neutral effect on blood cholesterol levels, so it is thought consuming cocoa butter may not increase risk for cardiovascular disease and may also provide other health benefits.
Cocoa butter is used for skin care because it is hydrating. Cocoa butter is considered safe for skin application, but research suggests there isn’t much evidence to show cocoa butter can affect skin appearance.
Melt in your mouth chocolate
After the cocoa butter and solid parts of the cocoa bean are separated, they are joined back together to make chocolate.
Dark chocolate has a higher percent of cocoa solids in it and less cocoa butter.
Other products like sugar and milk can be added to the cocoa butter and powder to create different types of chocolate.
The cocoa butter gives chocolate the texture it is known for to melt in your mouth.
Cocoa butter is primarily made up of fat. One tablespoon provides 8 grams of fat (mainly from stearic acid), 4.5 grams of saturated fat and less than one gram of polyunsaturated fat.
Cocoa butter and heart health
Chocolate’s relationship with heart health has been shown to be a positive one even though chocolate is high in fat and calories.
In general, dark chocolate and non-alkalized cocoa powders are associated with the most health benefits because it has the highest amount of antioxidants from the cocoa bean.
In fact, some research suggests eating a few squares of dark chocolate per day may lower risk for a heart attack.
Chocolate may help protect heart health by lowering blood pressure, protecting LDL cholesterol from getting oxidized and providing anti-inflammatory nutrients.
This doesn’t mean you can down as many chocolate products as you want for the sake of heart health.
Not all chocolate is created equal. Milk, white and chocolate flavored foods can be high in calories, added sugars and hydrogenated fats.
Moderation and quality are important considerations for eating chocolate.
Cocoa butter is a key component to chocolate and provides most of the fat content. Cocoa butter is mostly saturated fat made up of stearic acid.
Even though stearic acid is considered a saturated fat, studies have shown it does not have a negative impact on heart health.
Chocolate also contains palmitic acid, which is a saturated fat that could increase risk of cardiovascular disease. However, it also contains the monounsaturated fat oleic acid which can lower risk for cardiovascular disease.
Therefore, over all, cocoa butter’s net affect on heart health is mostly neutral by providing mostly saturated fats that are neutral and monounsaturated fats that are beneficial for heart health.
Can cocoa butter affect skin appearance?
Because cocoa butter is high in fat, it acts as a thick moisturizer for the skin and may help replenish dry skin.
Cocoa butter can be advertised as something that can treat scars or stretch marks on skin, but so far research to support these claims is lacking.
There is some research to suggest consuming cocoa products, like cocoa butter, may help protect skin cells from damage.
However, more research is needed for this association, and more research is needed looking at skin application of cocoa butter and skin health.
Keep in mind there are many environmental, dietary and genetic factors that can influence skin health, so just consuming more chocolate may not lead to improved skin health.
While cocoa butter can moisturize the skin, any further benefit from reducing stretch marks, wrinkles or other skin conditions needs more research. There is not substantial evidence to support these claims currently.
Is cocoa butter safe?
Cocoa butter is generally considered safe for eating and applying onto skin for healthy adults.
However, if you have any health conditions, you may want to consult your physician before applying cocoa butter to your skin or increasing it in your diet.
Keep in mind cocoa butter is usually only one ingredient in skin or lip products. Other ingredients in products could be considered harmful for your health.
Before applying cocoa butter to a rash or skin wound, consult your physician.
A concern with skin and hair products is how they can influence estrogen and anti-estrogen activity in the body. Some chemicals can be absorbed into the skin and can affect the body.
Chronic exposure to estrogen or anti-estrogen chemicals in skin care products may have negative health consequences.
One 2015 in vitro study found a cocoa butter skin care cream was found to exhibit anti-estrogen activity.
More in vivo (human) studies are needed to determine if any cocoa butter products would have anti-estrogen activity when applied to the skin.
If you are concerned about the potential for anti-estrogen activity from a skin cream, speak with your physician before using it.
More research is needed in this area. Studies using data from test tubes or cell cultures need further follow up in humans to see if the same effect applies.