For long centuries, different types of fats have been pantry staples used in cooking and baking. However, fats are not just useful in the kitchen. There are plenty of natural oils which offer multiple health benefits and high potency in skincare. One particular example is cacao butter, the pale-yellow aromatic fat source responsible for the smooth consistency of chocolate.
Cacao butter is an edible vegetable oil extracted from cacao seeds which are harvested from small tropical evergreen trees bearing the same name. It is a rich source of many health-benefiting fatty acids. It is also called cocoa butter or theobroma oil—the three terms are used interchangeably.
Since the ancient civilizations, cacao beans have been used as ingredients for natural skin moisturizers in Mesoamerica and the Caribbean. Today, cacao is mainly cultivated in many parts of West Africa, Central America, and South America. The industry of farming cacao is thriving nowadays, in fact, statistics show that the American population consumes 2.8 billion pounds of chocolate each year.
Cacao beans are a rich source of polyphenol and flavonoid antioxidants. Studies report that chocolate products are actually the greatest contributor of polyphenols in the diet of an average American, given that these antioxidants are retained in cacao butter even after manufacturing processes. Its antioxidant content makes cacao butter beneficial for boosting the immune system, reducing inflammation, and improving overall heart health.
Fat Composition of Cacao Butter
Cacao butter is primarily composed of saturated fat, the type of fat which often gets a bad rap from health advocates and fitness gurus. About 57 to 64% of its total fat content is saturated. However, not all oils rich in saturated fat are unhealthy, especially since coconut oil, a known healthy oil is also saturated.
Cacao butter contains impressive minerals and vitamins K and E. It’s mainly composed of various fatty acids including stearic, palmitic, myristic, arachidic, and lauric.
Skincare expert Paula Begoun reports that stearic acid is effective in preventing loss of water from the skin and strengthening its protective barrier. It is often used to stabilize beauty creams and lotions.
This fatty acid is a highly soothing emollient that aids in the skin’s recovery and moisture retention. It is a common ingredient in commercial skin cleansers.
This non-toxic acid is essential in plumping up the skin to make it look youthful, supple, and hydrated. In personal care and cosmetic products, it is used as a surfactant and opacifying agent.
This acid is also found in peanut and corn oils. Its surfactant properties make it a suitable ingredient in pharmaceuticals and beauty products. It is formed by hydrogenating arachidonic acid, an essential fatty acid. Deficiency of essential fatty acids may cause skin scaling, lesions, and may even interfere with hair growth.
Uses for lauric acid are varying, from its usage in the treatment of bronchitis to the prevention of certain types of intestinal infections. It’s also used in treating chlamydia, yeast infections, ringworm, and even gonorrhea. One of its biggest benefits is its effectiveness in preventing the transmission of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) from the mothers to their offspring.
Let’s explore how the composition of fatty acids and antioxidants of cacao butter helps improve overall health.
Clinical findings from many studies suggest that polyphenols in cacao butter have antioxidant properties that prevent oxidative damage caused by free radicals. Cacao butter also intensifies immunity, reduces inflammation, and prevents cellular mutations. DNA damage, inflammation, and cellular mutations are contributing factors in the development of heart disease, autoimmune conditions, and cancer. Research also shows that cacao butter helps to keep hormone levels balanced and even promotes brain health.
May Prevent Cardiovascular Disease
Saturated fat is widely believed to cause heart problems. However, when derived from plant-based products, saturated fat can actually reduce the risk of heart disease. Cacao butter has polyphenolic components that help prevent a process called atherosclerosis, the hardening of the arteries. Cacao butter also assists in the breaking down of lipids, further lowering one’s risk of experiencing a heart attack.
This vegetable oil is helpful in balancing hormonal mood swings caused by premenstrual syndrome and stress. According to Dr. Robin Miller, a medical director of Triune Integrative Medicine, chocolate contains various chemical compounds which encourage the brain’s production of the hormone serotonin. This causes a positive calming effect and improves energy level.
Combats Signs of Aging
Cacao butter has cocoa mass polyphenols—compounds that are effective in fighting signs of aging both internally and externally. They prevent cell mutations and some aging-related degenerative diseases. According to research, polyphenols also improve skin health by enhancing skin elasticity, boosting hydration, and encouraging collagen production. The fatty acids present in cacao butter such as palmitic and stearic are also proven to prevent the formation of crow’s feet, wrinkles, and sunspots.
- Sunburn treatment: Smearing cacao butter onto the skin can soothe sunburn by alleviating redness and inflammation without exposing the skin to chemicals found in conventional products.
- Remedy for chapped lips: Use cacao butter to make a homemade lip balm by mixing it with a few drops of essential oil of your choice. Because it’s an emollient, cacao butter provides a protective layer that shields the lips from extreme temperature and sun damage.
- Hair mask: The moisturizing properties of cacao butter makes it a good hair mask for treating lack of shine, frizz, dryness, and damage.
- Oil pulling: On an empty stomach, swish a tablespoon of melted cacao butter in your mouth for 20 minutes before spitting it out. This ancient method improves oral health by expelling toxins and preventing tooth decay, cavities, tartar build-up, and gum bleeding.
- Skin moisturizer: Mix cacao butter with beauty oils such as jojoba or coconut to heal dry, cracked skin and prevent unhealthy peeling.
Cacao butter contains palmitic acid which, according to the World Health Organization, can increase levels of bad cholesterol. However, it’s vital to note that like other plant-based oils, when consumed in moderation, it’s unlikely to cause any sort of harm to the body.
It’s also recommended that you select raw or pure cacao butter, as it contains more antioxidants and healthy fats. Unlike regular cacao butter, the heating of raw cacao butter during the manufacturing process does not involve very high temperatures.