Sweetening Up For Healthy Skin

January 11, 2010 Comments

Chocolate. That’s really all I need to say for a mouth-watering sensation to begin, and chocolate’s sweet flavor and creamy texture to be coveted. Fortunately for chocolate lovers, recent research is touting its health benefits, or more specifically, cocoa beans and powder, which are different than chocolate, as chocolate is a combination of cocoa beans, cocoa butter, sugar, milk and other various ingredients.

Cocoa powder contains a high level of flavanol—an antioxidant—and is laden with health benefits, specifically skin health. In 2006, the Journal of Nutrition reported dietary flavanols from cocoa contributed to endogenous photoprotection, improved dermal blood circulation and affected cosmetically relevant skin surface and hydration variables (136:1565-1569). Two groups of women consumed either a high-flavanol (326 mg/d) or low flavanol (27 mg/d) cocoa powder dissolved in 100 mL of water for 12 weeks. Epicatechin (61 mg/d) and catechin (20 mg/d) were the major flavanol monomers in the high-flavanol drink, whereas the low-flavanol drink contained 6.6 mg/d of epicatechin and 1.6 mg/d of catechin. After selected skin areas were exposed to 1.25 x minimal erythemal dose (MED) of radiation from a solar simulator, UV-induced erythema was significantly decreased in the high-flavanol group, by 15 and 25 percent, after six and 12 weeks of treatment, respectively, whereas no change occurred in the low-flavanol group. The ingestion of high-flavanol cocoa led to increases in blood flow of cutaneous and subcutaneous tissues, and to increases in skin density and skin hydration. Skin thickness was elevated and transepidermal water loss was diminished within the same time frame; neither of these variables was affected in the low-flavanol cocoa group. Evaluation of the skin surface showed a significant decrease of skin roughness and scaling in the high-flavanol cocoa group compared with those at week 12.

Cocoa beans are also known for their flavanol content; unfortunately, when they are processed into chocolate they lose a lot of their photoprotective potential. A 2009 study out of London compared conventional dark chocolate to a specially produced chocolate with preserved high-flavanol (HF) levels (J Cosmet Dermatol. 2009;8(3):169-73). The double blind in vivo study randomly assigned 30 subjects to either a HF or low flavanol (LF) chocolate group, and consumed a 20-g portion of their allocated chocolate daily. In the HF chocolate group, the mean MED more than doubled after 12 weeks of chocolate consumption; while in the LF chocolate group, the MED remained without significant change. Researchers concluded regular consumption of a chocolate rich in flavanols offers significant photoprotection and can be effective at protecting human skin from harmful UV effects; conventional chocolate has no such effect.

In September 2009, The New York Times reported on cocoa butter’s alleged power for staving off stretch marks in pregnant women. A 2008 study followed 175 pregnant women who were randomly assigned to a cocoa butter lotion or a placebo. The study results didn’t favor cocoa butter as an effective means for preventing stretch marks, as it found no difference between the treatment group and the placebo group; however, this study isn’t the end all say all, and more research needs to be conducted before cocoa butter is ruled out completely.

Cocoa’s potential in skin care formulas is promising, and convincing consumers to ingest or apply chocolate (or its derivatives) requires no convincing at all.




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