Cocoa butter has long been used topically in many skin creams and cosmetics because it is thought to be good for the skin. Now, new research just published in the Journal of Nutrition reveals the potential benefits of consuming flavanol-rich cocoa and how it might actually benefit skin from the inside out.
Researchers found that certain components in cocoa may actually help improve the appearance of women's skin – increasing hydration, decreasing skin roughness and scaling, and helping to support the skin's defense against UV damage. The German scientists attributed the observed benefits to cocoa flavanols – a group of compounds that can be particularly rich in cocoa and that have been previously reported to improve blood flow and vessel function.
In this new study, 24 healthy women (aged 18 to 65) were randomly assigned to two groups. One group drank a high-flavanol Cocoapro® cocoa beverage (329 mg) once a day, while the other group consumed a matched cocoa beverage low in flavanols (27 mg). At three different periods during the 12-week study, various tests were conducted to evaluate skin properties: sensitivity to UV irradiation, skin blood flow, skin structure and texture, and skin hydration.
The women who regularly consumed the high-flavanol cocoa beverage showed significant improvements in these indicators of skin quality, while those who consumed the flavanol-poor cocoa did not have an improvement in any of the measures.
"We are excited by the extent of improvements to the skin," said Catherine Kwik-Uribe, PhD, senior research scientist at Mars, Incorporated, which has supported and conducted much of the research on cocoa flavanol health, including this new study. "Much of the interest in skin health has focused on what you put on the skin. From our extensive research on cocoa flavanols over the last several years demonstrating their potential positive benefits on circulation, it is rewarding to see that these benefits may extend to skin quality as well."
In addition to the improvements in skin quality in study participants, this study is the first to suggest that the regular consumption of cocoa flavanols may support human skin's defense against UV light. Study participants exhibited a reduction in the redness of skin following exposure to artificial sunlight. The authors of the study believe the skin benefits of cocoa flavanols may be due in part to an improvement in blood flow to the skin. Consistent with previous studies that demonstrated significant improvements in vessel function, in this study, the regular consumption of flavanol-rich cocoa resulted in a significant increase in blood flow to the skin's surface, effects that were sustained with the regular consumption of cocoa flavanols.