Updated 11 June 2014

Chocolate: a key to beauty?

Want healthier-looking, glowing skin? Eat - or wear - more chocolate!

It seems too good to be true – something that tastes as good as dark chocolate can actually be good for you. Yet more research reveals the many health benefits of chocolate. Not only to eat but as a skincare product.

Research has shown that eating chocolate and natural cocoa may improve vascular health, blood pressure, cognitive health, blood flow, and skin health.

What’s more, two tablespoons of natural cocoa contain more antioxidants than four cups of green tea, one cup of blueberries or a glass and a half of red wine.

Read: Eat foods that feed your skin

Chocolate and healthy skin?

But how is chocolate good for the skin? According to experts, compounds found in the cocoa bean, called flavanols, increase blood flow. And healthy blood flow means better circulation, which means a healthier skin and appearance.

Some studies have even shown that cocoa may even reverse smoking-related impairments of blood vessel function.

Researchers say the highest benefits are found in dark chocolate which contains 90% or more cocoa. Though this may taste a bit bitter, the benefits are also found in chocolate with 60% cocoa.

But you can’t overindulge in this decadent treat as too much can have adverse effects on your waistline.

Feed your skin with chocolate

But what about wearing chocolate on your face? More beauty salons are touting the benefits of chocolate as a skin care treatment and wearing chocolate face-masks are becoming more popular.

One dermatologist and author of Feed Your Face warns against pre-packaged face masks, however, and advises you make your own chocolate face mask.

All you need is dark cocoa powder and plain yogurt to unclog the pores.

“Combine two to three tablespoons of dark cocoa powder with two to three tablespoons of plain yogurt to make a paste.

"Apply to clean, dry skin, and let sit for 10 to 15 minutes before rinsing with lukewarm water. If you have dry skin, consider adding a teaspoon of honey or a tablespoon of mashed avocado—both ingredients help lock in moisture and keep skin hydrated.

"For very dry or sun damaged skin also add a teaspoon of olive or almond oil for even more moisture,” says Jessica Wu.

Read: Facials: why the fuss?

What makes chocolate healthy?

The journal, Chemistry Central Journal , has shown that chocolate is a “rich source of antioxidants and contains more polyphenols and flavanols than fruit juice”.

Researchers found the amount of antioxidants, per serving, of both dark chocolate and cocoa had a greater antioxidant capacity and a greater total flavanol and polyphenol content than fruit juices.

Apart from flavanols, chocolate contains many other ingredients which, in moderation, are considered healthy:

Fats: Cocoa butter contains oleic acid, a mono-unsaturated fat that gives olive oil its good name. It also contains stearic acid, a saturated fat, but one which doesn’t raise cholesterol levels.

Amino acids: Chocolate is high in tryptophan, phenylalanine, and tyrosine, all nitrogen-rich compounds considered the “building blocks” of all the body’s proteins. Two of these amino acids are precursors of adrenaline, a “stress hormone,” and dopamine, a neurotransmitter that relays signals between nerve cells in the brain.

Methylxanthine: Theobromine and caffeine fall into this group of chemicals and are responsible for some rather different effects on the body when certain people eat chocolate, such as a faster heartbeat and heartburn.

Image: Shutterstock

EurekAlert ; HowStuffWorks; Harvard Health Publications

*The content in this article does not necessarily reflect the views of the sponsor.


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Skin expert

Dr Suretha Kannenberg holds a degree in Medicine and a Masters in Dermatology from the University of Stellenbosch. She is employed as a consultant dermatologist by Stellenbosch University and Tygerberg Academic Hospital, where she is involved in clinical duties and the training of medical students and dermatology residents. Her areas of interest and research include vitiligo, eczema and acne. She also performs limited private practice work in the Northern suburbs of Cape Town in general and cosmetic dermatology.

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