I love chocolate…It’s a problem…but also not. I used to eat the sugary sweet milk chocolate rubbish (it’s not really chocolate, it’s not) but I’ve discovered that raw cacao and dark chocolate containing more cocoa solids can be so good for you! I’ve been adding raw cacao into smoothies and coffee. I’ve been smearing it on my skin and in my hair. I LOVE the stuff! It’s great as a gentle exfoliator, it is also FULL of skin loving vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Try it, you won’t be sorry!
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Native to Central America cacao beans have been cultivated for centuries and used for its health benefits or to make the lovely chocolate that we can’t seem to get enough of. It was discovered by the Olmec in Mesoamerica (ancient mexico) after they saw that rats were just about addicted to the fruit. This was somewhere between 1500 – 400 BCE. So not yesterday or the day before. Cacao arrived in Europe in the 17th century with the French court being the first to incorporate it into their diet. The first chocolate confection maker opened in Paris in 1659 and cocoa finally found it’s way to North America in 1765.
Cacao pods grow directly from the trunk or large branches of the cacao tree and contain 30 to 50 seeds housed in a sweet fleshy pulp. The seeds are removed from the pulp, dried and fermented to produce cacao butter, liqueur and eventually powder.
So, what is IN raw cacao that makes it so great?
Raw cacao contains high concentrations of polyphenols, lipids, minerals, vitamins and fibre. Obviously it’s always better to buy raw, organic cacao as some of the brands you find in the baking isle can be full of fillers, sweeteners and preservatives. As with everything else, buy the best you can afford. We’re talking raw cacao powder here honey, not hot chocolate or instant cocoa with added sugar.
Raw cacao contains the polyphenols epicatechin, catechin, quercetin, caffeic acid and proanthocyanidins.
The mineral content in cacao is mainly magnesium, potassium, copper, iron, zinc, calcium, manganese and selenium.
Raw cacao contains omega-6 fatty acids that have anti-inflammatory properties. Cacao butter, derived from fermented and roasted cacao beans is rich in oleic, stearic and palmitic fatty acids.
Raw cacao powder is a great source of vitamins A, C,B and E.
Raw cacao and cacao butter is also a source of Protein.
What are the benefits of raw cacao for skin, hair and nails?
First off, lets get one thing straight. CHOCOLATE DOES NOT MAKE YOU BREAK OUT. Good dark chocolate or raw cacao will not break you out. The sugar and other rubbish in cheap candy bars will. Most of them barely contain any real cacao at all. Good dark chocolate is lower in sugar and full of antioxidants. Stick to bars with over 65% cacao solids. It’s great with coffee and red wine…not at the same time.
Great for your skin
Anti-Ageing: As I mentioned before, cacao is full of antioxidants that fight the signs of UV damage and ageing including vitamin E and C.
Applying cacao to the skin and consuming it can reduce wrinkles, fine lines and pigmentation. Poly-phenol antioxidants defend the skin from environmental damage and oxidation. It also prevents and repairs the stiffening and destruction of collagen fibres which causes wrinkling and sagging. When your collagen stiffens up, your face doesn’t…
The polyphenols in cacao are in the same family as those found in red wine and green tea. Cacao also contains 40 times the antioxidants of blueberries which is an ingredient I’ve been seeing in skincare lately as a source of antioxidants. Vitamin C brightens and evens the skin while vitamin E repairs scarring.
Anti-Ageing Moisture Mask
1 teaspoon raw cacao powder
10 drops jojoba oil
2 drops rose or geranium essential oil
Combine everything into a paste and apply to your skin avoiding the eye area. Leave it on for 15 to 20 minutes and remove with warm (not hot) water. Your skin should be baby soft!
Cacao contains high levels of magnesium which defends skin cells from the effects of free radicals. It also helps to improve elasticity and retain the moisture balance in the skin. Magnesium reduces inflammation that will help to heal the signs of ageing and pigmentation.
Moisture: Cacao helps to protect your skin against moisture loss by preserving and reinforcing the lipidic layer (simply acts as a barrier that prevents the skin from losing moisture to the environment) . The omega-6 fatty acids also improve circulation to the skin. When your skin gets enough fresh blood, it also gets more oxygen and nutrients. The blood also carries away impurities giving you a nice rosy glow.
Cacao butter helps to soften and soothe dry, or cracked skin on the hands and feet. It improves the skin’s natural barrier to prevent moisture loss.
However (and it’s a big one)…cacao butter is rich and it’s molecules are very densely packed. I’d be careful about using raw cacao butter on skin that is prone to breakouts or clogged pores. It’s fine on most of the body, feet and hands but I’d stay away from acne prone areas like the face and neck. Just in case…
Acne & Breakouts: If you are prone to breakouts, cacao can help by reducing redness and swelling. If you get hormonal breakouts you probably need some extra magnesium. Cacao powder contains large amounts of magnesium that will help balance oestrogen in women (around their period) and testosterone in men that will help to prevent hormonal acne. It also helps to reduce post-inflammatory pigmentation due to acne. So, a cup of hot cocoa made with raw cacao powder is NOT a bad thing…just ditch the sugar. Stir a teaspoon into your coffee or add it to your smoothie.
Wonderful for your hair & nails
Cacao contains large amounts of selenium, iron, zinc and copper that all help to maintain healthy hair and nails. Have you ever found that your hair simply won’t grow past a certain length? It could be that you need some more iron and selenium. Iron or zinc deficiency can also cause hair loss. If you take a look at the ingredients in supplements for hair growth, they will contain iron and selenium and zinc.
Cacao butter is deeply moisturising and will help to nourish the scalp as well as smooth your hair and give it shine. It will also help with dry brittle nails due to a lack of iron.
Some women who have heavy periods struggle with iron deficiency. It can leave you feeling tired, short of breath and looking a little pale. You may also find that you are losing more hair than usual and that your nails are not in good condition. An iron deficiency can cause flattened or brittle nails with prominent ridges. They will split and break easily, they will also refuse to grow very long at all. This is a good time to go see your GP!
Copper is involved in the healthy production of melanin and pigments in the hair. If you don’t get enough copper it can cause you to become grey prematurely.
Magnesium seems to be the magic bullet in cacao. Inflammation can be a major cause of hair loss. Magnesium’s anti-inflammatory and cell repair properties help to stimulate growth, especially in hair follicles. It is very helpful to women who have experienced hair loss due to menopause.
Masks and Treatments
Cacao Scrub For Glowing Skin
Softens, moisturises and nourishes the skin. Removes dead skin cells.
1 tablespoon raw cacao powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon plain yogurt
1 teaspoon ground rice or rice flour or 1 tablespoon raw ground oats
Combine all the ingredients and use immediately. If you leave it too long the oats will soften too much to be an effective scrub. If this happens, simply use it as a deep moisturising facial mask. Apply the scrub in small circular motions. Leave on for 15 to 20 minutes and rinse off with warm water.
5 tablespoons raw cacao powder
1/2 cup pink Himalayan salt
2 drops peppermint essential oil (optional)
1 tablespoon coconut or olive oil
Combine the ingredients and take the scrub into the shower. Wash your body under a warm shower. Turn the water off. Make sure that your skin is warm. Use the scrub on your thighs and buttocks in circular motions. Don’t be too rough. Leave the scrub on for a few minutes then rinse with warm water.
Moisturising Banana Cacao, Cinnamon Mask
1 teaspoon raw cacao powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground raw oats
1/2 teaspoon olive oil
Mash the banana and add the oil and a teaspoon of water. Add the dry ingredients to form a paste. If it’s too dry, add a little more banana or water. Let the oats soften a little before you apply it to your skin. It will become quite sticky. Leave on for 15-20 minutes and rinse with warm water.
Chocolate Clay Toning Mask
2 tablespoons fuller’s earth
2 tablespoons cacao powder
1 tablespoon plain Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon rosewater or a tablespoon of strong green tea.
Mix the cacao and fuller’s earth together and then add the yogurt and rosewater. If it’s too thick you can add more rosewater or green tea until it forms a paste that will stay on your skin. Don’t leave the fuller’s earth on your skin for longer than 20 minutes as it can be quite drying if left on too long. Rinse with warm water and pat dry.
Deep Moisture Hair Mask
This one works best for dark hair colours. I haven’t tried it on blonde or bleached hair, I don’t think the cacao will stain but it could and I’d be careful. Maybe do a small section on blonde hair first before you apply it to your whole head.
1 or 2 egg yolks depending on the length of your hair
1 tablespoon cacao powder
1 or 2 tablespoons castor or olive oil depending on the length of your hair
1 shower cap or cling wrap
Combine the ingredients in a bowl and place inside a larger bowl filled about halfway with hot water to warm the mixture.The mixture shouldn’t be hot, but it needs to be warm when you apply it to your hair.
Get in the shower and wet your hair with warm water. It’s good if the whole room is warm and steamy. Use a towel to squeeze the excess water out of your hair and apply the mask, starting at the roots and working towards the ends. Put your hair in a shower cap and have your usual shower. Maybe do a body scrub or shower yoga. If you have to get out, wrap a towel around the shower cap to keep the heat in. Leave on for 15 minutes and rinse out with warm water. If it’s too oily, use a light shampoo to wash away excess oil.
Avocado Face Food
1 teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon cacao powder
1/4 soft, ripe avocado
Yes, I am aware that there are people who use this as a base for baking cookies but in my world, it’s skin food. Mash the avocado and honey together and then add the cacao. You need to make sure that it’s quite well combined because cacao can be lumpy if you don’t work with it a bit. Smear all this slightly odd smelling goodness all over your face and neck if you have enough. Leave it on for up to 30 minutes and then rinse away with warm water.
Desperately Moisturising Foot Treatment
1 tablespoon Cacao butter
3 vitamin E Capsules (contents only)
1 teaspoon olive or coconut oil
2 drops lavender essential oil
Hot water, two bowls and fluffy socks
Put all the oils in a bowl. Place it inside a larger bowl full of hot water to soften the cacao butter and all the ingredients, then mix them together. Keep it warm while you wash your feet in a bath or basin with a handful of Epsom salts. Use a brush or more salt to scrub your feet. Apply the mixture to warm feet and cover with thick comfy socks. Take yourself off to bed and you will wake up with baby soft tootsies.
Well, there you go then. Go and get yourself some raw cacao or cacao butter and pamper your little hearts out! And while you are at it, drink it, put it in smoothies and get all those gorgeous antioxidants too.