|Grade||Level of Evidence|
|A||Multiple double-blind, controlled clinical trials.|
|B||1 double-blind, controlled clinical trial.|
|C||At least 1 controlled or comparative clinical trial.|
|D||Uncontrolled, observational, animal or in-vitro studies only.|
|Grade||Effect||Size of Effect||Comments|
Increases the levels of collagen I, III and IV, which are responsible for skin tonus, in the papillary dermis after 5-12 days of topical application.
Induces an increase in the expression of glycosaminoglycans, which are involved in skin elasticity, especially when combined with cocoa polyphenols.
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Table of contents:
Cocoa butter, also known as theobroma oil, is extracted from the beans or nibs of Theobroma cacao L., a tropical fruit tree endemic to the rainforests of South America. The first step in the biosynthesis of cocoa butter is thought to take place in the cytoplasm of cocoa cotyledon cells, catalyzed by the enzyme glycerol-3-phosphate acyltransferase. Commercially, cocoa butter plays a very important role in the confectionary and chocolate industries.
Genuine cocoa butter (as opposed to cocoa butter equivalents) contain fatty acids, triacylglycerols, tocopherols, tocotrienols and sterenes, but the composition varies due to different geographical growing regions and breeding lines. For instance, though the predominant fatty acids in cocoa butter are generally palmitic acid and oleic acid, palmitic acid and stearic acid are the main fractions in Venezuelan cocoa butters, which is believed to be responsible for their characteristic hard texture. Other compounds that have been detected in cocoa butter include steryl esters, theobromine, caffeine, catechin and epicatechin.
As a vegetable fat, cocoa butter's lipophilicity suggests that it should be able to penetrate the stratum corneum of the skin. In fact, 2 patents have made claims that partially hydrolyzed cocoa butter can penetrate epidermal tissue, apparently by increasing its permeability. Tellingly, cocoa butter or partially hydrolyzed cocoa butter emulsion has also been patented for enhancing and controlling the epidermal, dermal and transdermal penetration of various topically applied agents including the retinoids, steroids and vitamin D, supporting this notion. Unfortunately, actual permeation data is lacking.
3. Effects on the skin
3.1 Age-related improvements
Long term ingestion of cocoa flavanols provides photoprotection against UV radiation, increases dermal blood flow and skin thickness, improves skin density and moisture and significantly influences the structure and roughness of the skin. Cocoa butter contains only very small amounts of the flavanols catechin and epicatechin however.
While cocoa butter itself contains only a small amount of polyphenols and is generally considered polyphenol-free, it has been demonstrated to boost the positive influence of cocoa polyphenols on skin elasticity and skin tonus. Topical application of 1.5% cocoa polyphenols mixed with cocoa butter induced increases in collagen I, III, IV and glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) in the papillary dermis after just 5 days, whereas cocoa butter alone had no effect on the amount of GAGs and needed 12 days to increase the levels of the 3 collagen subtypes to the same extent. When compared against a commercial antiaging cream (Estee Lauder Future Perfect), 1% cocoa polyphenols mixed with cocoa butter was found to lead to a similar increase in collagen I and GAGs expression as the commercial cream, while the 0.125%, 0.25% and 0.50% formulations led to similar increases in collagen III as the commercial cream and the 0.25% formulation led to a similar increase in collagen IV as the commercial cream.
3.2 Other effects and uses
Cocoa butter is referred to as an emollient or as an occlusive in the literature and has been mentioned or included in numerous patents for cosmetic products as such, including a facial cleanser and conditioner, sunscreens, bath products, creams and lotions, a skin disinfectant, a skin conditioner, a lip balm, and products used to treat various skin problems. One study found that oil-in-water emulsions containing cocoa butter and/or cupuassu butter increased the hydration of the skin by close to 30% within 90 minutes after application, but this effect may be due to cupuassu butter, which is claimed to have a high water absorption capacity.
Cocoa butter has also been used in cosmetics and other topical products as a base,, a skin or lip protectant, a carrier, for its skin conditioning and emulsifying properties, and to treat burns and other skin wounds. Cocoa butter has even been used to eliminate facial wrinkles. However, we were not able to find scientific evidence to bear out any of these claims.
The non-saponifiable fraction of cocoa shell butter, a by-product created during the production of cocoa butter at chocolate factories, has also been found to partially protect fibroblasts from the toxic effects of dimethylformamide (DMF) and to improve their survival when maintained under altered conditions. Since the biological activity of the non-saponifiable lipid fraction extracted from cocoa shell butter is mostly due to the sterol-containing fraction and cocoa butter is known to have significant sterol content, it is possible that cocoa butter also exhibits these effects.
4. Side Effects
4.1 Comedone formation
Cocoa butter is not an irritant, but tests on the rabbit external ear canal, which is extremely sensitive, show that it is comedogenic. In fact, on a scale of 0-5 for comedogenicity, it has been graded a 4, corresponding to an extensive increase in follicular keratosis. This is higher than soybean oil and isostearyl neopentanoate, as bad as Isopropyl palmitate and isostearyl isostearate, and only 1 grade lower than isopropyl myristate and myristyl myristate, all of which are known to be moderately or highly comedogenic.
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