Cocoa Butter

Though widely used in skin care products, cocoa butter is not suitable for those with acne or acne-prone skin due to its tendency to clog the pores, producing or aggravating acne.


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


Tighter skin


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.


Increased skin elasticity


Induces an increase in the expression of glycosaminoglycans, which are involved in skin elasticity, especially when combined with cocoa polyphenols.

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Scientific Research

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Table of contents:

1. Sources

Cocoa butter, also known as theobroma oil, is extracted from the beans or nibs of Theobroma cacao L.,[1][2][3] a tropical fruit tree endemic to the rainforests of South America.[4] 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.[5] Commercially, cocoa butter plays a very important role in the confectionary and chocolate industries.[6]

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.[7] For instance, though the predominant fatty acids in cocoa butter are generally palmitic acid and oleic acid,[8] palmitic acid and stearic acid are the main fractions in Venezuelan cocoa butters, which is believed to be responsible for their characteristic hard texture.[6][9] Other compounds that have been detected in cocoa butter include steryl esters, theobromine, caffeine, catechin and epicatechin.[10][11]

2. Bioavailability

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.[12][13] 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.[14] Unfortunately, actual permeation data is lacking.

3. Effects on the skin

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.[15][16] Cocoa butter contains only very small amounts of the flavanols catechin and epicatechin however.[11]

While cocoa butter itself contains only a small amount of polyphenols[10] and is generally considered polyphenol-free,[17] 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.[18]

3.2 Other effects and uses

Cocoa butter is referred to as an emollient[19] or as an occlusive[20] in the literature and has been mentioned or included in numerous patents for cosmetic products as such, including a facial cleanser and conditioner,[21] sunscreens,[22][23][24][25][26] bath products,[27] creams and lotions,[28][29][30] a skin disinfectant,[31] a skin conditioner[32], a lip balm,[33] and products used to treat various skin problems.[34][35] 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.[36]

Cocoa butter has also been used in cosmetics and other topical products as a base,[37], a skin or lip protectant,[38][39] a carrier,[40] for its skin conditioning[41][42] and emulsifying properties[43], and to treat burns and other skin wounds.[44] Cocoa butter has even been used to eliminate facial wrinkles.[40] 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,[8] 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.[45] Since the biological activity of the non-saponifiable lipid fraction extracted from cocoa shell butter is mostly due to the sterol-containing fraction[45] and cocoa butter is known to have significant sterol content,[46] it is possible that cocoa butter also exhibits these effects.

Randomized controlled trials show that cocoa butter does not prevent stretch marks during pregnancy.[47][48][49][50][51]

4. Side Effects

4.1 Comedone formation

Cocoa butter is not an irritant,[52] but tests on the rabbit external ear canal, which is extremely sensitive, show that it is comedogenic.[53] 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.[52]

Scientific References

  1. Venter MJ, et. al. Expression of cocoa butter from cocoa nibs. Separation and Purification Technology. (2007)
  2. Venter MJ, et. al. Gas assisted mechanical expression of cocoa butter from cocoa nibs and edible oils from oilseeds. The Journal of Supercritical Fluids. (2006)
  3. Saldaña M, Mohamed RS, Mazzafera P. Extraction of cocoa butter from Brazilian cocoa beans using supercritical CO2 and ethane. Fluid Phase Equilibria. (2002)
  4. Argout X, et. al. The genome of Theobroma cacao. Nat Genet. (2011)
  5. Fritz PJ, et. al. Cocoa butter biosynthesis. Purification and characterization of a soluble sn-glycerol-3-phosphate acyltransferase from cocoa seeds. J Biol Chem. (1986)
  6. Padilla FC, Liendo R, Quintana A. Characterization of cocoa butter extracted from hybrid cultivars of Theobroma cacao L. Arch Latinoam Nutr. (2000)
  7. Lipp M, et. al. Composition of genuine cocoa butter and cocoa butter equivalents. Journal of Food Composition and Analysis. (2001)
  8. El-Saied HM, Morsi MK, Amer MM. Composition of cocoa shell fat as related to cocoa butter. Z Ernahrungswiss. (1981)
  9. Liendo R, Padilla FC, Quintana A. Characterization of cocoa butter extracted from Criollo cultivars of Theobroma cacao L. Food Research International. (1997)
  10. Kamm W, et. al. Analysis of steryl esters in cocoa butter by on-line liquid chromatography-gas chromatography. J Chromatogr A. (2001)
  11. Risner CH. Simultaneous determination of theobromine, (+)-catechin, caffeine, and (-)-epicatechin in standard reference material baking chocolate 2384, cocoa, cocoa beans, and cocoa butter. J Chromatogr Sci. (2008)
  12. Buell EF. Anti-inflammatory compositions. US Patent 3860702 (1975)
  13. Castner CS. Cocoa butter composition and method of making the same. US Patent 3862197 (1975)
  14. Zoumas BL, et. al. Use of hydrolyzed cocoa butter for percutaneous absorption. US Patent 5849729 (1998)
  15. Heinrich U, et. al. Long-term ingestion of high flavanol cocoa provides photoprotection against UV-induced erythema and improves skin condition in women. J Nutr. (2006)
  16. Neukam K, et. al. Consumption of flavanol-rich cocoa acutely increases microcirculation in human skin. Eur J Nutr. (2007)
  17. Jalil AM, Ismail A. Polyphenols in cocoa and cocoa products: is there a link between antioxidant properties and health? Molecules. (2008)
  18. Gasser P, et. al. Cocoa polyphenols and their influence on parameters involved in ex vivo skin restructuring. Int J Cosmet Sci. (2008)
  19. Berdick M. The role of fats and oils in cosmetics. JACOS. (1972)
  20. Tanghetti EA. The importance of vehicle in acne therapy. Skin & Allergy News. (2005)
  21. Messenger D. Facial skin dermabrasion cleansing and conditioning composition. US Patent 6290976 (2001)
  22. Miller GA. Dual action sunscreen composition. US Patent 5009969 (1991)
  23. Roberts RL. Non-aqueous suncare compositions having high SPF values. US Patent 5447715 (1995)
  24. Kaplan C. Sunscreen agent with water in oil emulsifier. US Patent 5047232 (1991)
  25. McCook JP, et. al. Cosmetic sunscreen composition containing green tea and a sunscreen. US Patent 5306486 (1994)
  26. Beasley DG, Meyer TA. Photoprotective compositions comprising synergistic combination of sunscreen active compounds. US Patent 20080081024 (2008)
  27. Figliola VN. Bath product and method for treating bath water. US Patent 4659495 (1987)
  28. Pereira MC, Spiegel U. Water-in-oil transparent emulsion for the skin. US Patent 5216033 (1993)
  29. Assaad P. Hand and body cream. US Patent 7887853 (2011)
  30. Piterski C. Lotion compositions. US Patent 20040018244 (2004)
  31. Modak S, Gaonkar TA, Sampath L. Gentle-acting skin disinfectants. US Patent 6846846 (2005)
  32. Chaussee JG. Skin conditioning composition. US Patent 4970220 (1990)
  33. Magee SV, et. al. Caranuba wax, canedelilla wax, jojoba esters, botanical butters, and moisturizer. US Patent 7695727 (2010)
  34. Dobkowski BJ, et. al. Crosslinked elastomeric silicones in aqueous emulsion cosmetic compositions. US Patent 5833973 (1998)
  35. Vyden JK. Methods for treating atopic disorders. US Patent 6503953 (2003)
  36. Oliveira ECV, et. al. Accelerated Stability and Moisturizing Capacity of Emulsions Presenting Lamellar Gel Phase Obtained from Brazilian Natural Raw Material. Journal of Dispersion Science and Technology. (2011)
  37. Lefebvre EG. Water-in-oil emulsion for skin moisturizing. US Patent 4165385 (1979)
  38. Szanzer S. Skin treating salve composition. US Patent 20060172022 (2006)
  39. Blank RL, Doughty DG, Linares CG. Compositions for regulating skin wrinkles and/or skin atrophy. US Patent 5883085 (1999)
  40. Blomberg AM. Topical skin composition comprising shea butter, jojoba oil, petroleum jelly, stearic acid, magnesium sulfate, zinc oxide, glycerin, and water. US Patent 8673328 (2014)
  41. LInares FJ. High SPF (30 and over) waterproof sunblock compositions. US Patent 5770183 (1998)
  42. Holloway Durr, et. al. Hand and body creme for the treatment of skin ailments. US Patent 5997889 (1999)
  43. Ambrosen H, Constantine M, Constantine M. Cosmetic lotions comprising cocoa butter. US Patent 20030157050 (2003)
  44. Zoumas BL, et. al. Use of cocoa butter or partially hydrolyzed cocoa butter for the treatment of burns and wounds. US Patent 5837227 (1998)
  45. Warocquier-Clerout R, et. al. Non-saponifiable fraction of cocoa shell butter: effect on rat and human skin fibroblasts. Int J Cosmet Sci. (1992)
  46. K. Staphylakis, D. Gegiou. Free, esterified and glucosidic sterols in cocoa butter. Lipids. (1985)
  47. Osman H, et. al. Cocoa butter lotion for prevention of striae gravidarum: a double-blind, randomised and placebo-controlled trial. BJOG. (2008)
  48. Buchanan K, Fletcher HM, Reid M. Prevention of striae gravidarum with cocoa butter cream. Int J Gynaecol Obstet. (2010)
  49. Brennan M, Young G, Devane D. Topical preparations for preventing stretch marks in pregnancy. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. (2012)
  50. Moore J, Kelsberg G, Safranek S. Clinical Inquiry: Do any topical agents help prevent or reduce stretch marks? J Fam Pract. (2012)
  51. McAvoy BR. No evidence for topical preparations in preventing stretch marks in pregnancy. Br J Gen Pract. (2013)
  52. Fulton JE. Comedogenicity and irritancy of commonly used ingredients in skin care products. J Soc Cosmet Chem. (1989)
  53. Nguyen SH, Dang TP, Maibach HI. Comedogenicity in rabbit: some cosmetic ingredients/vehicles. Cutan Ocul Toxicol. (2007)