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Chocolate Heaven. Getting to the Sweet Heart of the Consumer.

April 11, 2009

Dark, luxurious and more than a tad indulgent we all know that too much chocolate is bad for us but can we leave it alone? Well, most of us can’t. As the world battles high oil prices, interest rate rises and a global credit crunch more and more of us are reaching for that bar of brown gold to lift our spirits.

As cosmetic chemists we spend our lives trying to make products that help people to feel better about themselves. To give them a little bit of luxury that can be enjoyed every day. Something that will make them feel special. For me and many others out there Chocolate is it! So, what is it within chocolate that makes it so appealing and how can we capture the magic of chocolate in our skin care routines?

Theobroma Cacoa, the food of the gods has been weaving its magic since around 1000BC. Many cosmetic brands use chocolate in their marketing but it is in its chemistry that we find some real treasures.

The beans from this magical tree contain an intoxicating cocktail of hundreds of different chemicals. One of the most documented is the alkaloid Phenylethylamine, the body’s own amphetamine. Attributed with giving the chocolate lovers “high” this chemical is metabolised very quickly upon ingestion and so is unlikely to have a significant effect on the brain when sourced from chocolate alone. There is no doubt that phenylethylamine acts as a brain stimulant and a mood enhancer but what effect if any, would it have on the skin?

Phenylethylamine is readily absorbed through the skin and there are many patents to be found on trans-dermal delivery. In therapeutic doses it reaches the bloodstream quickly acting as pain relief and contributing to a feeling of wellness. While these attributes could work in well with body care products (think uplifting, sports ranges, products for mature skin) to be effective the chemical must be used in conjunction with monoamine oxidase to prevent breakdown before it reaches the brain. Phehylethylamine is also not listed on EINECS.

Another well known constituent of chocolate is the alkaloid Caffeine. This acts upon the central nervous system heightening the bodies’ alertness and responsiveness. Caffeine has found its way into cosmetic products including those that promote slimming, reducing cellulite and increasing blood flow. Listed by the FDA as “Safe” caffeine seems to offer the cosmetic chemist many possibilities. However, Caffeine is not readily absorbed through the skin making topical application rather pointless. Probably another chemical that promises much but delivers the cosmetic chemist very little.

The primary alkaloid present in chocolate is theobromine making up around 1.5% of cocoa. Used since the turn of the century to treat edema and other circulatory disorders theobromine is used today as a vasodilator, diuretic and stimulant. Theobromine is produced by the body in the metabolism of caffeine; it can also be delivered through the skin making it potentially more attractive to the cosmetic chemist than caffeine. This ingredient has the ability to deliver results in the areas of boosting circulation, cellulite management and slimming.

So can our love affair with chocolate give us beautiful skin? Well, it seems that while some of the constituents of chocolate may be useful to help with our circulation, water retention and cellulite others won’t reach their target. One of the most widely used and beneficial ingredients to come from cocoa is the humble cocoa butter (now available under the “fair trade” banner). Acting as an excellent moisturiser and emollient with the added benefits of natural antioxidants and a rich, distinctive aroma this ingredient should be on the shelf of every cosmetic chemist. One thing is sure; in these times of economic uncertainty chocolate sales will rise as more people look for their every day affordable luxury. It seems that the future is not “green” after all. It’s chocolate brown.

I love chocolate – Enjoy your Chocolate Easter Eggs tomorrow.

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