Peak summer is upon us, and that means taking extra-attentive care of your skin. Irritation, dryness, and spotting can be the name of the game for certain skin types as we soak up the rays, and the dermal damage caused by UV rays from the sun is always a concern. There are myriad products out there that help combat environmental wear and tear on our skin, but if you look at the ingredient list, you may start to wonder just what you are slathering on every day. Are there natural alternatives that can either replace or work in concert with these lab-made formulations?
Turns out, Cacao has a great many uses for skin protection, both when ingested and applied topically. While we would never advocate forgoing serious SPF formulations for prolonged sun exposure, we have definitely used Cacao products to help with various skin maladies: dryness, spotting and scarring, and after-sun damage. It is also popular as a part of a general skin-maintenance routine, and it’s easy to see why: packed with minerals, antioxidants, and healthy fats, Cacao is ambrosia for the body!
Whole Cacao for your moment in the sun
With more calcium than cow’s milk and more magnesium than almost any other food source, Cacao can help protect your skin both through ingestion and use with masks, body rubs, and other topical applications. While usually associated with bone health, calcium is also important to the production of sebum, the skin’s natural oil that helps protect it from over-drying and wear, and studies have shown it to be vital for maintaining a healthy skin barrier. Additionally, the generous quantities of magnesium in Cacao help to promote an even skin tone. Known to be a powerful anti-inflammatory, magnesium helps to reduce skin redness, lessen the appearance of spotting and scarring, and can generally aid in down-regulation of inflammatory pressures that can make skin irritated and painful. These benefits are well-known through the eating and drinking of Cacao, but increasing evidence shows that high-magnesium applications directly on the skin can penetrate deep enough to deliver these benefits externally!
Although the mineral-richness of Cacao certainly makes it a skin ally, it’s the antioxidant profile of that makes Cacao a skin superhero. As we outlined in the Lab Report, Part II, whole Cacao is among the top antioxidant foods on the planet, and its benefits extend from the very core of our body all the way to the very outer layer—our skin.
The primary cause of accelerated skin aging is UV exposure from the sun. While there is no evidence that Cacao can provide protection against the DNA damage that can cause skin cancers, there is significant evidence that both a diet and skin regimen including high-quality, whole Cacao can both fight free radical damage to the skin (resulting in wrinkles, skin thinness, and discoloration) and provide some level of UV protection in the first place.
When out in the sun for any significant amount of time, UV rays will create oxidative stress within our skin’s deeper layers. For complete information on oxidative stress, visit our second “Lab Report”. For our purposes here, let’s just say that oxidative stress and the free radicals resulting from it are the enemy of healthy, youthful skin. For those that like their skin sun-kissed, it is absolutely vital that they are feeding their largest organ (the skin!) the goods it needs to recover. This is where the abundant flavanols (a particularly bio-available form of antioxidant) of Cacao can help rid the skin of cell-destroying free radicals. In fact, scientists have recently shown that Cacao can help prevent skin wrinkling due to sun exposure (a tell-tale sign of oxidative damage). But what about controlling how much sun gets through in the first place?
Sunscreen in the summer should go without saying for all skin types, especially if fun in the sun is the plan for a significant portion of the day. For this, it is always best to apply a mineral sunscreen to help create a physical barrier to UV rays. However, the effectiveness of these sunscreens can be significantly augmented by high-flavanol Cacao (of, say, ceremonial-grade quality), as observed by scientists when measuring the propensity of skin to burn from UV exposure. These studies are still limited in their scope, but they are instructive: the antioxidant protection from Cacao likely extends beyond just cleaning up the sun’s damage— it helps prevent it in the first place.
After-sun care with Cacao
So we’re home from the beach, the park, or the trail now, and we want to pay special attention to keeping our skin supple and moisturized. If you got badly burned out there, we find it best to reach for a traditional burn reliever like aloe vera, which can help both soothe the skin and let it breathe. But if you are mostly concerned with keeping that bronzed skin plump and vital, reach for the Cacao butter, or even slather on some 100% Cacao, itself! The copious fatty acids in the Cacao help to seal in moisture while its other blood-flow inducing properties nutrients to the outer dermal layer, providing your skin with the one-two combo it needs to recover from the day’s festivities.
Now, when it comes to the efficacy of Cacao for skin protection, quality very much matters. The science that we’ve found around this makes a very explicit delineation between that which could be considered high-quality Cacao and the rest. The antioxidant flavanol profile and fatty acid quality required to provide good protection is exclusively the realm of minimally-processed, whole Cacao. As we’ve noted in other articles, the nutrient density of Cacao falls off immensely as it is over-roasted, heavily processed, and diluted with additives as you would find in commercial chocolate. For this reason, ceremonial-grade Cacao paste and unprocessed Cacao butter are the undisputed favorites here. Now have your morning cup of Cacao and get out there!