You’re probably wondering why we’d think you need a definition for chocolate—if you’re anything like us, you’re already on intimate terms with the sweet, sweet stuff—but in this case, we’re actually talking about the growing use of chocolate in spas. And not as snacks in the lounge, either: Thanks to studies touting its healing properties, cocoa is making an appearance in skin services all across the country.
Chocolate-infused beauty treatments may sound like a Willy Wonka-inspired gimmick, but the concept is actually rooted in science—and history. “For centuries, all parts of the cocoa plant—beans, bark, leaves, flowers and oils—have been used to treat skin ailments, burns, headaches and even bowel distress,” explains Dr. Doris J. Day, Assistant Professor of Dermatology at NYU.
Dr. Adam Bodian, a partner at the Bodian Dermatology Group and Medical Spa in New Jersey, recently conducted a study on the topical uses of chocolate, and breaks down its effectiveness to three elements: Fat, theobromine, and anti-oxidants. Otherwise known as cocoa butter, the fat from the cocoa seed contains skin-friendly acids and acts as a natural emollient; applied while the body is damp, the butter traps water in the skin, turning dry into dewy and improving elasticity. Theobromine, a mild, non-addictive stimulant found only in cocoa, functions similar to caffeine, minus many of the negative side effects. When taken internally or absorbed through the skin, theobromine works as a diuretic (flushing-out impurities, reducing swelling and cellulite, and improving circulation) and helps stimulate cell regeneration. It also accelerates the absorption of the powerful, free-radical-catching anti-oxidants—including skin cancer- and heart disease-preventing catechins and phenols—that are four times more present in chocolate than in black tea or red wine.
Of course, doctors stress that these elements would have to be absorbed in large amounts, over a consistent period of time and in the purest form possible (the darker and less-processed the chocolate, the better) to have any dramatic effects. “Chocolate spa services aren’t a substitute for using sunscreen everyday,” laughs Dr. Day, “but if it feels good and smells delicious, do it.’ Stellar examples include the Hot Chocolate treatment at the Haven Day Spa in New York City, which includes a warm milk body mask, cocoa powder-and-salt scrub and chocolate-scented moisturization; the lactic acids found in pure cocoa powder help exfoliate dead skin, while the theobromine keeps skin calm and inflammation-free during the scrub. At the luxurious Spa at the Hotel Hershey, in Hershey, PA, the menu includes decadent services like a Chocolate Fondue Wrap, Whipped Cocoa Bath and Chocolate Bean Polish; a vast array of sweet smelling cocoa spa products are also available for purchase.