benefits of cocoa butter and shea butter for skin

Did you know that both Cleopatra and Queen Sheba used shea butter as a part of their beauty skin regimen? Cleopatra is known to have it delivered to her doorstep filled in large pots! Indeed, using cocoa butter and shea butter for skin and hair has been a practice for millennia and continues to this day, given the many benefits of these seed oils.

In fact, both shea and cocoa butters are known to provide skin barrier repair, alleviate a variety of skin issues, and act as effective treatments for fine lines and wrinkles.

The best part is that shea butter can also be used for the treatment of acne, as it does not clog pores. Since it has its own moisturizers that are chemically very similar to our own skin oil, or sebum, it is a fantastic moisturizer and healing balm for acne-prone skin and acne scars. 

The application of cocoa butter for skin health is also known to be highly beneficial!

But before we get to that, here are a few amazing facts about the cocoa tree! Did you know that the cocoa tree was first cultivated for its compounds by the Mayans, who called the cocoa beans, Xocoatl (hence the naming of “chocolate”)?

The Mayans viewed the cocoa trees as sacred gifts from the divine and the cocoa beans were used as a form of currency exchange. After the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs, cocoa was exported to Europe, where it experienced tremendous popularity and high demand from the 1500s to the 1700s.

Cocoa was later used as medicine and an aphrodisiac, as it was known that it had properties that opened the heart; this is precisely why we associate chocolates with love and Valentine’s day.

But it wasn’t until the early 1800s when cocoa butter began to be extracted from the cocoa beans with a press that sought to improve the production and purification of cacao butter from its beans.

Once the butter production ensued, many other benefits of cacao butter were discovered – namely its ability to heal scars, heal burns, stimulate collagen production and contribute to anti-aging.

In West Africa, shea and cocoa butters have been used as natural skin and hair moisturizers for centuries. However, in recent decades, the shea and cocoa butter market has grown exponentially outside of the region, as many natural skin product lines became aware of the many benefits of the butters.

Essentially, shea butter and cocoa butter are considered “butters” because of their buttery consistency at room temperature and their emollient properties, which keep moisture sealed and the skin hydrated for longer periods. Both butters are also thick, making them ideal for dry or damaged skin types.

Likewise, both shea and cocoa butters contain essential fatty acids that have been recognized to be highly effective moisturizers that reduce the appearance of scars and stretch marks.

Having used them myself for years (especially on eczema), I can say that shea butter and cocoa butter are some of the best skin healers in existence that help treat irritated skin, improve its condition significantly, and turn back the hands of time.


How is Shea Butter Harvested and Produced?


Shea butter is found natively throughout West Africa and its processing is a prevalent industry in both Nigeria and Ghana. This unrefined natural fat consists mainly of stearic acid and oleic acid, which contribute to softening rough skin. In addition, these lipids are able to bind water molecules to the surface layers of the skin making them highly moisturizing and healing.

Its thick consistency and healing properties make it useful as a natural anti-inflammatory emollient for chronic skin conditions such as acne, eczema, and psoriasis, which are often treated conventionally with steroid creams. It is also able to restore and replenish moisture, reduce redness and itching and promote smoothness and healing.

Shea butter is extracted from the nuts of tree species of evergreen perennials that grow wild in savannas or semi-desert areas. The shea fruits contain oil which must be stirred daily for two weeks before it can be extracted in its butter form. The butter naturally solidifies during transportation and storage, making it the ideal option for use as a moisturizing skin cream.

There are two types of shea butters available on the market – refined and unrefined. In terms of chemical integrity and nutrient retention, unrefined shea butter is preferable, as it is not processed and its beneficial chemical integrity is unadulterated.

You can notice the difference between the two as the refined butter takes on a white, ivory color, while the unrefined type maintains its yellowish, golden color.

In terms of extraction and preparation, approximately 2 pounds of shea nut butter can be obtained from approximately four pounds of roasted shea nuts, which are also edible. The tree is harvested only numerous times every 25 to 30 years, ensuring sustainable farming practices throughout West Africa. 


The Incredible Advantages of Using Shea Butter for Skin


skin healing benefits of shea butter
Image Source:

There are three types of fats found in shea butters: oleic acid, stearic acid, and linoleic acid. Oleic acid is an omega-9 fatty acid that has anti-inflammatory properties and can be used as a topical treatment for dandruff and dermatitis.

Stearic acid is an unsaturated fatty acid that is beneficial for the skin because it reduces transepidermal water loss, which helps retain natural oils in the skin. And lastly, linoleic acid is a type of polyunsaturated fat whose deficiency has been linked to dry skin, eczema, and psoriasis.

Stearic acid accounts for 15% of the shea butter composition. This fatty acid is known to be an effective treatment against acne and blackheads. In fact, one study found that it reduced skin sebum oil production by 12%.

Another study showed that the combination of oleic and stearic acids was more effective at treating acne than either single ingredient alone. The healing properties of shea butter also promote faster wound recovery, because its compounds also promote blood circulation in the treated areas.

Shea butter is also known to have anti-aging and anti-wrinkle benefits because it can improve skin elasticity which promotes a more youthful appearance. Many sources laud shea butter as being one of the best moisturizers for reversing premature aging.

And since everything that goes on the skin is absorbed directly into the bloodstream, using shea butter topically can also offer some health benefits.

One shea butter derivative called shea olein is reported to have antioxidant properties that can reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. Because of its high essential fatty acid content, shea butter can also reduce inflammation and prevent the formation of plaque in blood vessels.


How is Cocoa Butter Harvested and Produced?


how is cocoa butter harvested and produced?
Photo by Rodrigo Flores from Unsplash

Cocoa beans are extracted from cocoa pods and are ground up to make cocoa butter. Each bean is composed of 50% butter content and the rest from the chocolatey, crunchy substance that is ground up to make cacao powder.

Depending on the manufacturer’s preference, the beans are either fermented or roasted to intensify their flavor. Both provide a distinct flavor to cocoa-based products that are tangible and can satisfy all consumer preferences. Then, the beans are dried for a few days in natural sunshine or with drying equipment and are crushed to extract the butter from a press method.

And here is where the quality of cocoa butters diverges. Some methods use heat to extract the oil, while others simply use the press without adding heat. The latter is a method that generates ‘raw cocoa butter,’ which is much superior in quality and nutrition.

For the best benefits when it comes to skincare, always go for ‘raw’ cocoa butter. The best part is that when you apply it to your face, you can also eat some while you’re at it to satisfy the chocolate cravings! Not only is the butter wonderful for your skin, but it is composed of essential fatty acids and anti-inflammatory nutrients that will nourish your body from within.

These beans contain antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents such as beta carotene, which may help prevent free radical damage on the skin caused by sun exposure and air pollution. In addition, cocoa butter contains polyphenols, which are known to diminish the signs of aging.

Cocoa butter has been long used for skin treatment in Africa and Asia as a way to restore suppleness to dry skin after exfoliation or after exposure to harsh weather conditions. In these regions of the world, cocoa butter was consumed regularly out of necessity, because it was readily available and thought to be more nutritious than other vegetable oils.


The Amazing Benefits of Cocoa Butter for Skin


healing skin benefits of cocoa butter
Image Source:

Just as is the case with shea butter, the beneficial properties of cocoa butter make it one of nature’s most powerful moisturizers.

Foremost, cocoa butter is an even thicker emollient than shea and has a consistency similar to beeswax, which makes it remain on the skin longer than most other conventional or natural products. This means that the active healing properties protect the skin longer, even if we wash or touch the application area.

Likewise, the high content of oleic acid in cocoa butter helps prevent UV-induced damage from sun exposure. Although cocoa butter does not block UV rays completely, its anti-oxidants absorb them before they can cause sunburn. In addition, studies have shown that this fat can help prevent wrinkles and fine lines from the signs of aging.

Cocoa butter also has vast anti-inflammatory properties that can be beneficial in treating skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, rashes, and dermatitis.

In addition to helping with inflammatory issues, cocoa butter can enhance the elasticity and firmness of the skin by increasing collagen production. This should enable it to reduce stretch marks similarly to shea butter, but more research needs to be conducted on this point.

The regular ingestion of cocoa butter affects preventing dry hair and dandruff, because it improves blood and lymphatic circulation in these areas.

Another great benefit is that it can help with healing wounds faster than conventional skin moisturizers, because it contains anti-bacterial properties that help reduce the risk of bacterial infections. This ability can also make it useful for treating acne, which is the side-effect of hair follicle infection deep within the skin.

Since cocoa butter can penetrate deeper levels of the epidermis and dermis due to its small molecular structure, it has access to more inner layers than most other skincare products. This ability helps to keep both scarring and stretch marks at bay by delivering active ingredients directly where they are needed.

However, it’s important to note that cocoa butter does not completely prevent stretch marks from forming, especially when there is a rapid and significant weight gain or loss. Instead, it can reduce skin stretch by improving elasticity to a certain extent and promoting the healing of wounds on the surface layer.

It will also help improve wrinkles, scarring, and fine lines by reducing damage from UV radiation and cellular inflammation (redness) caused after sun exposure, windburn, or dry air.

Although cocoa butter is ideal for all skin types, its thick consistency makes it more suitable for those with dry and inflammatory skin conditions. Likewise, it is ideal for anyone looking to prevent and reverse signs of skin aging. Overall, it is a wonder cream that should be a part of everyone’s daily skincare regimen.


Why Natural Skin Products are Superior to Chemical Creams and Lotions


why natural skin products are superior
Photo by Chris Jarvis from Unsplash

Other than the therapeutic benefits of shea and cocoa butters, which are present only in natural compounds in the proportion that mother nature intended, many conventional products contain added ingredients that are made from artificial, man-made chemicals.

However, they do nothing to address the root problem behind skin issues, and instead, contribute to the accumulation of chemical toxins in the liver and other tissues over time. Modern, man-made medicine looks for quick fixes, whereas in nature, there are none. It does what it can to “suppress” symptoms which will then come back even stronger, given that the root of the health issue is not addressed.

The common synthetic agents found in many skin products include parabens, propylene glycol, and sodium lauryl sulfate; however, all of the ingredients that one can’t pronounce or wouldn’t eat should be completely avoided.

Chronic disease is a cumulative state that occurs gradually as the body is weakened over the years through the onslaught of chemicals, toxins, foods, and lifestyle habits. 


Possible Side Effects of Most Common Chemicals


1.        Parabens are chemicals that have an affinity to and bind to estrogen receptors. This can result in damage that includes inflammation, liver damage, skin irritation, and cancer.

2.        Propylene glycol is another ingredient you should avoid, because it’s a chemical solvent made from petroleum that may cause side effects like drowsiness, dizziness, blurred vision, or nausea when applied directly to your skin.

3.        Sodium lauryl sulfate is used often in products for hair care and facial cleaning because of its ability to soften them up; however, this substance can also upset the pH balance of the body, affecting cellular function and immunity. If present in high levels, it can produce reactions such as hives, swelling, or blistering on areas where it has been applied.

Whatever we place on our skin is directly absorbed into the bloodstream through small pores known as the dermal and follicular openings.

This is why it’s best to ensure that the products you use contain natural ingredients, because they are less likely to cause irritation or allergic reactions. They are also safe, and instead of toxifying the body, they will aid in its healing.

Overall, to help our elimination organs do their jobs properly and lower the toxic body burden of modern lifestyle, switching to all-natural skin and personal products is paramount! An important piece of advice is to ensure you read all the ingredients when investing in new personal products, and if you don’t know what an ingredient is or wouldn’t eat it, skip the product.


Final Thoughts


Using both cocoa and shea butter for your skin will not only provide you with the benefits of nature’s best skin moisturizers and healers but you can prevent many signs of aging by regularly applying the skin butters to your skin routine! 

While shea butter is more commonly used to treat acne, eczema, and psoriasis, cocoa butter is preferred for repairing dry, aging skin and scars. However, using both at the same time can maximize their collective potency through the synergistic effect of the healing compounds.

If you’re suffering from chronic skin conditions, the best thing you can do today is to switch to using only natural skin-care products, especially those made with shea and cocoa butters. They are ideal for sensitive, acne-prone, and rash-inclined skin and are fantastic as face moisturizers during summer and winter months of heavy sun, wind, and cold exposure.

If you’re looking to nourish your skin and help it heal from the outside in, you can’t go wrong with shea and cocoa! Not only will you look healthier, but you will stop skin from aging in its tracks.

Skincare is only one important aspect of health – usually only secondary to internal cleansing and detoxification. Natural skincare is a supportive and nourishing mechanism, while diet and lifestyle are the preconditions for its health or disease.

In case you’d like to learn more about what it takes to truly heal your skin and health issues from the root cause, check out some of my in-depth skin detox articles that will teach you everything you need to know about skin health and regeneration:

5 Powerful Skin Detox Teas & How to Detox Your Skin From the Inside Out

Skin Deep: How Long Does it Take for Skin to Regenerate?

5 Natural Tips for Quick and Effective Skin Detox


About the Author

Anesa is the founder of and the chief integrative health practitioner at Red Grape Wisdom, with a mission to teach the public the truth about health and the principles of wellness that trace their roots back to our human origins and our connection to the cosmic and natural law. 

Anesa is the author of How to Detox Your Body Naturally and Safely, and her expertise lies in natural health diagnostics, holistic detoxification, and healing support. She uses many unique modalities to help others heal naturally and thrive such as naturopathy, medical astrology, iridology, and Eastern traditional herbal medicine.