The Dessert That Makes Your Skin Look Fabulous

Dr. Janet Zand

October 11, 2019

You probably know that sugar is terrible for your skin. That usually means you have to avoid dessert to preserve your complexion.

Well, here’s some good news. You can have dessert and have healthy, beautiful skin. In fact, having the right dessert might actually help your skin. You just have to choose the right kind. Plus, there’s a way to use this dessert that won’t add any calories to your diet.

I’m sure you know that chocolate generally comes in three forms: white, milk, and dark. Some people have strong preferences. Others love chocolate any way they can get it. The skin, however, falls in the former category. You’ve probably heard that dark chocolate is good for your heart. But it’s also good for your skin. To understand why dark chocolate is better than the other types, you need to understand the ingredients in each version.

Let’s start with white chocolate. Some people say that white chocolate really isn’t chocolate at all. And it’s true that white chocolate doesn’t contain any cocoa solids. Instead, it’s a combination of cocoa butter, sugar, and milk. Cocoa butter, like the name suggests, is just a form of fat. It doesn’t give you the nutrients you’ll find in the rest of the cocoa bean. Combining fat, sugar, and dairy might taste delicious, but it’s a recipe for disaster for your skin. You’ll want to eat white chocolate very sparingly if you want your skin to look its best.

Next up is milk chocolate. Milk chocolate does contain cocoa solids. So it’s an improvement over white chocolate. But it’s also loaded with cocoa butter, sugar, and, yes, milk. That means it’s still not your best bet for great skin, particularly if you find dairy to be inflammatory. Many people think that chocolate makes their skin worse. When they say that, they’re usually referring to milk chocolate.

Why Your Skin Loves Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate contains little to no milk. This means it’s a bit more dry and bitter than milk chocolate. But it’s also healthier. The higher the percentage of cocoa solids, the more nutrients you’ll get. Look for the highest percentage you enjoy. Then keep reading while you enjoy a square or two to learn how your snack is benefiting your skin.

Cocoa beans are a rich source of antioxidants. So they’re great at neutralizing skin-damaging free radicals. These antioxidants come in a variety of forms, including polyphenols, flavanols, and catechins. Different forms of antioxidants are more effective against different types of free radicals. So cocoa beans offer a broad range of protection.

One study took a close look at dark chocolate’s ability to protect the skin from UV radiation. The researchers wondered if the high flavanol content of cocoa beans could help protect the skin from sunburn in particular.

For this study, the researchers divided 30 healthy participants into two groups. One group received chocolate with a high flavanol (HF) content. The other group got low flavanol (LF) chocolate. Each group ate 20 g of chocolate per day. The researchers measured how much UV radiation would provoke a sunburn in each participant’s skin, a test called minimal erythema dose (MED).

After 12 weeks, the MED of the HF group had doubled. That meant they could withstand twice as much UV radiation before their skin burned. It also means the participants were likely at a reduced risk of skin cancer. The MED of the LF group stayed about the same.

The researchers noted that many chocolate manufacturers eliminate a lot of the flavanols in processing. So to get these benefits, you’ll need to look for chocolate that preserves the flavanol content. The researchers used chocolate produced with the ACTICOA™ method for their study. The HF chocolate in the study contained over 600 mg of flavanols, compared to less than 30 mg for the LF chocolate.

Great for Your Gut Health as Well

Another benefit of dark chocolate is that because cocoa does in fact come from beans, it’s a decent source of fiber. In fact, 100 g of a bar that’s 70% to 85% dark chocolate will supply about 11 g of fiber. This doesn’t make it a substitute for other high-fiber foods. But it can help put you over the top to meet your daily goal – a goal many of us fall far short of.

Getting enough fiber can help reduce inflammation in your gut. Fiber feeds the friendly bacteria that help keep waste where it belongs – moving smoothly through the intestines. Without a healthy gut environment, your intestines can become inflamed. The inflammation this creates will eventually show up on the skin. Women should aim for a minimum of 25 g of fiber a day to help avoid this.

Nutrients That Keep Your Skin Hydrated

Dark chocolate can also help you meet your daily goals on some essential minerals and other nutrients. It’s a great source of manganese, copper, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, and zinc. These nutrients don’t get as much attention as some of the superstar vitamins, but they’re great for the skin.

For example, these nutrients help skin stay hydrated. They also boost collagen production, cell growth, and circulation. Together, these benefits help ward off and reduce fine lines and wrinkles. You can even apply dark chocolate topically (more on that below). And these minerals and nutrients can exfoliate and help lighten scars and blemishes.

If you’ve ever reached for chocolate after a stressful day, you’re not alone. And you’re actually not making a terrible choice, especially if you choose dark chocolate. The magnesium in chocolate helps lower the stress hormone cortisol. And cortisol can wreak havoc on the skin. Plus, magnesium helps you sleep, giving the skin a chance to repair and restore itself and you an opportunity to de-stress.

Because some of the minerals in dark chocolate improve blood flow, they can even help your hair grow stronger and healthier. Better circulation to the scalp translates to less hair loss and shinier, softer strands.

I probably don’t have to convince you to eat chocolate. But despite its many benefits, dark chocolate isn’t free from calories, fat, and sugar. So you don’t want to overdo it. Sticking to about an ounce a day can help you reap the benefits without damaging your health in other ways. But if you do want more chocolate in your life, keep reading. You can get an extra infusion of benefits from dark chocolate by applying it topically.

Consider Using Chocolate Topically

If you have preferably organic cocoa powder on hand (which you can find on Amazon), you can mix a tablespoon with another tablespoon of honey or yogurt. Add a pinch of cinnamon. Apply to your face and neck, then wash off after 15 to 20 minutes. If you prefer the sensation of a peel-off mask, try increasing the mixture to four to five tablespoons each of the cocoa powder and honey. Mix with two tablespoons of brown sugar instead if you prefer more exfoliation. Once the mask dries, you’ll be able to peel it off and reveal the glowing skin underneath.

If you’re willing to sacrifice a bar of chocolate (or you can’t handle the temptation after you’ve eaten your allotted ounce), try mixing a couple melted dark chocolate bars with 2/3 cup milk, two to three tablespoons of brown sugar, and a teaspoon of salt. Once the mixture is cool, apply it to your face and rinse off after about 15 minutes. Yes, this recipe will get you something similar to milk chocolate (minus the pore-clogging butter). But it’s a lot better for your skin than eating the stuff is!

You can even make an exfoliating scrub by mixing half a cup of cocoa powder with two to three tablespoons oatmeal, a teaspoon of honey, and a teaspoon of cream (if you don’t have any on hand, you can substitute water). Rub gently over your face, neck, or anywhere else that needs some sloughing, then rinse off after 15 minutes.

Even your hair can benefit from a chocolate mask. Try mixing three to four squares of melted dark chocolate with a mashed ripe banana and a teaspoon of honey. Once it cools, apply to your locks. (Just stay away from the roots.) Wrap your hair in plastic wrap to keep the mess to a minimum. Then rinse it out using warm water and gentle shampoo after 30–45 minutes.

For a smoothing hair mask, swap the banana for half a cup of yogurt, and increase the honey to half a tablespoon. Once again, stay away from your roots and scalp. Rinse this mask out after 30 minutes.

You’ve probably heard that dark chocolate is good for your overall health. This is a popular headline, for obvious reasons. But for once, dark chocolate lives up to the hype, as long as you don’t overdo it. It really does supply nutrients that can reduce inflammation throughout the body, help keep cholesterol at healthy levels, and manage blood pressure. It can supply iron to help relieve mild cases of anemia. And if eating an ounce of dark chocolate makes it easier for you to resist sugary, high-calorie desserts, it can even help keep your weight under control.

Adding skin health to this laundry list of benefits is warranted. Turns out, you can have your dessert and beautiful skin, too.


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