Well known in the food industry, cocoa butter is also a key component in cosmetic ingredients. Though it has been used for thousands of years, this notable ingredient made its way into the mainstream with the classic Palmer’s cocoa butter lotion. Did you know that raw cocoa butter is quite the opposite consistency of lotion? It is a hard, brittle, butter at room temperature but melts easily at body temperature. Whether used in an application such as a whipped body butter, cold process soap or even in its pure form, cocoa butter has an abundance of antioxidants and emollient properties that are beneficial to the skin. Since most of us are well aware of the glory that is chocolate, let’s take a closer look at its origin and cocoa butter as used in cosmetic applications.
When the cacao tree reaches 2-5 years of age, it begins to mature and bear thousands of tiny white flowers. These delicate buds will decorate the trunk and branches of the tree, but only a handful will be lucky enough to be pollinated and fertilized to develop into a cacao pod.
The leathery cacao pod is shaped somewhat like a large squash and ranges in color from yellow to orange to even purple. The pods contains around 30 edible fruits, which some people have described as having a citrusy-mango tasting pulp. Each small fibrous fruit contains a cacao bean. Since the pods yield so little actual fruit, it’s too bad that is unlikely you will find this available in your local grocery store or specialty market.
After harvest, the cocoa beans (fun fact: after harvest, they are no longer referred to as “cacao” beans) are fermented and dried. The fermentation process allows the bean to organically eliminate its protective coating and helps develop the cocoa bean into a delicious, chocolaty flavor. The beans are then dried and deshelled to allow any excess moisture to evaporate from the bean.
Once fermented and dried, the beans are heated, usually by being boiled. As the heat allows the cocoa solids to separate, over 50% of the bean’s contents rise to the surface of the water in the form of oil – better known as pure cocoa butter.
Get to Know Our Cocoa Butter
Country of Origin: Africa
Botanical/INCI Name: Theobroma Cacao Seed Butter
Common Names: Cocoa Butter
Parts Used: Cocoa Bean
Melting Point: 34–38 °C (93–101 °F)
Color: Creamy off-white to yellow
Extraction Method: Steam
At a Glance:
Pure Natural Cocoa Butter
- Strong, rich chocolaty scent
- Light yellow to golden
- Filtered for impurities
- Higher in antioxidants due to minimal refinement/processing
Deodorized Cocoa Butter
- Lighter odor
- Off-white to yellow
- Bleached & deodorized
- Widely preferred in cosmetics due to lack of chocolate scent
When cocoa butter is not being used on its own, it makes a great addition to several cosmetic applications.
You can find cocoa butter in a wide variety of products such as soap, lip balm, lotions and hair care products. Use it at a rate of around 5-15% of your recipe for cold process soap to yield a stronger, harder bar with added moisturizing elements.
It also makes for a great addition to body butters, but take mind not to add too much, as this butter is hard, crumbly and may cause the lotion to not be malleable. In a body butter, I recommend combining cocoa butter with softer oils such as sweet almond or jojoba to yield a more desirable, creamy consistency.
It’s important to note that cocoa butter, like shea butter, is subject to grittiness. This is completely normal, does not interfere with the therapeutic qualities of the butter and is not indicative of a defective product. In this situation, the issue that presents itself is very simple – chemistry.
When this happens, it is due to the fatty acids separating within the butter. Each fatty acid molecule has a different size, so when the cocoa butter is subjected to slow fluctuations in temperature, it may sometimes gain this texture because the different sized fatty acid molecules are not evenly dispersed throughout the butter. An easy way to remedy this is to melt the cocoa butter down and then flash-freeze it by placing it directly in the freezer. The rapid cooling will ensure the fatty acids stay suspended and evenly dispersed among the butter, ensuring a smooth finish. This process is known as tempering.