My love affair with chocolate began at a early age and as an aromatherapist I have been trying to combine both the benefits of chocolate and aromatherapy, in a natural way, for a couple of years! Although there are many products out there with synthetic chocolate aromas, some of which do resemble the aroma of chocolate quite successfully, synthetic chocolate does not have any healing properties. However, it is possible to make cosmetic aromatherapy products with natural chocolate ingredients.
Source of Chocolate for Body Products
The source of chocolate is the cacao tree (Theobroma cacao); it belongs to the Sterculisceae botanical family. The cacao tree is a small, tropical tree which is native to Central and South America and the West Indies. Since its “discovery” by Spanish explorers in the late 17th century, the cacao tree is now cultivated in other tropical places such as West Africa, Ceylon and Java too.
Historical Use of the Cacao Tree
However, ancient people, such as the Mayans, knew the medicinal value of the cacao tree long before Spanish explorers took back samples of the plant to Europe. They used the seeds of the cacao tree, cocoa beans, for many health ailments (such as wounds and snake bites), in addition to using the beans as a form of currency for trading.
The use of the cacao tree for making cocoa butter is not a new concept; cocoa butter was first made from the cacao tree in 1695 (source: Carrier Oils for Aromatherapy and Massage, Len Price). Cocoa butter is made from cocoa beans extracted from the cacao tree but the seeds go through a complex process of hulling, roasting and hot expressing before cocoa butter is finally extracted in a form that is used for cosmetic purposes.
Cocoa butter is actually a solid fat with a rich, chocolate aroma. Many cosmetic makers then heat up the fat in order to “melt” it together with other butters and oils (such as shea butter or sunflower oil) before a finished product is produced.
Chocolate Essential Oil
It used to be that the majority of essential oils that were extracted from plants were either extracted by distillation or cold expression. However, new methods of extraction are tested all of the time and today you will find several essential oils that are extracted via carbon dioxide (CO2). Carbon dioxide extraction leaves no trace of the carbon dioxide in the final essential oil that is produced but many of the therapeutic properties of such oils have not yet been tested over a long length of time, unlike distilled essential oils (source: Aromatherapy Workbook, Shirley Price).
Today it is possible to purchase a CO2 extracted essential oil of Theobroma cacao; it has a sweet, chocolate aroma. However, like cocoa butter, it needs to be warmed up before you can work with it in cosmetic making, as it is solid at room temperature.
Cacao absolute is also made from the cacao beans of the cacao tree; it has a rich, dark chocolate aroma. An absolute is extracted in a different way to an essential oil and does not contain 100% “natural” ingredients. Absolutes are made from a concrete by alcohol extraction (a concrete uses a hydrocarbon solvent to extract the oil from the plant).
Although solvents are introduced into the equation, and therefore eliminate some of the therapeutic properties that an essential oil retains, an absolute is preferable over a synthetically produced fragrance oil for cosmetic making because it does actually contain some plant properties. However, the main use of cacao absolute is in the perfumery industry as oppose to therapeutic aromatherapy practice.
Chocolate Ingredients for Aromatherapy Body Products
Both cocoa butter and chocolate essential oil can be combined with other essential oils, vegetable oils and butters to make aromatherapy body products. Your final cosmetic product will not only smell like chocolate but will have many therapeutic properties too. Although chocolate essential oil and cacao absolute are predominately used in perfumery and cosmetic products, such ingredients are preferable over synthetic aromas because, at the end of the day, you can always argue the greater therapeutic benefits of your creation!
Photo by chotda