As Valentine’s day – with its traditional extravaganza of chocolate buying – looms, it appears the beauty industry has also been embracing the sweet stuff.

Vivienne Rudd of market researcher Mintel says the company recorded more than 370 “cacao-containing bodycare products” in 2013, adding to the 1,350 launched between 2004 and 2012. “The number of facial skincare products featuring cacao rose 10 per cent to 180 in 2013,” says Rudd. And the difference between these products and, say, Green & Black’s confectionery? Most do not smell of chocolate.

Consider the new Cocoa Juvenate Repose skincare range and scent from British chocolatier Hotel Chocolat. The range is redolent of earthy tones such as roasted cocoa, heady florals, sandalwood and leather; you don’t need to worry about smelling like an Easter egg.

Angus Thirlwell, Hotel Chocolat’s chief executive and co-founder, says: “We are unashamedly cocoa-centric – at our cocoa plantation and hotel in St Lucia we use every part of the cacao bean we can.” At the hotel’s Cocoa Juvenate Spa, the beans’ shells are used for exfoliation while the butter is melted to create an intensive moisturiser.

Cacao beans contain high levels of antioxidants, minerals and vitamins, all of which appeal to the beauty industry. “The mineral and vitamin content make an excellent skin conditioner,” says Mintel’s Rudd. In addition, says Emmanuelle Moeglin, Mintel’s global fragrance analyst, “Cacao beans are said to contain feel-good components such as anandamide, a substance naturally produced in the brain that has been found to help distress and aid relaxation.”

Decléor Prolagène Lift and Firm Day Cream
Decléor Prolagène Lift and Firm Day Cream

Cacao has been used as an ingredient in recent and upcoming facial skincare launches, such as Perricone MD Cosmeceuticals Acyl-Glutathione Deep Crease Serum (£128), Decléor Prolagène Lift and Firm Day Cream (£69.50) and SkinCeuticals Advanced Pigment Corrector (£85). Newby Hands, editorial director of online retailer, recommends Clayspray Glow Red Clay with Cacao Mask (from £15). “The effect is gentle, deep cleansing with a matt and luxurious finish,” she says. “It’s great for drier skin in the summer and oilier skin all year around.”

Miren Ramírez, Clayspray’s technical manager, calls the cacao bean a “standout” ingredient because it contains vitamins A, B, D, E and K, as well as minerals.

So why does chocolate have such a hold over us?

Barry Smith, founding director of the Centre for the Study of the Senses at the University of London, says: “Chocolate is perceived by the brain to be a perfect food – the one food whose odour is exactly the same whether it comes through the nose or through the mouth. It has an exact match of anticipation and reward, and the brain is very happy when what it wants is matched.”

But there is a catch when using it is as a beauty ingredient, as he explains: “To create a beauty product, you need to mix the chocolate with other ingredients. The smell won’t hit the perfect odour of more than 500 volatile components that the nose recognises because it has been contaminated.”

But does this matter? There will always be people who can’t get enough of sweet chocolatey fragrances such as Thierry Mugler Angel and Vera Wang Princess, all of which have had great commercial success. But fragrance specialist Roja Dove says: “A whisper of cacao can be much more alluring than the sugary whack in the face you get from chocolate.”

Cacao also featured in subtle combinations in Tom Ford’s 2007 Private Blend Tobacco Vanille and the 2012 Jean Paul Gaultier Kokorico, and is one of the main notes in Dove’s fragrance Amber Extrait, which is due for release in May. He describes it as “an oriental unisex scent and the cacao gives a rich dry quality to it with no hint of the Milk Tray man”.



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