Chocolate-based cosmetic products and wellness treatments are popular these days. You can bathe in hot chocolate, rub warm dark chocolate on your skin and put on a creamy chocolate face pack. But experts say that chocolate pampers the senses more than the skin.

Chocolate, to begin with, is chock-full of calories. This sweet temptation is not merely a palate-pleaser, though. Eaten regularly in small quantities, it can even lengthen your life. A long-term study by the German Institute of Human Nutrition found that eating six grams of dark chocolate daily reduces the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

So chocolate taken internally can be healthy. But does applying it externally have the benefits that are advertised for the many chocolaty shampoos, creams and oils on the market? Do the many chocolate treatments offered by spas and beauty parlours really beautify the skin? Hans Meffert, a dermatologist in Berlin, is sceptical. “It’s more of a psychological effect,” he said, “The feeling, in other words, that chocolate is doing you good.” Chocolate does, in fact, have components that can do the skin good. “It’s been proven that the cocoa butter in chocolate gently lubricates the skin and can thereby protect dry skin from moisture loss,” Meffert said. A research team from Germany’s Muenster University discovered that a component of cocoa beans can even heal wounds and stimulate skin cell growth.

“These beneficial components are only minimally present in beauty products, however, and don’t have these dermatological effects,” Meffert noted.

Sabine Zenker, a dermatologist and vein expert in Munich, also cautions against expecting too much of chocolate—based cosmetics.

“There are much better skin care products than those with chocolate extracts,” she said.

So is there anything to the chocolate trend in cosmetics and wellness treatments? “Chocolate products and treatments simply make your body feel unbelievably pleasant both during and after use,” said Kerstin Moog, manager of a spa in the German town of Bad Zwischenahn.

For a price of more than 200 euros (about 280 dollars), spa guests can have a three-hour luxury treatment beginning with immersion in hot chocolate cream baths. This is followed by a full-body chocolate peel on a hot stone, a chocolate face pack in a steam bath and the application of warm “gold oil” to the body.

The beautifying effect is caused less by the chocolate than by other ingredients, for example shea butter. “After all, chocolate alone would immediately harden,” Moog pointed out. “The creams, lotions, peels and baths are put together in a way that has an optimal effect on the skin and feels pleasant.” The main contribution made by chocolate is its aroma. “It awakens memories of childhood and releases happiness hormones,” Meffert said.

“Bathing in chocolate makes you feel that you’re treating yourself to something very luxurious and special.” Caution is advised for people wanting to enjoy chocolate treatments at home, however. Homemade chocolate face packs or peels with liquid chocolate could do more harm than good, Zenker warned.

“The melted chocolate can be too hot for the skin,” she said. And a face pack mixed at home may overstrain sensitive skin that inflames easily.

Cocoa powder contains phenylethylamine, theobromine, anandamide and tryptophan, all of which are known to have mood-enhancing and stimulating effects. But the presence of these substances does not provide sufficient scientific proof that chocolate makes people happy.

“The main effects of chocolate are psychological,” remarked Meffert, who said that consuming chocolate was a kind of self-reward.

Results of a study last year by researchers at the University of California in San Diego suggest a link between mood and chocolate.

The study, which used a sample of about 1,000 adults, found that people eat more chocolate when they are sad or in a bad mood. So chocolate really does seem to enhance mood, at least sometimes.

In Meffert’s view, this psychological aspect likely explains the pull of chocolate-based cosmetics.

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