Article by Cristal Orpilla, R.N.
Chocoholics rejoice!! As if we need more reasons to love chocolate, here’s one more: research suggests that incorporating antioxidant-rich chocolate into your diet can add extra protection against UV damage from sun exposure. A study in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology found that eating chocolate high in antioxidant flavanol helped to significantly increase the minimal erythema dose (MED). The MED is the dose of UV light needed to produce redness in the skin, or mild sun damage. The primary flavanols responsible for added sun protection were epicatechin and catechin (also found in green and white tea).
How can chocolate protect the skin?
The effect of UV protection is due to the very high flavanol content of the chocolate and its antioxidant properties. Flavanols are naturally occurring antiaxidants found in various types of plants, primarily cocoa beans. The results from the study suggest that dietary flavonoids reach the upper layers of skin and can counteract the free radicals generated from exposure to UV radiation.
What the study shows
According to the study, women between the ages of 18 and 65 were given packets of a dry cocoa powder to mix each day with 100 mL of hot water—just about a half cup. Half of the women received powder containing 329 mg of flavanols per serving; the rest of the group received powder delivering a scanty 27 mg of flavanols per serving. They were then exposed to UV light. At the end of the 12- week study, they found that the MED of the women receiving the hefty dose of flavonoids was more than double than that of the low flavanol group. The skin of the women who had received the flavonoid-rich cocoa did not redden nearly as much as the lower flavanol group. Moreover, in the high flavanol group, the subjects’ skin was 11 percent thicker, 13 percent more moist, 30 percent smoother, and 42 percent less scaly than at the beginning of the experiment. They also noted the increase in the skin’s blood flow, due to improvements in blood vessel function (this was discovered in another study linking the benefits of chocolate consumption and cardiovascular health).
The bottom line
Of course, chomping on your normal Kisses chocolate won’t give you the protection you need. The chocolate must contain high enough catechin and flavanol content to produce such UV and free radical protection. The higher the percentage of cacao, the higher the flavanol content, such as those found in unsweetened baking cocoa and dark chocolate (70% or more). It is also important to understand that eating chocolate alone is not enough to provide adequate sun protection one needs. It is a means of adding to a suncare regimen, not a replacement for it. One still needs proper sunscreen lotion to effectively combat against UV damage. That said, drink up your hot cocoa and surrender to your bittersweet confectionary indulgence!
Eating chocolate can significantly protect the skin from UV Light. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, April 2009
Cocoa antioxidants and cardiovascular health. Keen et al, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2005.