Published July 18, 2005
If you think chocolate satisfies your sweet tooth, you should see what it does for your skin.
Taking their inspiration from the Oompa-Loompas, beauty mavens around the country are turning the body into a human confectionary, leaving many to wonder why they spent their teenage years avoiding Mars Bars.
"Chocolate is very rejuvenating for your skin. It is moisturizing and good for cell renewal," said Howard Kohlenberg, owner of Manhattan's Le Petit Spa (search), an upscale oasis that features chocolate-based manicures, pedicures, body scrubs and massages.
Kohlenberg's is only one of many spas preaching chocolate's health and beauty benefits. And customers agree: taking care of one's skin never felt or smelled so good.
Purely for the sake of research — or so my editor thinks — I decided get a taste of what this chocolate trend is all about. This mild-mannered reporter transformed into ... the Human Bonbon.
My first stop was the spa at The Hotel Hershey (search), in Hershey, Pa., where signature services include a Chocolate Fondue Wrap ($105), Whipped Cocoa Bath ($45), Chocolate Bean Body Polishing ($60) and Cocoa Massage ($50-$150).
While awaiting my cocoa massage, my nose was dazzled by the scent of chocolate, and my hands were drawn to the Hershey Kisses conveniently scattered about the waiting areas.
But that was nothing compared to the treat of the actual rubdown. At first it seemed like something I should be doing with my husband, but after the first five minutes I was already half asleep, and I had forgotten that he was waiting for me back in the hotel room.
Fellow spa patron Audrie Franco, of Fairfax, Va., equally enjoyed her stay in chocolate city.
"I've been to several spas, but here you just feel like you are being lapped in luxuries," said 39-year-old Franco, who also received a cocoa massage. "I'm a chocoholic, so it was even nice being able to pick at the chocolate Kisses."
Next up was a Godiva Chocolate Body Wrap at Manhattan's Ajune spa (search). Aesthetician Zaza Murariu generously applied the muddy mixture to my skin before engulfing it in tin foil.
"Caffeine stimulates the circulatory system and firms the skin. It's very high-quality chocolate so it does more for the skin," said Murariu, who rinsed me off with warm water after the sweet 20 minutes were up.
Becoming a Peppermint Pattie was never a dream of mine, but it was fulfilled regardless when a masseuse at Le Petit Spa kneaded chocolate mint oil into my shoulder blades.
An accompanying pedicure, which included a chocolate mint scrub, paraffin treatment and tootsie polish, capped off my Sunday, leaving me relaxed, softened and ready to break out the sandals.
Tuesday began with a hot chocolate eyebrow wax at Manhattan's Charm Beauty Salon. The Choco Wax (search), from the Spanish beauty company Cemsa, was viscous in texture yet hurt minimally as it was applied in stages.
For the non spa-goer who wants to have her chocolate cake and bathe in it too, there are plenty of products available that are made with cocoa.
In fact, the market and research firm Global News Products Database (search) at Mintel found that in 2004 alone, at least 85 new cocoa-based skin treatments popped onto the beauty scene.
For instance, Chocolate Indulgence makes a chocolate vitamin-E hand cream, while Nestle sells Crunch and Nesquik chocolate-scented lip balms.
Other noted beauty products include Nuxe Phytochoc Lifting Serum for the face, which uses cocoa protein and cocoa polyphenols; Eco Bella's Organic Dark Chocolate Mask and Serendipity 3's Chocolatress Shampoo and Conditioner and Frrrozen Hot Chocolate Foot Cream, just to name a few.
Leah Porter, vice president of scientific affairs for Chocolate Manufacturers Association (search) in Vienna, Va., said chocolate as a beauty agent is not a new phenomenon.
"The mid-19th century is when you first started seeing cocoa butter being used as a moisturizer as opposed to cocoa only as a food product. That seems to be when the two crossed paths," she said.
What is new is the notion that chocolate can have internal health benefits. Porter cited a study in the June issue of the American Journal of Hypertension (search), which showed that eating dark chocolate had a protective effect on the cardiovascular system.
Despite all the positive press, chocolate, when eaten in excess, can be hazardous to one's health, which is why using it for beautification purposes seems to be the best way to indulge.
"We are very concerned about obesity, particularly in the U.S.," said Porter. "We want to make sure that what the research says is conveyed in a way that people know that they have to eat a healthy diet ... We are trying to get people to incorporate it into their diet other than as a dessert or as a treat."
And while it may not taste as good, a chocolate facial or beauty wrap might be just what the doctor ordered.
Dr. Alan Hirsch, neurological director of the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation of Chicago (search), said putting chocolate on the skin to induce a functional effect is the brownie of the future.
"Chocolate food can impact upon different parts of the brain because it has substances that produce feelings of euphoria," he said. "Just the smell of it for many individuals is enough to cause the same effects that eating it can produce."
But take it from the Human Bonbon: One chocolate body wrap, two chocolate massages, one chocolate pedicure and one chocolate eyebrow wax later, I could still go for a Kit Kat right now.