June 28

A Chocolate Tan


Another one of those little news tidbits that Mike finds throughout the day and posts on the home page had the most intriguing title: Chocolate as sunscreen.

Now you’re talking.

The thrust of the piece is that research has suggested that when we eat dark cocoa, the catechins (flavanoid antioxidant compounds) in it make their way into the upper skin layers and aggregate there, knocking off free radicals, thickening the dermal layer (read that combating wrinkles), and plumping and moisturizing the skin.

Cocoa. Who knew?

So were all those buckets of cocoa butter I slathered on in my salad days before I went out to brown myself to a turn…I mean tan…actually protecting my skin? Maybe so. Certainly cocoa butter has had a folk lore reputation for being good for the skin for eons and is known to contain abundant antioxidants to protect its delicate oils from going rancid.

However, in this particular study the skin benefits came from actually consuming the dark cocoa, not rubbing it on, although the authors did speculate that it might also be beneficial to add these concentrated flavanoids to skin products as well, basically another angle that deserved a research look. To my knowledge, to date that look hasn’t been taken–or at least hasn’t been published.

I can’t think of tanning in my youth without remembering some of the bizarre concoctions we came up with to promote that golden glow–all learned fifth hand from that prolific purveyor of useful information:


As in somebody said you could get a darker tan if you add iodine to your baby oil.

As Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up. We actually did it. Or tried to.

Iodine is, of course, water-based. Baby oil is precisely what its name says it is and never the two shall mix. Did it work? Who knows. Maybe it prevented our developing goiters.

But whatever it did or didn’t do in the way of promoting a glorious tan, we did get our exercise trying to shake it into a relative suspension. If only I’d known then what I know now about food chemistry, I could have popped an egg yolk or a teaspoon or two of prepared mustard into it and made a nice emulsion–actually sort of a toxic vinaigrette. Now that I think of it, perhaps it’s fortunate that I didn’t know or I would surely have tried it.

The things we did for beauty in our misbegotten youth. Help me!

I recall, at about age 16 or 17, standing in the check out line at the Piggly Wiggly grocery store with my economy sized bottle of Johnson’s Baby Oil and a big bottle of iodine, when I overheard the lady ahead of me say that somebody (there’s that source again) heard from somebody who had been there (and that’s not just any old somebody) that in St. Tropez they used olive oil and iodine to get that famous St. Tropez tan. I couldn’t trade my bottle of powdery-fresh-scented baby oil for one of Pompeian olive oil fast enough.

Let me assure you that smearing that concoction all over your skin gives a whole new meaning to the term ‘salad days’ .

But enough of nostalgia; back to chocolate.

The study suggested that the protective and rejuvenating benefits cocoa imparts to the skin come from consuming pretty hefty doses of the flavanols; you’d need to eat about 3 ounces a day of dark chocolate. That might be good for the skin, but not for what the skin covers, since the bitterness of the cocoa has to be tempered with something and that something is usually a lot of sugar, not to mention containing hundreds of calories.

Amazingly, however, the Mars candy company has come up with a way of processing cocoa that preserves the flavanoid compounds which are depleted significantly by most processing methods. Higher flavanoid content means that much less cocoa can get the job done. So far, there’s only one product that contains this “super cocoa” and that’s the Cocoa Via bars they mention in the article.

We tried them when they were first released in limited fashion a year or two ago. They’re quite good, though not really low carb (nor intended to be.) But because they’re small (a good thing) each one only has about 15 grams of carb. Too much for an intervention level snack, but doable on maintenance. Mike and I occasionally split one as a little cocoa treat with an afternoon cup of coffee.

Who knew that by doing it we were plumping our skin, protecting it from free radicals, and helping to prevent sunburn. How times have changed since my salad days.

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  1. Perhaps that’s why I haven’t burned this year? I had made some almond-coconut bark (coconut oil, butter, parifin, black cocoa, dutch cocoa, almonds, coconut) and ate it till it was gone. I find that even though we are out in the heat of the day with the dogs running/briskly walking, I am getting some colour; not red and blistered, as I might usually.

    COMMENT from MD EADES: Maybe so. And even if it wasn’t why, the almond-coconut bark sounds really good.

  2. When I first started low-carbing, I used to make the famous “Lynne’s chocolate” (recipe here: http://www.camacdonald.com/lc/Cookbook/0804.html)

    I didn’t used to like dark chocolate, but over the years, my tastebuds have changed so much that the milk-type chocolate, even in the low-carb version, tastes incredibly sweet… to a cloying degree.

    I now buy Lindt’s Excellence 85% cocoa bars. It is not a diet item at all, and is made with just regular old sugar. The thing is that if you start with 85% cocoa, add enough cocoa butter to turn it into chocolate, there just isn’t enough room for much sugar in there. These come in huge gigantic bars and are available at just regular grocery stores and such. The packaging says 4 squares is a serving, but I usually have 2. They have 5 net gram of carb per 4 squares. I buy 5 bars at a time, every six months or so.

    COMMENT from MD EADES: Yes, the Lindt bars are really good. There’s a fine line between not enough sugar and just barely enough sugar and those hit the mark.
    They’re awesome if you just pop a square in your mouth and drink coffee while it melts away. They’re also awesome melted for dipping strawberries into!

  3. I am going to say right up front that I am a distributor of a healthy chocolate product line called Xocai. So am I biased? Well maybe just a little! haha I have recently started supplying Xocai dark chocolate to tanning salons for the very reasons outlined in this post. I love Xocai chocolate because it is the only USDA ORAC tested chocolate anywhere. The ORAC test is what determines the antioxidant count in a substance. Cocoa Via or Hersheys may claim to have high flavonal content, but they have no ORAC statement on their labels. Why? They use traditional processing methods that involve roasting the cocoa bean and thereby destroying much of the antioxidant value so their products don’t match up to the science of healthy raw organic cocoa. See CocoaPower.com for nutrition information.

    COMMENT from MD EADES: Thanks for the info; we’ll have to check it out.

  4. How much baby oil and how much iodine do u mix together?

    COMMENT from MD EADES: The baby oil and iodine method of tanning isn’t something that I said I would recommend doing, just a comment about something we did as foolish kids in our misbegotten youth. Who knows if it’s even safe to smear tincture of iodine in oil all over yourself? It’s probably toxic. Besides, as with the old coppertone product, the tan tends toward the orange end of the spectrum.

    However, as a matter of historical record, we used to put a little drug-store bottle of tincture of iodine (the kind with the little glass wand on the screw cap) into what I remember as being about a 12 to 16-ounce bottle of baby oil. It doesn’t disperse, since oil and water don’t mix, and looks something like a lava lamp. To mix it, we had to shake the beejeebers out of it before every application.

  5. For the record:
    1)In my opinion baby oil with some iodine has merit. Not good for getting that base tan, but helps when tan has been established.
    2)Adding strait Coca-Cola to the mix even jacks the mixture up more. (Sounds ridiculous I know, but just try it. Please don’t go with strait Coke as the ants and flies will be feasting ou you, and within 2 minutes you’ll begin to feel like a candied yam.)
    3)I have been experimenting with a strong coffee brew as well with positive results, but I can’t stand smelling like a cuban espresso stand for more than a few minutes.
    4) Additional Vitamin C and a small daily dose of copper also help.
    * I am fair skinned and all of the above allow me to get a rich DEEP bronze tan. The secret again is to never allow you skin to burn. The burn is our arch enemy.

  6. Franco,

    What ratio do you mix the oil, iodine, and Coke?

    I’m also fair-skinned and CAN tan pretty well… but mostly after having had a few sunburns. :-

    Also, is there any protection in that mix from UV rays? Or would it still give you a nice color after applying sunscreen to your skin?


    COMMENT from MD EADES: Please don’t misunderstand, I was not recommending using baby oil and iodine, just commenting that it was one of the idiotic things we did as kids to try to get a better tan. And I don’t recall that there was any Coke in it.

  7. Can you use the baby oil and iodine in indoor tanning beds if you use it for a base tan…..

    COMMENT from MD EADES: I fear you missed the point of this article. I was not advocating using baby oil and iodine or olive oil and iodine or Crisco; I was merely pointing up what crazy things my friends and I did in our misguided youth to get a tan. The best and safest way to tan is slow slow slow. Small exposures regularly over time to encourage the gradual build up of melanin pigment. The only way to get a really deep and beautiful tan IMHO to have the genetics for it. Some skin tans easily, some skin burns or freckles. That’s just the luck of the draw.

  8. I eat Xocai cold pressed healthy chocolate and it has been helpful for me. I used to burn all the time as I have very fair skin but eating Xocai healthy chocolate has helped. Eating a ton of antioxidants and flavanols found in this chocolate has been helpful to my health overall.

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