The clocks seem to stand still in Central America – especially when it’s overcast with warm sunshine and tropical weather. It was such a day as I entered the lavish Sirenian Bay Resort Spa in Placencia, Belize and was enveloped by the calm of the surrounding weather. I also noticed a strong hint of chocolate.
Belize is a country steeped in ancient Mayan customs that have left an indelible mark on today’s culture. One of these influences is the cultivation and production of cocoa, which has been an integral part of the local economy. Now it is also part of Sirenian Bay’s spa program.
The beauty benefits of cocoa
“The Mayans believed that cacao was a gift from the gods and they could use it for anything,” says Jen Ortiz, Siren’s spa manager.
In addition to using cocoa as currency, Maya women began fermenting and drying beans to grind them into a smooth paste for use on the face and body. The ingredient turns out to have a number of skin health benefits, including anti-aging and anti-inflammatory properties. According to Ortiz, the beans also contain glycerides, which provide moisturizing lipids and fats that plump up wrinkles, as well as magnesium and potassium, which calm the body, reduce stress and ward off the free radical damage that causes visible signs of aging.
My chocolate massage experience
To test the health benefits of cacao on the skin, I treated myself to a Belizean chocolate scrub made with the most common Trinitario beans. As an avid chocolate lover, I was curious how one of my favorite candies could induce a therapeutic effect. The dimly lit room was filled with the sweet aroma of freshly crushed cocoa beans while the masseur prepared the chocolate scrub. She gently heated the mixture of extra virgin coconut oil and hand-ground cacao beans on a warm plate to ensure it was just the right temperature for my skin.
As I lay on the massage table, she placed a warm, wet towel over my body, gently wiping away any dead cells and awakening my pores. She then applied the warm chocolate scrub to my skin, starting on my torso and slowly working my way down to my legs. With special care, she applied pressure to my thighs, calves, and arms, expertly releasing tension and pain in my muscles. About 30 minutes later she was buffing my body with a secondary chocolate mask made by local cacao farmers who have the machines to create a fine powder that they mix with warm water and Mayan clay to make a perfect paste. This scrub felt a little grittier but not too harsh. Once my body was completely coated in the chocolatey goodness, she treated my face, leaving my skin looking rejuvenated and glowing. I was wrapped in plastic wrap so my pores could absorb all the nutrients from the cocoa. After 15 minutes the mask had settled and it was time to unwrap it and shower off.
Returning to my hotel room, I couldn’t help but notice the lingering smell of chocolate on my skin. Running my fingers through my hair, I found small particles of chocolate still buried in the strands. Another shower was needed to remove all traces of the delicious scrub, although the experience was worth it. The Belizean Chocolate Scrub Massage was more than just a relaxing treatment; it was also an excellent exfoliant. The scrub’s natural granularity helped remove dead skin cells, leaving my skin smoother and more radiant.
Since I only received a single treatment, I was unable to determine if there were any anti-aging benefits. However, as with any skincare routine, consistency is key and long-term results are likely to be seen with frequent use.
Recreate a chocolate massage at home
Although the beauty industry has found a cosmetic way to incorporate cocoa into treatments, experiencing a chocolate massage doesn’t have to require flying to Belize. In fact, anyone can recreate this chocolate scrub mask at home, although it’s recommended to do it in the shower to avoid the mess and prepare it properly with freshly dried cocoa beans.
“For one-time use, the recommendation is to use 8 tablespoons of crushed cacao and 4 tablespoons of coconut oil,” explains Ortiz. “For the chocolate mask, you can use 4 tablespoons of cocoa powder, 1 tablespoon of Mayan clay and half a cup of warm water. If you can’t find the cocoa bean to exfoliate, add 3 tablespoons of granulated brown sugar to replicate the exfoliating properties.”
As with any other treatment, moderation is key. Although using raw cacao has the same benefits as actual consumption, such as lowering cortisol levels, some people may have a reaction to theobromine and should avoid the substance. According to Ortiz, overuse of cacao can cause headaches for some consumers because of its strong aroma.
With that in mind, take this as your sign to move on and — literally — “treat” yourself.
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