Chocolate. Nuts. Coffee. Sugar. Salt. If we were playing “The $20,000 Pyramid” right now, you might reasonably guess, “Things that are good for you in moderation.”Wrong answer. The truth is, there’s nothing remotely moderate about, say, being covered then cocooned in molten chocolate. Yet this increasingly common spa treatment couldn’t be better for you: Think radiant, smooth, absurdly soft skin -- to say nothing of chocolate’s antioxidant and anti-irritant properties.
Point is, no matter what the ingestible versions of these treats do to your weight, blood pressure or bone density, the topical versions induce zero guilt -- and serious beauty benefits. And some of these mesmerizing goodies even offer teeth-enhancing benefits if you do choose to please your taste buds. So it’s certainly time to indulge.
Let’s start with the granddaddy of all treats (or great-great-great-granddaddy, if you consider the millennium-traversing history of chocolate consumption in Mesoamerica). “Dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants, which can help reverse free-radical damage,” says New York City dermatologist Doris Day. “In addition, the inherent caffeine content has anti-irritant properties.” Hence cacao’s ever-increasing presence in body butters, balms and lotions.
Can’t get South of the Border? Slather on a cocoa-infused body butter after a warm shower to enhance absorption.
The most indulgent variation on the theme? The Xocol-Ha Wrap and Coffee Scrub at the Spa at Grand Velas Riviera Maya in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, where Veracruz-grown beans are ground to skin-stimulating perfection.
Caffeine in coffee beans relieves skin irritation, just like chocolate. But coffee beans’ primary benefit to your skin is exfoliation -- at least when they’re ground up and massaged on to your extremities, notes Day.
At home, look for natural scrubs featuring coffee extracts. Or make your own: Combine 2 cups of coarsely ground coffee, 1/2 cup of cup raw sugar or sea salt, and 3 teaspoons of massage oil. Rub it across your body in circular motions to stimulate blood flow.
Salt treatments, by contrast, can dry you out, and are consequently good for oily or acne-prone skin. Psoriasis sufferers can benefit from salt as well. “Simply -- and gently -- working some coarse sea salt over pre-moistened skin in the shower should help,” says Day.
Sugar and Salt
Sugar and salt are excellent exfoliants, but the sweet stuff is better for sensitive-skinned people. “It simply dissolves as you scrub,” according to Day.
For a far girlier take on getting gritty, check out the Magnolia Sugar Scrub at the Spa at the Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans, where the granules in question are bathed in magnolia essence and various botanicals. Drug-store brand sugar scrubs can be used daily in your own shower for similar benefits at a little less indulgence.
At home, look for lotions or, if you have dry hair, conditioners that contain nut extracts. For a DYI take on conditioner, combine 3 ounces almond oil with 2 ounces olive oil and five drops of lavender oil in a bottle. Shake until the ingredients are well blended. Before you shampoo, apply as much of the mixture as necessary to coat your hair from mid-strand down. After five to 10 minutes, without wetting hair, apply shampoo directly to your hair to break up the treatment. Last, add water, suds up and follow with your usual conditioner. Repeat weekly or twice per week in case of seriously sapped strands.
“Nut extracts can be very hydrating to the skin,” says Day. Macadamia and almond -- two of the most easily absorbed nuts -- figure into many scrumptious skin treatments. One standout is the Ho'ala (renewing) service at the Four Seasons Maui, where your limbs are plied with a macadamia- and sweet almond-infused lavender body butter, among other delicacies.
Bonus!It may be hard to believe, but science has found that some delectable treats can also improve your smile. Check out these fun facts:
- Coffee drinkers are less likely to have a specific type of plaque built up on their teeth. Italian researchers point to the liquid’s tannins, which may act as a powerful plaque-blocker.
- Cocoa contains a nutrient that can act as an inhibitor to plaque build-up, according to a landmark Japanese study.
- Nuts contain natural fats, proteins and vitamin D that may fortify teeth and gums.
Abbie Kozolchyk is a New York-based writer who contributes to National Geographic Traveler, Travel + Leisure, Allure and other publications.