Now that I’ve worked with three different waxes for these quick guides, I thought I’d try cocoa butter. Cocoa butter is a wonderful ingredient—brittle, cocoa scented, and velvety soft on the skin. It melts at about 34°C, which is just a few degrees below body temperature, and it doesn’t really have a soft stage, making it rather unique in skin care formulations.
Because cocoa butter melts about 30°C cooler than beeswax, I decided to run this experiment a bit differently than my wax experiments. Instead of doing 1:1 through 1:8, I did 4:1 though 1:5. That is, I did four parts cocoa butter to one part liquid oil all the way up to one part cocoa butter and five parts liquid oil. As usual, I worked in 1 gram increments (so 1:5 is 1 gram cocoa butter, 5 grams liquid oil), and my liquid oil was plain olive oil. The first number is always the cocoa butter, and the second number is always the olive oil.
I labelled each little tin, melted them one by one in a water bath, and then let them set up on my kitchen counter for a week since cocoa butter takes a really long time to solidify at room temperature. It was about a full day before I saw any solids forming in my wee tins.
As the days passed, the mixtures didn’t so much solidify as precipitate. The more cocoa butter that was in the mixture, the larger the blobs would be. The 1:5 ended up with tiny little specks of cocoa butter floating in a small puddle of olive oil.
Because the mixtures solidified so strangely at room temperature, I melted them down a second time after making my initial observations. This time I did them all at once in the oven until just melted, and then I popped them all in the fridge so they could set up faster. I removed the tins from the fridge after about 5 hours, at which point all of them had solidified to some degree. I then let them return to room temperature before doing a second set of observations. In general, though, the quick-cool versions came out much smoother—no mottling this time. They did, however, have an almost sandy/sugary texture. There were small, visible particles in the mixtures that you couldn’t feel as they’d melt straight away. Interesting.
Let the observations begin!
4:1—After coming to room temperature for a week there are distinct rounds of cocoa butter in a rather mottled looking solid. Firm, melts like cocoa butter does when handled (just a little bit and it slowly brings up a bit of oil). I can scrape up small bits with my finger nail, and those small shavings melt into the skin quickly and smoothly. Cannot press through it with a fingertip. After a second melt and quick chill the mixture is smoother, but still the same firmness.
3:1—Still mottled looking and solid. Massaging the surface lightly coats the fingers with oil. Scratching at the surface with a fingernail brings up shavings that melt into the skin quickly, going from a semi-soft texture to liquid very quickly. Cannot press through with a fingertip. After a second melt and quick chill the mixture is smooth, but the same otherwise.
2:1—Still a mottled looking solid. Massaging the surface lightly coats the fingers, but it cannot be pressed through with a fingertip. Quite easy to scrape through with a fingernail. Shavings melt quickly and are smooth. After a second melt and quick chill the set mixture is much smoother but seems to be a touch “sandy” in appearance (no change to texture though). It can be pressed through easily with a fingertip. Melts quickly and smoothly.
1:1—A mottled semi-solid. I can press through this one with my fingertip easily. Melts fairly quickly on contact with the skin. Smooth and soft, would make a nice soft body butter. After a second melt and quick chill the final mixture is smooth and very soft. Pressing with the tip of the thumb brings up a good amount of product, which melts quickly. The mixture looks almost as if it has some fine particles of sugar in it, but you cannot feel them.
1:2—This is the first one that has more liquid oil than cocoa butter, and it didn’t really set up. There’s cocoa butter on one side of the tin, and oil with little dots of cocoa butter on the other side. The cocoa butter is too soft to be pure cocoa butter, so it’s obviously incorporated some of the liquid oil. After a second melt and quick chill the final mixture is very soft, and has a very distinct grainy appearance, but you cannot feel the grains.
1:3—The cocoa butter really isn’t doing anything here—there are just little dots of cocoa butter floating in a pool of oil. The oil is not noticeably more viscous. After a second melt and quick chill the mixture sets up more evenly and now looks like a semi-thickened oil. Not solid at all to the touch, seems like the fine sand/sugar like particles I’ve noticed in previous batches are now floating in a pool of oil.
1:4—This one is also basically just liquid oil with dots of cocoa butter floating in it. The oil is not noticeably more viscous. After a second melt and quick chill the mixture sets up more evenly and appears to be a soft solid, though it is much softer than that to the touch. After poking it with my finger it mostly liquifies and the sandy-like cocoa butter is obviously not well incorporated.
1:5—More oil, fewer cocoa dots. The oil is not noticeably more viscous. After a second melt and quick chill the small dots are finer and more dispersed. The final result is definitely still a liquid.
Some lessons learned:
- Cocoa butter is not a very good thickener
- All mixtures thickened with cocoa butter are nice and smooth—there’s no stickiness, which also means you don’t get the kind of staying power you get from balms thickened with beeswax
- When allowed to cool at room temperature you get a rather odd mottled texture or wee dots of cocoa butter floating in oil
- When chilled quickly lower concentrations have a rather sandy appearance