I Got an Exfoliating Chocolate Massage in Belize, and Loved It So Much I Learned How To Recreate It at Home

Photo: Getty Images/ nensuria
The clocks seem to stop in Central America—especially when it's blanketed in warm sunshine and tropical weather. It was exactly that kind of day when I stepped into the lush Sirenian Bay resort spa in Placencia, Belize, and was enveloped in the tranquility of the surrounding weather. I also got a strong whiff of chocolate.

Belize is a country framed by ancient Mayan customs that have left an indelible mark on today’s culture. One of these influences is the cultivation and production of cacao, which has been a vital part of the local economy. Now, it’s also part of Sirenian Bay’s spa program.

The beauty benefits of cacao

“The Mayans believed cacao is a gift from the Gods and they could use it for anything,” says Jen Ortiz, Siren’s Spa manager.

Besides using cacao as a form of currency, Mayan women started fermenting and drying beans to crush them into a soft paste for their face and bodies. Turns out, the ingredient has a number of skin health benefits including anti-aging and anti-inflammatory properties. According to Ortiz, the beans also contain glyceride, which delivers moisturizing lipids and fats that plump out wrinkles, as well as magnesium and potassium, which calm the body, reduce stress, and fend off the free-radical damage that causes visible signs of skin aging.

My chocolate massage experience

To put the skin-health benefits of cacao to the test, I indulged in a Belizean chocolate scrub made with the most common Trinitario beans. As an avid chocolate lover, I was curious about how one of my favorite treats is capable of producing a therapeutic response. The dimly lit room was filled with the sweet aroma of freshly crushed cacao beans as the massage therapist prepared the chocolate scrub concoction. She carefully heated the mixture of extra virgin coconut oil and the hand-grinded cacao beans using a warm plate, ensuring that it was just the right temperature for my skin.

As I lay on the massage table, she draped a warm, damp cloth over my body, gently wiping away any dead cells and awakening my pores. Then, she applied the warm chocolate scrub to my skin, beginning with my upper body and slowly working her way down to my legs. With extra care, she applied pressure to my thighs, calves, and arms, skillfully relieving tension and soreness in my muscles. About 30 minutes later, she polished my body with a secondary chocolate mask, made by local cacao farmers who have the machinery to create a fine powder that they blend with warm water and Mayan clay to form a perfect paste. This scrub felt slightly grittier, but not too abrasive. Once my body was fully coated in the chocolatey goodness, she treated my face, leaving my skin feeling rejuvenated and glowing. I was wrapped in a plastic sheet to allow my pores to absorb all the nutrients from the cacao. After 15 minutes, the mask had settled, and it was time to unwrap and shower it off.

After returning to my hotel room, I couldn't help but notice the lingering smell of chocolate on my skin. As I ran my fingers through my hair, I found small particles of chocolate still buried within the strands. Another shower was needed to remove any traces of the delicious scrub, though the experience was worth it.  The Belizean chocolate scrub massage was more than just a relaxing treatment; it was also an excellent exfoliator. The natural grit of the scrub helped remove dead skin cells, leaving my skin smoother and brighter.

As I only received a single treatment, I couldn't determine if there were any anti-aging benefits. However, like with any skin-care routine, consistency is key and it’s likely that there are long-term results observed with frequent application.

Recreating a chocolate massage at home

Though the beauty industry has found a cosmetic way to incorporate cacao into treatments, experiencing a chocolate massage doesn’t have to require jetting off to Belize. In fact, anyone can recreate this chocolate scrub mask at home, though it is recommended to do it in the shower to avoid the mess and to properly prepare it with freshly dried cacao beans.

“For a single use it is recommended to use 8 tablespoons of crushed cacao and 4 tablespoons of coconut oil,” explains Ortiz. “For the chocolate mask, you can use 4 tbsp of cacao powder, 1 tbsp of Mayan clay, and a half a cup of warm water. If you can’t find the cacao bean for the scrub, add three tablespoons of granulated brown sugar to replicate exfoliation properties.”

Like with any other treatment, moderation is key. Though applying raw cacao has the same benefits as actually eating it, like reducing cortisol levels, some people might have a reaction to theobromine and should avoid the substance. Also, according to Ortiz, using cacao in excess may give some consumers a headache due to its strong aroma.

With that in mind, consider this your sign to go ahead and—literally—"treat" yourself.

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