Anti-Aging Chocolate Wants to Smooth Your Skin from the Inside Out

Esthechoc is equal parts candy bar and beauty supplement that claims to help turn back the ravages of time—but don't expect to find chocolate-munching retirees waking up with their high-school faces. Sorry, Grandma.

Feb 23 2015, 11:30pm

Photo courtesy of Esthechoc.

Imagine that the first flickers of old age could be staved off by eating chocolate. Nonsense, right?

But that's exactly what one UK-based company is claiming it can do. Meet Esthechoc, a peculiarly named brand of high-end dark chocolate infused with the same antioxidant that turns shrimp pink when they're cooked. And if Esthechoc's makers are to be believed, it can also save your face from the cruel ravages of time.

Manufactured by Lycotec, a biotech company with research ties to Cambridge University, Esthechoc doesn't look all that different from your standard hipster bodega bar. (And that comes with a hipster chocolate price tag, too: When it officially launches, a box of Esthechoc will retail for £35 in the UK, or 35 Euros in Europe.) With 72.6 percent cocoa solids, it's certainly dark. But its standout ingredient is a compound called astaxanthin.

Astaxanthin has been available as an over-the-counter supplement for years—likely tucked between the bottles of potions and powders that you'd scan while looking for your bottle of Bach's Flower Remedy at Whole Foods—and there is limited evidence that it can help reverse some of the aspects of aging. One 2014 study found that, when combined with collagen hydrolysate, astaxanthin contributed to "significant improvements in skin elasticity." In another small study, 30 women both consumed and topically applied astaxanthin, which was found to improve a whole menu of skin conditions—wrinkles, crow's feet, age spots—after a mere eight weeks.

In yet another study, broiler chickens raised on a diet of astaxanthin-rich yeast displayed better texture and moisture retention than standard chickens, though their flavor remained the same. Sure, that might not be germane to human aging—but if astaxanthin could do that for chicken meat, the mind reels at what it could do to skin.

Admittedly, Esthechoc doesn't go quite that far, and the claims on its site are still couched in the language of scientific objectivity: "Clinical data confirms the biological efficacy and shows statistically significant improvements in the biochemical and metabolic parameters after three weeks of administration."

Those "biochemical and metabolic parameters" are key here. We're not talking about a chocolate bar that makes you go Goldie Hawn in Death Becomes Her, right?

I spoke with Esthechoc CEO, Ivan Petyaev, MD, about his company's claims, and asked if Esthechoc's effects on skin were, in fact, apparent to the naked eye. "Visibility is not scientific or medical parameter, hence we did not measure [it]," he told me. "Although, most of our participants were reporting significant improvement of their skin—from velvety feeling and smoothness to better appearance."

Petyaev maintained that simply taking an oral supplement of astaxanthin with a candy bar chaser wouldn't do the same thing as Esthechoc. "Our technology is not about ingredients. Pure astaxanthin or pure cocoa epicatechins would not do anything similar," he said. "To do anything significant, they must be consumed in a certain 'food-type' matrix to perform. But this would require a substantial volume of food—not near the snack level."

Basically, it comes down to the bioavailabilty of the goodies contained within a given bar. "Dark chocolate is a pretty aggressive matrix, full of enzymes which can oxidize not just omegas—95 percent get destroyed in the dark chocolate in just one month—but many other bioactives," Petyaev said. "And this comes from the origin of the chocolate, which is like blue cheese [and] is a product of bacterial and fungal fermentation. Almost nothing 'foreign' can survive in its environment."

That all sounds scientifically compelling to the layman, but what about my skin? When I pressed Petyaev as to what users could expect after three weeks of daily Esthechoc, he said: "[They can expect] changes in their level of oxidation and inflammation markers."

So, no, retirees aren't going to wake up with their high-school faces. Sorry, Grandma.

But in case you had any doubt as to who might shell out for skin-smoothing chocolate, Petyaev explained that Esthechoc will be marketed toward "affluent women and men who want to support their health and appearance."

Of course, Esthechoc is not without its detractors in the medical community. The Telegraph quoted Naveed Sattar, a professor of metabolic medicine at Glasgow University, who said, "These food claims need to be back up with trials to have any genuine credibility. Such trials are glaring by their absence, so all such health claims are unfounded."

That may be. But at £35 for a box, Esthechoc better deliver on flavor at least, if not on skin as supple as a baby's ass. "We use [the] best gourmet chocolate as a foundation for our product," Petyaev told me. "Delicious!"