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CHOC FULL OF BEAUTY BENEFITS

I've just about gotten this beauty thing figured out.

I drink tons of water, opt for regular facials and apply eye cream nightly. And just when the habits required to look great have become second nature, chocolate - that acne-inducing lover from the past - is back. Did I mention it's also supposed to be good for us?

That's right; experts say cocoa-infused beauty products stimulate circulation, thanks to trace amounts of caffeine, while serving as a natural skin soother that is full of antioxidants. So this week, I've rounded up some of the most chocolicious products on the market - all taste-tested and approved, of course!

Whip Stick Lip Balm (Lush)

You gotta love Lush. Committed to natural ingredients long before it was hip to do so, Lush's International beauty boutiques serve up homegrown products with a sophistication not found at your local farmer's market. And thanks to their new Tampa Bay outpost, Lush's fresh, handmade bath and beauty products are accessible to Tampa Bay beauty aficionados. I'm enamored with the Whip Stick Lip Balm ($8.45), bursting with yummy ingredients such as olive oil, honey and chocolate. And it's so fresh it actually comes with a "made on" and "use by" date. Lush products are available at www.lush.com and at the Lush boutique in International Plaza.

Cocoa Shampoo (Tact Beauty Care)

Tact Beauty Care's delicious cocoa collection boasts a bevy of must-have beauty products from Brazil. Think shower gel, massage oil, shampoo, conditioner, lotion and more, all inspired by a passion for cocoa and its mood enhancing properties. The Cocoa Shampoo ($10) is an ultra-mild cleanser for daily use and is infused with moisture-rich ingredients such as cocoa and guarana. Available online at www.tactbeautycareusa.com

Phytosesame Express Hydrating Conditioner (Phyto)

The packaging of Phyto's Phytosesame Express Hydrating Conditioner ($28) is more clinical than decadent. But my skepticism ended when I pumped the first application of this hair-saving conditioner into my hand. The scent is amazing, thanks to a high concentration of cocoa butter, a natural fat that is actually extracted during the chocolate-making process. And, as promised, the conditioner, recommended for dry and over-processed hair, soothed my long curly locks without weighing them down. Log on to www.phyto-usa.com to locate a salon retailer near you.

The Chocolate Pedicure (Natural Health Studio)

For those who like their sweet treats served up on a silver platter, there's nothing more deliciously decadent than the Chocolate Pedicure ($60) at Natural Health Studio in Temple Terrace. The traditional pampering of this upscale spa's top-notch pedicures are enhanced by the addition of signature chocolate-scented products to soothe and moisturize those tired toes. Wanna try before you buy? Book a complimentary spot at the spa's open house and indulge in mini-spa services, wine, chocolate covered-strawberries and more. It's from 5 to 7 p.m. Feb. 12 at Natural Health Studio Day Spa, 11103 N 56th St., Temple Terrace. Consumers must RSVP to attend, (813) 899-2999.

They say that what goes around comes around. So for now, I'm eager to accept chocolate back into my life.

- Carolyn Brundage is the founder of TampaBayBeauty.com, a guide to all that is hip and happening in local beauty. Need beauty advice? E-mail Carolyn at carolyn@prettycity.com.

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