Dietary antioxidants contribute to endogenous photoprotection and are important for the maintenance of skin health. In the present study, 2 groups of women consumed either a high flavanol (326 mg/d) or low flavanol (27 mg/d) cocoa powder dissolved in 100 mL water for 12 wk. Epicatechin (61 mg/d) and catechin (20 mg/d) were the major flavanol monomers in the high flavanol drink, whereas the low flavanol drink contained 6.6 mg epicatechin and 1.6 mg catechin as the daily dose. Photoprotection and indicators of skin condition were assayed before and during the intervention. Following exposure of selected skin areas to 1.25 x minimal erythemal dose (MED) of radiation from a solar simulator, UV-induced erythema was significantly decreased in the high flavanol group, by 15 and 25%, after 6 and 12 wk of treatment, respectively, whereas no change occurred in the low flavanol group. The ingestion of high flavanol cocoa led to increases in blood flow of cutaneous and subcutaneous tissues, and to increases in skin density and skin hydration. Skin thickness was elevated from 1.11 +/- 0.11 mm at wk 0 to 1.24 +/- 0.13 mm at wk 12; transepidermal water loss was diminished from 8.7 +/- 3.7 to 6.3 +/- 2.2 g/(h x m2) within the same time frame. Neither of these variables was affected in the low flavanol cocoa group. Evaluation of the skin surface showed a significant decrease of skin roughness and scaling in the high flavanol cocoa group compared with those at wk 12. Dietary flavanols from cocoa contribute to endogenous photoprotection, improve dermal blood circulation, and affect cosmetically relevant skin surface and hydration variables.