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Coffee in the Raw: Benefits of Topical Application of Coffee


by Nancy Scuderi

Coffee has a revitalizing richness recognized for centuries as a natural curative, and many feel they need it to get going every morning. But it may be a surprise to know the caffeine so desired in a morning cup of java, or that coffee addiction that perpetuates a ritual coffeehouse run can also add shine and beauty to hair and skin when used in shampoos, conditioners, body scrubs and other skin care products. Coffee has a pH balance perfectly aligned with the human body and offers antioxidant protection. Coffee and its major constituent, caffeine, can provide beauty and shine in hair, stimulate hair follicle growth and promote smoother-looking skin.

pH Balance

Coffee has a pH of 4.5 to 5.0, which is very close to the human body, therefore making it an excellent cleanser. pH (potential of Hydrogen) measures the acidity or alkalinity of a solution. A balanced pH is critical to maintaining healthy hair and skin.

Skin is the largest organ of the body. Maintaining the proper pH balance is vital to skin’s health, protecting it from harmful bacteria and external contaminants that can lead to acne, infection or irritation. Skin’s first line of defense is an outer layer that sits on top of the epidermis. This layer has a natural pH of 4.5 to 5.5, slightly acidic. Many of the bacteria and chemical contaminants that try to penetrate the skin are alkaline in nature (pH greater than 7). The skin’s natural acidity neutralizes these chemicals and bacteria. Below the epidermis is the dermis, which is composed mainly of collagen and elastin, and gives skin its strength and elasticity. Retaining moisture in the dermis is an important factor in smooth, soft skin.

Hair is made up of complex proteins that originate in the hair follicle. Each individual strand of hair is composed of three distinct layers: The cuticle, a shingle-like layer of overlapping cells, acts as a protective barrier for the soft inner structure. When the cuticle is damaged, hair appears dull, tangles easily and has a rough texture. The cortex, beneath the cuticle, provides hair’s strength and retains moisture. The medulla is the innermost layer and affects the way hair interacts with light. Many shampoos and conditioners have a very high pH balance, making it harder to get hair truly clean. A shampoo with high pH causes hair cuticle cells to swell, become rough and contributes to residue retention. Hair and skin care products made with brewed coffee truly clean the hair, giving it critical bounce and shine.

Some studies advocate coffee as a stimulant for follicle growth. A study published by the International Journal of Dermatology (2007;46(1):27-35) concluded, “Caffeine was identified as a stimulator of human hair growth in vitro; a fact which may have important clinical impact in the management of androgenetic alopecia (AGA).”  AGA is a common form of hair loss that occurs in both men and women. Caffeine blocks the effects of DHT, which damages hair follicles. Hair follicles shrink if there is too much DHT in the bloodstream; hair becomes thinner and grows less rapidly. A shampoo made with brewed coffee or added caffeine left on the scalp for two minutes per day has the ability to penetrate the hair follicle and prevent DHT damage.

Antioxidant Protection

Indeed, researchers are now focusing on the benefits of a topical application of coffee for everything from the reduction of UV skin damage (Carcinogenesis. 2007;28(1):199–206) to stimulation of hair growth and elimination of cellulite. A common thread in recent studies is s focus on the antioxidant properties of coffee.  Antioxidants repel disease and promote good health by protecting cells from free radicals—harmful oxygen molecules thought to damage cells, and are linked to cancer, atherosclerosis, Alzheimer's disease and rheumatoid arthritis. Free radicals are thought to be a main reason why we age. The amount of antioxidant protection generated from a topical application of coffee is in direct proportion to the amount of brewed or ground coffee in the beauty or cosmetic product. Shampoos and shower gels formulated with brewed coffee impart more antioxidant protection than those made only with coffee oils or coffee extracts.

The antioxidants in coffee beans number in the hundreds and increase, exponentially, when the beans are roasted. The most important antioxidant family is polyphenols, which include:

  • Flavanoids—Protection against UV radiation and pathogen aggression
  • Trigonelline—Anti-bacterial properties
  • Chlorogenic Acid—Prevents cellular degeneration
  • Caffeic Acid—Anti-inflammatory

"Caffeine rubbed on the skin … would absolutely work to improve the appearance of cellulite," said dermatologist and La Jolla Spa medical director Mitchel Goldman, who conducted a study using caffeine-laced anti-cellulite cream. Of the 34 women in the study, 25 noticed a decrease in thigh circumference (Business 2.0; October 2006)

The presence of toxins and fatty substances create cellulite and decrease antioxidant absorption in affected areas. A topical application of coffee through a shower gel or body scrub containing coffee, caffeine and/or ground coffee to cellulite-prone areas ensures the proper absorption of the beneficial antioxidants contained in coffee. By massaging the coffee product into the affected areas, the fatty tissue begins to break down, blood flow is increased and exfoliation occurs. This three-pronged approach is critical to removing toxins and improving the appearance of cellulite.

Educating the consumer on the benefits of a topical application of coffee and/or caffeine is critical for existing and emerging coffee-based natural beauty products to succeed in the marketplace. The more than 100 million coffee consumers in the United States need to be made aware of the beneficial properties of their drink of choice. They should be informed they can have their morning pick-me-up even before they step out of the shower.

Nancy Scuderi is a long-time entrepreneur and consultant with more than 25 years experience in the manufacturing industry. She served as controller and eventually executive director for The Mid-America Committee, an international organization, conducting trade missions to open new markets in Eastern and Western Europe. Nancy leads product development, accounting/finance and compliance for Barista Bath and Body.



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