Coffee and its Role in Skin Care

By The Cosmetic Chemist Staff
June 15, 2017

illustration of two woman drinking coffee

On a recent trip to Spain, I made my way to a local pharmacy in search of suncare lotion to relieve my skin from ill-effects of the powerful ultraviolet rays of the Sun. With the exception of suncare products and a very limited selection of skin care creams, the pharmacies in Spain are dedicated almost exclusively to over-the-counter and prescription medications—not like the drug stores in the United States replete with anything from cute stuffed penguins to chocolate hearts for Valentine’s Day. Nevertheless, I was surprised to find a coffee machine at the entrance of the Spanish pharmacy with a banner above describing beauty coffee capsules that contained reishi mushrooms and several other ingredients including collagen. At first, I was a bit surprised, and skeptical, by the claim that oral consumption of coffee could be beneficial for the skin. However, after a little bit of searching I found some interesting studies demonstrating the beneficial effects of coffee on the skin—taken orally and administered topically.

Body/facial scrubs, eye creams, cellulitis products, moisturizing creams, and soaps containing coffee have been all the rage in the skin care arena. To better understand the claims surrounding the use of such products, I decided to have a careful look at the scientific literature. More than likely, a great deal of interest in using coffee in skin care products stems from the effects of caffeine on skin biochemistry and physiology, in which case it has been shown to prevent accumulation of fat in the skin, act as a photoprotectant against UV radiation, and assist in drainage of lymphatic tissue. It should be pointed out, however, that many of these findings come from studies of cell culture systems or animal models—not human clinical data.1

In addition to the effects of topical treatment of caffeine on the skin, much interest was generated by several large-scale epidemiology studies that demonstrated a positive correlation between coffee consumption and decreased incidenced of nonmelanoma skin carcinomas.2,3 In a study of more than 90,000 caucasian women, an inverse association was found between coffee consumption and incidence of nonmelanoma skin cancer.3 Women who drink coffee on a daily basis were almost 11% less likely to develop nonmelanoma skin cancer. Drinking six or more cups of coffee was associated with a 36% reduction in nonmelanoma skin cancer. These effects were not found in women who drink decaffeinated coffee, which could indicate that caffeine is the key ingredient involved. It could also suggest that decafeination processes, such solvent extraction, might remove beneficial ingredients from the coffee.

As already noted, there has been a great deal of interest in utilizing green coffee oil in cosmetic applications. This oil is obtained by cold pressing green (unroasted) coffee beans. Researchers from several universities in Brazil—the largest coffee producing country in the world—have shown that administration of green coffee oil to fibroblast cultures results in the upregulation of collagen, elastin, and glycosaminoglycans as well as growth factors, such as transforming growth-β1 (TGF-β1) and granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF).4 In addition, results from the same research team demonstrated an increase in aquaporin levels due to green coffee oil treatment in keratinocyte cell cultures. Green coffee oil contains lipids that consist triacylglycerols, sterols, and tocopherols in addition to diterpenes, which have important pharmacological properties.5

Recent work reported in the literature focuses on the solar protection properties of green coffee oil and the oil fraction of spent coffee grounds.6-8 In suncreen systems containing ethyhexylmethoxycinnamate, addition of green coffee oil provided an increase of 20% in sun protection factor.6 Vegetable oils, typically found in cosmetics, contain large amounts of unsaturated fatty acids, which are susceptible to lipid oxidation. Microencapsulation is a viable strategy of protecting oils from environmental insults such as autoxidation, photooxidation, and thermal oxidation. Not surprising, encapsulation of green coffee oil was found to improve its efficacy, probably due to increased protection of the oil from the elements.7

1. L. Luo and M.E. Lane, Topical and transdermal delivery of caffeine, Int. J. Pharm., 490, 155-164 (2015).
2. F. Song, A.A. Qureshi, and J. Han, Increased caffeine intake is associated with reduced risk of basal cell carcinoma of the skin, Cancer Res., 72, 3282-3289 (2012).
3. E.L. Abel, S.O. Hendrix, S.G. McNeeley, K.C. Johnson, C.A. Rosenberg, Y. Mossavar-Rahmani, M. Vitolins, and M. Kruger, Daily coffee consumption and prevalence of nonmelanoma skin cancer in Caucasian women, Eur. J. Cancer Prev., 16, 446-452 (2007).
4. M. del Carmen Velazquez Pereda, G. de Campos Dieamant, S. Eberlin, C. Nogueira, D. Colombi, L.C. Di Stasi, and M.L. de Souza Queiroz, Effect of green Coffea arabica L. seed oil on extracellular matrix components and water-channel expression in in vitro and ex vivo human skin models, J. Cosmet. Dermatol., 8, 56-62 (2009).
5. K. Speer and I. Kölling-Speer, The lipid fraction of the coffee bean, Braz. J. Plant Physiol., 18, 201-216 (2006).
6. B. Galdorfini Chiari, E. Trovatti, E. Pecoraro, M. Antonio Corrêa, R.M. Barretto Cicarelli, S.J. Lima Ribeiro, and V.L. Borges Isaac, Synergistic effects of green coffee oil and synthetic sunscreen for health care application, Ind. Crops Prod., 52, 389-393 (2014).
7. A.B.F.L. Nosari, J.F. Lima, O.A. Serra, and L.A.P. Freitas, Improved green coffee oil antioxidant activity for cosmetical purpose by spray drying microencapsulation, Rev. Bras. Farmacogn., 25, 307-311 (2015).
8. J. Marto, L.F. Gouveia, B.G. Chiari, A. Paiva, V. Isaac, P. Pinto, P. Simões, A.J. Almeida, and H.M. Ribeiro, The green generation of sunscreens: Using coffee industrial sub-products, Ind. Crops Prod., 80, 93-100 (2016).