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Coffee as an ingredient in skincare - efficiency and sustainability

|7/04, 2022

Coffee as an ingredient in skincare - efficiency and sustainability

The question when looking at a personal care product and reading its claims is for most consumers “Does this actually work?”. With products like anti-aging creams or a regenerating shampoo, we might be willing to wait for results, with other products like sunscreen or deodorant, we need to trust that the product works right away. As consumer protection and safety has become much more in the forefront of our minds, the need for reliable claims on products and trustworthy information about ingredients and allergens have become a must for many people.

Increasing consumer consciousness has also sparked an interest for green alternatives to traditional cosmetics ingredients, as well as sustainable production methods and supply chains. Coffee has for many years been used as a natural ingredient in the skincare industry, and the possibility to use byproducts and waste from coffee production and the preparation of coffee beans, opens up for the possibility of creating a more sustainable coffee industry, as well as providing cheap and renewable sources of active ingredients for the personal care industry.

In this blog post we would like to substantiate the benefits of coffee in skincare and how coffee in personal care products can have positive implications for sustainability. We are building this post around a 2021 article from Frontiers in Sustainability, where a team of researchers have reviewed the academic evidence of coffee as an effective and sustainable ingredient in personal care products. You can read the full article here, but we will give you the broad points below. The research results in the Frontiers article is based on 52 primary research articles and includes research published from 1970 to 2020.

The major bioactive compounds in coffee - the active ingredients

  • Phenolic Compounds

    • Phenolic compounds are found in almost all structures of the coffee plant as well as in spent coffee grounds. These compounds provide the antioxidant and antimicrobial properties to coffee, as well as the protection against free radicals and UV light. The most abundant phenolic compound in the coffee fruit is Chlorogenic acids, which studies show to provide wound healing capabilities and reduce hyperpigmentation. Phenolic compounds are extensively described in the article linked above, see the article for more information. 

  • Triacylglycerols

    • Triacylglycerols are a mixture of rich fatty acids that is found mainly in the inner part of the coffee bean and in spent coffee grounds. In skincare these fatty acids provide moisturisation and emulsion (hydration retention), and can be used as a replacement for mineral oils in cosmetics. The option to use plant based oils instead of mineral oils provides a huge benefit in both health and sustainability questions, as mineral oils are commonly produced through the purification of crude petroleum oil.  

  • Caffeine

    • Caffeine is found in the coffee plant and berries, where it acts as a natural insect repellent. In skincare caffeine has shown anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. In addition, caffeine was in the studies found to be associated with reducing cellulitis and reduction of hyperpigmentation. 

Major applications of coffee extracts

  • Sunscreen

    • 23% of the studies in the review are directly related to active ingredients in coffee being beneficial in sunscreen products. Coffee bean oil is pointed out as having a great potential as a natural sunscreen based on its high content of palmitic acid, both as a stand-alone ingredient in sunscreen, but also as a supplement in synthetic sunscreens. Active ingredients with protective benefits against UV rays have been found in both leaves, silverskin and beans of the coffee plant, which opens up for a many sided use of coffee by products in sunscreen.

  • Anti-aging

    • Along with its defensive properties against UV rays, extracts from coffee leaves, beans and spent coffee grounds have also been found to have anti-aging properties and that coffee silver skin as an active ingredient had similar effects as hyaluronic acid. It is also pointed out that there is a great potential for coffee oil to replace the use of mineral oils in skincare and cosmetics. The oil made from coffee beans has a composition that closely resembles edible oils, which removes many of the toxicity concerns with mineral oils. 

  • Anti-cellulite

    • The anti-cellulite properties of coffee comes from the caffeine, and studies of using milled coffee beans in products for outward treatment of cellulite has shown promising results. The studies seem to agree that there is good potential for creating anti-cellulite skin treatments with coffee extracts that are both effective and safe to use.

  • Hair coloration and treatment

    • Exploring coffee as an alternative way of colouring hair is an interesting avenue, as many consumers are concerned about the ingredients and potential contact allergy associated with regular hair dyes. Using instant coffee as a natural hair toner has shown good results, even if the colouring fades faster than with conventional hair dyes. Used coffee grounds are also mentioned as a potential sustainable source of the melanoidins that makes up the coffee’s toning properties. 

    • Studies of commercial products containing coffee extracts showed trial participants reporting improved hair quality and reduction of scalp issues such as yeast and dandruff, other studies showed participants with significant growth in eyelashes and brows. 

  • Soaps and scrubs

    • The good results of studies of coffee as an active ingredient in soaps and scrubs are attributed to the combination of the bioactive compounds in coffee as well as the scrubbing from the abrasive coffee particles. According to the review there is room for more studies on how to use coffee waste materials in soap production as replacement for other raw materials, as the active ingredient in coffee should make it an ideal and sustainable ingredient in soaps.

  • Anti-microbial

    • Chlorogenic acid and caffeine extracted from coffee beans and coffee production byproducts are being explored in research, as a potential replacement for conventional antimicrobial ingredients like Methylparaben, which is added to many skincare and cosmetics products. More research is needed to confirm the efficiency of coffee extracts as an antimicrobial ingredient, but so far results are promising. 

  • Hydration

    • Coffee beans have been extensively researched as a natural ingredient in hydrating and moisturising products, because of the rich oil composition and antioxidant activity in the beans. Recent studies have also shown that the extracts of silverskin of the coffee beans also have potential as an effective ingredient in moisturising products.   

Sustainability implications

The conclusion of the article is that coffee is a great, natural skincare ingredient. 

“The results of this systematic scoping review highlighted coffee as a naturally beneficial and potentially sustainable ingredient in personal care products. Coffee bean extracts, oils, leaves, and by-products provide an important source of bioactive compounds due to their desirable antioxidant, antimicrobial, anti-aging, and anti-inflammatory effects”

What the researchers point as a question with regards to sustainability, is that many of the studies in the review used coffee beans as a raw material for their research - instead of a byproduct from coffee production, like leaves, silverskin, husks or spent coffee grounds. In order to ensure that coffee is used in as sustainable a way as possible, it is important to use the parts of the coffee that is not already being utilised fully or being treated as a waste product. This not only ensures less waste of potentially useful materials, but also creates new sources of income for the many small-scale coffee farmers. 

Another issue is the general sustainability of the coffee industry, in regards not only increasing profitability and economic sustainability for the coffee farmers, but also in light of ecological and environmental challenges in coffee production as well as social sustainability.