Ep 201 – The Rogue Pharmacist: Perk Up Your Skin with Caffeine

A client getting a massage with caffeinated ingredients.

There’s more to caffeine than a cup of coffee, and it’s possible that this trending ingredient may also perk up your skin. Considered an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, caffeine may decrease puffiness, improve circulation, and help your skin look better in the moment. In this episode of The Rogue Pharmacist with Ben Fuchs, we discuss why caffeine is added to skin care, the benefits that might have, and what happens to the skin when caffeine is consumed.

Associated Skin Care Professionals (ASCP) presents The Rogue Pharmacist with Benjamin Knight Fuchs, R.Ph. This podcast takes an enlightening approach to supporting licensed estheticians in their pursuit to achieve results-driven skin care treatments for their clients. You can always count on us to share professional skin care education, innovative techniques, and the latest in skin science.

Benjamin Knight Fuchs is a registered pharmacist, nutritionist, and skin care chemist with 35 years of experience developing pharmacy-potent skin health products for estheticians, dermatologists, and plastic surgeons. Ben’s expert advice gives licensed estheticians the education and skin science to better support the skin care services performed in the treatment room while sharing insights to enhance clients’ at-home skin care routines.


Connect with Ben Fuchs


Website: www.brightsideben.com 


Phone: 844-236-6010 


Facebook: www.facebook.com/The-Bright-Side-with-Pharmacist-Ben-Fuchs-101162801334696/ 


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0:01:32.0 Maggie Staszcuk: Hello and welcome to ASCP and the Rogue Pharmacist with Benjamin Knight Fuchs. In each episode, we'll explore how internal and external factors can impact the skin. I'm Maggie Staszcuk, ASCP's Education Program Manager, and joining me is Ben Fuchs, skincare formulator and pharmacist. Hi Ben. 


0:01:49.6 Benjamin Knight Fuchs: Hello, Maggie. Nice to see you. 


0:01:51.8 MS: Nice to see you. So Ben, I happened to notice the other day as I'm sipping my cup of Joe and applying my eye cream, they both have caffeine. 


0:02:00.9 BF: Isn't that interesting?  


0:02:01.7 MS: Yeah. And it got me thinking, "Is one better than the other?" So should I skip the cup of coffee? Is thats what making me need the eye cream in the first place?  


0:02:09.7 BF: Your eye cream's not gonna help you stay up. Caffeine's pretty amazing stuff. The molecule caffeine is probably the... It's one of the most well studied drug molecules in the world. 90% of adults around the world interact with caffeine on a daily basis, and of course, mostly for energy levels. But caffeine has got some really incredible benefits. Caffeine has been shown to help alleviate the symptoms of movement disorders, Parkinson's disease, caffeine's used to treat migraine headaches, it's in excedrin, and there's prescription drugs that have caffeine in it. Caffeine's a fat burner, so taking caffeine orally can help you burn fat. It's an appetite suppressant. It has benefits for asthmatics. Caffeine is... It's a dilator for the bronchial airway. So it's found, not caffeine exactly, but derivatives of caffeine, something called theophylline, I don't know if you've heard of theophylline, and another drug called aminophylline are in the same family as caffeine. 


0:03:03.0 BF: And caffeine also has been used for psychoactive effects. In fact, theobromine, which is similar to caffeine and found in cocoa, in the cacao bean, is Latin for, "food of the gods," theobromine. And it was used in... Ancient people used to use it in ceremonies to get high... Not get high, but to have psychedelic experiences. So caffeine has got some really, really interesting properties above and beyond that it's... The fact that it is obviously an energy aid and a stimulant. It's also a mood enhancer. What else is true about caffeine? It can also help resting vasodilation, opening up blood vessels, resting... When you're... Not when you're exercising, but when you're at rest. And then topically it has tremendous benefits as well as it turns out. 


0:03:56.0 BF: And that's why you're starting to see it pop up more and more in eye creams, especially, and in facial products. And I remember when I started formulating products in the early 1990s, and I don't know if you remember this, this was maybe before your time, but there was a big product that was like... It was in the news and it was really popular, it was getting a lot of attention in the world of cosmetics, called thigh cream. 


0:04:17.2 MS: Thigh?  


0:04:17.3 BF: Do you remember thigh cream?  


0:04:17.9 MS: No. [laughter] 


0:04:19.3 BF: It was this cream that could burn fat off your thighs. 


0:04:23.4 MS: Oh. 


0:04:23.5 BF: And guess what the active ingredient was?  


0:04:26.6 MS: That's a must buy. 


0:04:26.7 BF: Yeah. Well, it didn't work very well, but it had aminophylline in it, which is similar to caffeine. And I remember making... And that's when I first started to understand the importance of caffeine topically, was because of aminophylline, which is similar to caffeine as I was saying. And aminophylline is actually an asthma drug that you take orally. And somebody discovered that if they put aminophylline on their thighs, it could help burn fats. It didn't really work that well, but it became kind of a thing for a few years, right when I started getting into the formulation business, when I first opened up my pharmacy. 


0:04:53.2 BF: So I started making all this aminophylline cream, and I was selling all this, all this thigh cream. And that's when I got the idea, because I knew about the chemical structure of aminophylline, that it was similar to caffeine, that caffeine may have some of those properties. And indeed caffeine is now used in things like masks for your thighs that they put on spas and they put on your body in spas, those body masks kind of things and thigh masks for burning fat. 


0:05:16.5 BF: It doesn't work that great for that. But on the skin, on the face, I should say, the skin is very thin and caffeine can penetrate through the skin pretty nicely. So you can get some interesting skin benefits when you apply caffeine topically, particularly under the eyes for puffiness. And that has to do with its vasoconstriction properties. Interestingly, caffeine has both vasodilation, that is the opening up of blood vessels and constriction properties. So the dilation properties can improve puffiness under the eyes or puffiness in the skin, puffiness in the facial skin. And then also sometimes people will use it for things like rosacea to get rid of the redness, because of its astringent properties. 


0:05:54.1 BF: And then its vasodilation properties, its ability to open up blood vessels, can improve oxygenation and improve overall health of the skin. So it does have some interesting properties. You gotta use... You gotta find a good concentration, like 3% or so caffeine, but it penetrates pretty effectively. And I would... It's not gonna change the health of the skin, except maybe because of the vasodilation you get more oxygen to the tissue. It's not like a nutrient, but it may have some benefits in facial products. 


0:06:16.3 MS: This is really interesting because I have always associated consuming caffeine with, "This is a bad thing. It's a diuretic, you're dehydrating yourself. Don't drink too much," and that equates to, "Your skin is gonna look bad." 


0:06:35.5 BF: Hmm. Yeah. That's interesting. A couple of things. First of all, caffeine is actually a learning aid, a nootropic agent. It helps you learn. It's also used as an ergogenic. That means it helps exercise, performance, it helps sports performance. In fact, the first caffeine product I ever made was a gel that I put caffeine in it, and it was sweet, and I made it for this bicycle race guru who actually asked for it. And he would squirt it in his mouth on the last part of his bicycle race and he would get a quick surge of energy. So, no, caffeine is not necessarily bad. It's a drug. You gotta be a little careful with it like you have with all drugs. But between it's nootropic benefits, its mood enhancing benefits, its energy benefits, its ergogenic benefits, athlete ability to perform... Improve athletic performance, its anti headache benefits, its vasodilation benefits internally, its ability to help with movement disorders, I would definitely not say it's bad. 


0:07:28.2 BF: It's super scientifically studied. The FDA recommends no more than 400 milligrams of coffee a day, which if you're drinking Starbucks, you're probably gonna get more than 400 milligrams a day. A cup of coffee probably has about a hundred milligrams in it. A cup of tea probably has half that much, maybe three quarters of that much, three quarters of that, green tea has a little bit less. I would definitely not say it's bad, but it's hard to say good and bad when you're talking about drugs. It definitely has benefits. 


0:07:53.7 BF: Topically, it actually has anti-skin cancer benefits, anti-sunburn benefits, antioxidant benefits. Caffeine gel can improve hydration of the skin, not to mention all the things we just talked about with the puffiness and with the redness. So it's... I would not say it's bad. I hesitate to say good, because it is a drug. And when you take a drug, you're sort of pushing the body to do something it doesn't necessarily want to do, as opposed to a nutrient which enhances and sustains and feeds chemical reactions that the body does want to do. So I cannot say it's good necessarily, but I wouldn't say it's bad either. You wanna respect it as a pharmacological agent, but given that you respect it, you can get some good benefits. 


0:08:37.3 MS: So define what is meant by drug. 


0:08:42.8 BF: It's a great question. A drug is something that alters the body, that creates a change in the body. But then you say, "Well, vitamins do that too." So there's sort of a fine line there. But the way I... As a pharmacist, the way I look at a drug is, you're making the body do something it would rather not do or it wouldn't do otherwise. And as opposed to a nutrient which feeds chemical reactions that are occurring all the time or sustain or enhance chemical reactions that are happening all the time. A drug is like saying to the body, "I'm in charge here." A nutrient is saying, "You're in charge here. I'm just gonna feed you." It's not... It's kind of weird that a pharmacist would be saying this, but I always consider myself to be a nutritional pharmacist, that I use nutrients to help change the body. 


0:09:27.7 BF: If you have a health challenge, I'm gonna recommend or suggest that you use nutrition, not only internally, but also topically if you have a skin problem. All my formulas are topical nutritional supplements. That's what distinguishes my style of formulation, is that all my formulas are topical nutritional supplements for the skin. And I do that because I've studied nutrition for so long internally, it just made sense to me to do the same thing topically. And indeed the skin is very receptive to certain nutrients, not all, but certain nutrients. A drug on the other hand, it's kind of like saying that we are smarter than the body. And that's a pretty arrogant position to take because it has an ability to intelligently process the environment instantaneously and in parallel fashion, so that chemical reactions are happening trillions, literally not even trillions, gazillions and gazillions and gazillions of times a second. 


0:10:15.9 BF: If you... Do you ever see an anthill that has been kicked over and you see all the ants scattering around? That's the amount of chemistry that's happening in one cell at any given moment. And it's happening in a hundred trillion cells throughout your body. So there is an intelligence there that is so advanced that we can't even begin to comprehend how this happens, let alone to manipulate it in a way that serves us. So when you have a drug, that's what you're doing. You're trying to manipulate it in a way that serves you, and inevitably you're gonna have toxicities and you're gonna have side effects, and you're really putting a burden, a stress on the body. Not only that, but drugs have to be processed and metabolized by the body's poison control system. You have a poison control system located in your liver that is responsible for breaking down poisons and then allowing you to excrete them. 


0:11:04.6 BF: When you take a drug, either orally or even topically, that poison control system kicks in. And so your body sees drugs as poisons. So when you're talking about poisons, that's obviously not a good thing. And the reason it's poisonous to the body is because it's making the body do something it doesn't want to do. That's essentially what a poison is. The body has a certain way that it wants to operate, and when you put a poison in it, or you put a drug in it, either way you are making the body do something it doesn't wanna do, and the body has to respond by detoxifying or by breaking that substance down and cleaning it out and excreting it. 


0:11:35.9 MS: Does this operate in the same way if we're applying topically?  


0:11:38.3 BF: Heck yeah. 


0:11:41.3 MS: Because with what you're saying, I feel like then almost everything that we apply topically can be viewed, "like a drug." 


0:11:46.1 BF: Absolutely. Absolutely it is. And the art of formulation is to try to create changes in the skin, minimizing the drug effect, which is by the way, the same art that pharmaceutical companies have to employ. Pharmaceutical companies spend trillions of dollars looking for molecules that will open up your blood vessels or that will create changes in your liver or your pancreas without causing toxicity. And that's an impossible task. Same thing with with the skincare companies. They're constantly doing research for molecules that will create changes in the skin without creating toxicity or side effects. Now, for most skincare companies, they don't have to do the research because it's all been done. And the skincare businesses, 99% of the ingredients in the skincare business have been researched and been studied for a 100 or 150 years or so, since the modern skincare business began. 


0:12:35.6 BF: But nonetheless, skincare companies, the really well-established skincare companies, they spend lots of money looking for molecules that will create changes in the skin without creating toxicity. And yes, when you apply skincare product on your skin, you gotta be very respectful because the skin is gonna have to process that. And sometimes even the internal part of the body will have to process if it crosses through the skin, and a lot of ingredients do. And I remember when I was working for Blistex, I would have to wear gloves and a mask when I was making some of the products because I didn't want the ingredients to go through my skin. And then when I graduated and went to work in drugstores, I would look at the skincare products and I would be horrified to see that the same ingredients that I would wear a glove, that I would wear gloves and a mask to formulate with or to play with in the lab, they were in the products that people were using, albeit in very small concentrations, that's true. But really even 0.1%, even 0.01% of a toxic ingredient is not gonna be good for your skin, especially if you keep reapplying and using your skincare product for sometimes for a lifetime. 


0:13:37.8 MS: Yeah. And I guess the point too being, how well is that in ingredient penetrating past the corneum. 


0:13:45.6 BF: The stratum corneum is designed to be a barrier, but it's not designed to be a barrier to skincare products. It's designed to be a barrier to the environment. Skincare products only got applied into the skin really in a serious way over the last 150 years. But maybe you could push it and say a few thousand years. But really the stratum corneum is designed to protect you from the wind and from insects and from, not that much else, bacteria, fungus, that kind of thing. But there wasn't much that the stratum corneum had to protect us from up until we started playing around with putting things on our skin. First, cave... Prehistoric people put stuff on their skin, ochre and red and dyes and that kind of thing. And then ultimately skincare products to make the skin perform a little bit better. 


0:14:26.5 BF: But the stratum corneum isn't intended to do that. I would say a lot more gets through the skin than we suspect. And on top of that, in order for a skincare product to get put together, emulsifiers have to be put into that lotion and cream, and emulsifiers have an ability to pull ingredients through the skin. So you gotta be a little bit careful with skincare products... I personally believe that we're not really respecting our skin as much as we should when we slather skincare products on. 


0:14:52.5 BF: In fact, one of the things I thought about when I started formulating, the Truth was, I wanted people to just use one drop or two drops. To me you wanna have, just like with food, you want nutrient density. I don't know if you've ever heard of that concept where you want foods that have low calories, but lots of nutrients. The way I look at skincare is you want skincare products that have activity density so that you don't have to put a lot of product on your skin to get the same kind of effect. Similarly, how you don't want to eat a lot of food to get high nutritional value. So you want to get lots of activity with less product, and that allows you to interface with the skin or disturb the skin as little as possible. 


0:15:29.8 MS: And this is penetrating the skin?  


0:15:30.9 BF: Caffeine penetrates pretty well, actually. 


0:15:33.4 MS: And so remind us again, when we apply this topically, what is it doing? You said usually we're finding this in an eye cream. 


0:15:38.5 BF: Yeah, puffiness. It has a vaso... It has a constrictive... It has both a constrictive property and a dilating property. The constrictive property closes down the vessels that are leaking when you have puffiness. Puffy eyes, it's not really a skin problem, it's a circulatory problem. And a lot of people who wanna have eye creams to take care of the puffiness, well, if you're not going into the circulation, you're not gonna take care of the puffiness. And there's not a lot of ingredients that can modify the circulation without being full blown drugs. Caffeine is one of the few that is a drug, but it's not really a drug in terms of how it's regulated. Although nowadays, you used to be able to get straight caffeine on Amazon, and really off the internet, off eBay, now you can't do that anymore. So caffeine is now more and more it's being recognized as a drug, which is probably a good thing, 'cause it is really powerful and you can kill yourself with enough caffeine. 


0:16:26.8 BF: So getting into the circulation, back to what you're saying about puffiness, is not gonna be easy with ordinary ingredients because it's not a skin issue, it's not a topical issue, puffiness. And also purple is another thing that's not a skin issue, it's in the circulation. So to control that, you really gotta get into it with a drug because you really gotta change the way the muscles in the blood vessels and in the lymphatic vessels are operating. And that's above and beyond the realm of cosmetics. So caffeine is kind of like a little hack, almost. You're hacking... You're making your cosmetic much more powerful. You're making your cosmetic almost into a drug with caffeine. 


0:17:08.2 MS: That concludes our show for today, and we thank you for listening. But if you just can't get enough of Ben Fuchs, the ASCP's Rogue Pharmacist, you can listen to his syndicated radio program at brightsideben.com. For more information on this episode, or for ways to connect with Ben Fuchs or to learn more about ASCP, check out the show notes. 



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