Benjamin Franklin may have said that the only certainties in this world are death and taxes, but I can build a strong case to add coffee to that list. Coffee seems unavoidable here in Seattle—the birthplace of Starbucks and countless independent roasters. Has your day really begun without first enjoying a cup of coffee? I know mine hasn’t.
Coffee inhabits an equally ubiquitous space in the realm of beauty. Coffee scrubs remain perennially popular for body care, and it seems like a new caffeine-laden facial product gets launched every year with promises of tightening and toning. I’m skeptical of some of these claims, but emerging research shows real promise for a newer application in skincare: coffee oil.
What is coffee oil?
Much the same way that other non-fragrant plant oils are expressed from olive seeds, sunflower seeds, and avocado pits, coffee oil is extracted from the seeds of coffee plants—the raw, unroasted coffee beans. The resulting oil contains a hefty dose of exceptionally potent antioxidants called polyphenols. Gram for gram, these raw coffee beans are one of the richest plant sources of antioxidants.
What does coffee oil do?
The research on coffee oil is relatively new, but compelling. Coffee oil is an abundant source of a group of polyphenols called chlorogenic acids. These powerful antioxidants fight free radical damage—a primary cause of fine lines, wrinkles, and loss of tone. Coffee oil has also demonstrated an ability to improve skin’s moisture retention. When applied topically, it can help smooth and replenish dull, damaged skin.
As coffee oil’s popularity takes off, I’m excited to see more robust data in on this promising new ingredient. It’s great news for people like me to want to bolster their skin health with antioxidants, but may be sensitive to more conventional ingredients like vitamin C. I look forward to seeing more of it in the future!
Anyone who has suffered from dry skin is probably familiar with this scenario: you slather on some facial oil, but it offers no relief. You still feel parched underneath that layer of oil. How can skin remain so depleted after absorbing such a rich product?
The answer lies in the type of moisture you’re applying. For optimal hydration and resilience, skin requires a balance of three different categories of moisture—humectant, emollient, and occlusive.
Humectants are hydrophilic ingredients; they bind water and draw its moisture into the skin. When someone says that a product feels hydrating, it’s pretty much guaranteed to be a humectant-rich formula. Some of the most popular members of this group include hyaluronic acid, glycerin, and red algae. Alphahydroxy acids like lactic acid also possess some humectant properties. These ingredients provide that thirst-quenching feeling that was woefully missing in the earlier facial oil scenario.
Emollient ingredients provide slip in a skincare formula and help fill in skin’s rough surface texture. Much like how spackle fills in the gaps, small cracks, and slight imperfections on drywall, emollients glide over skin to provide a smooth surface. Light oils such as marula, jojoba, or argan possess excellent emollient characteristics, as do squalane and silicones.
Occlusive agents have on primary purpose: to seal in moisture. Without them, water content would evaporate away from the skin in a process known as transepidermal water loss (also known as TEWL). They play an important role in skin’s barrier function. Common occlusive agents include olive oil, waxes and esters (such as jojoba ester), and plant butters (such as shea butter or coconut oil).
WHEN AN EMOLLIENT IS MORE THAN AN EMOLLIENT
Many ingredients fall into more than one category. For example, skin-conditioning ingredients like lecithin and panthenol function as both water-binding humectants and skin-smoothing emollients. Likewise, ingredients like dimethicone and lanolin are both emollient and occlusive. A single ingredient may serve more than one moisturizing need.
FIND THE RIGHT RATIO
All skin types need a mixture of all three categories to achieve optimal skin health. However, the exact ratio may vary based on your skin’s unique needs. Oily skin naturally produces an excess of occlusive, so their ideal moisture ratio would be higher in humectant ingredients for lightweight hydration. A great way to customize your ratio of moisturizing factors is to layer or mix a humectant-rich serum with a facial oil. Play around with the proportions to find your best fit!
When we talk about retinol, we often approach the subject in terms of what retinol product we should use—not whether we should use a retinol at all. It seems like a foregone conclusion. Virtually every dermatologist, esthetician, and skin expert agrees that if you’re going to add a single active to your routine, it should be retinol. So what makes this wunderkind ingredient so special that it has garnered this universal acclaim?
How does Retinol work?
In essence, retinol encourages optimal behavior in the skin. When skin functions as it should, dead surface cells frequently slough off and make way for the young, fresh cells underneath. This cellular turnover process slows due to age and damage. Retinol stimulates the turnover process so that plump, new cells can once again rise to the surface.
Like many other vitamins, retinol (also known as vitamin A) functions as a powerful antioxidant. These antioxidant properties defend against collagen breakdown to help prevent and reduce the appearance of wrinkles and sagging skin.
Retinol is lipid-soluble, making it particularly adept at absorbing through skin’s lipid-rich barrier. It also works especially well in oil-based products, such as a retinol-infused facial oil.
What results can I expect?
I’m hard pressed to find a major skincare concern that retinol doesn’t address in some way. It can help fade uneven skin tone, thanks to the enhanced cellular turnover shedding older, damaged cells that have collected extra pigment. The turnover process can also help with breakouts and congestion-prone skin. Its collagen-protecting characteristics improve the look of fine lines, wrinkles, and loss of firmness while also helping to refine skin texture. No matter your concern, retinol can deliver smooth, even, glowing skin.
What are the drawbacks?
Retinol’s effect on cell turnover has one major caveat: those young, fresh cells tend to be highly vulnerable and sensitive. You may want to ease up on exfoliation or other active ingredients in your skincare routine to avoid irritation. Most importantly, you’ve got to be diligent about sun protection. Avoid direct sun exposure when possible and always wear a sunscreen rated SPF 30 or higher. If you’re prone to sensitivity, consider using a mild to moderate retinol concentration since higher percentages can be more sensitizing.
Who should use it?
Retinol can benefit just about any adult. If you’re looking to maintain skin health, prevent skin damage further down the road, or maybe even lessen some existing signs of damage, consider including retinol in your routine.
Who shouldn’t use it?
High concentrations of retinol can be risky during pregnancy, and the effects of lower concentrations remain unknown. For this reason, it’s generally advised that anyone who is pregnant or nursing avoid retinol. That’s a conversation best left to you and your doctor.
Additionally, some ingredients just don’t work out for everyone. My skin doesn’t tolerate vitamin C very well, and I’m sure there are individuals out there who have the same struggle with retinol. If trying a lower concentration or different product formula doesn’t help, then maybe retinol isn’t for you. There are plenty of other antioxidants out there for you to enjoy!
Is retinol a must-have?
Given my general attitude toward rules, I like to avoid prescriptive advice—especially when it contains words like “must” or “always.” Skin is unique and benefits from a nuanced and individual approach. Generally speaking, my only must-haves are a gentle cleanser and an SPF, plus maybe a washcloth or gentle acid for physical or chemical exfoliation. That said, I strongly encourage retinol for virtually all skin types and concerns. Give it a try!