Coffee as Sunscreen

Post by blogger | July 31, 2007      

I was drinking a cup of decaf tea this morning and stepping through a few outdoor related news items. One hit home. They gave some rats caffeine, had them exercise, and discovered the combo might help prevent skin cancer. In rats, anyway. Article here.

When it comes to caffeine I’m practically a Friend of Bill’s — I love the stuff but have cut back drastically. Nonetheless, my several cups of decaf every day still give me a bit of the elixir. Add a few bites of chocolate to that and I’m probably getting the equivalent to one cup of caffeinated coffee a day, which apparently is similar to the amount given the rats (in caffeinated water they sipped between treadmill bouts). So perhaps I’m covered.

Researchers say that in this case, what happens with rats may likely transfer to humans, and they’re planning studies of such.

Preventing and healing sun damaged skin is a big issue in any outdoors oriented community, be it sailors, golfers or a bunch of skiers. Back when I started as mountaineer in the 1960s, the only choice in sun protection was a hat, along with oily white zinc oxide you’d smear on your face like clown paint. Those with children were most familiar with the stuff since its primary use is as diaper rash preventive. So we marched through the mountains with faces that looked like a bunch of baby butts prepped for wet diapers. It sort of worked, as my dermatologist will tell you.

Most of today’s sunscreen does protect like it’s said to and the SPF rating implies, while others seem to provide much less protection than you’d expect. The higher SPF versions of Banana Boat and Hawaiian Tropic products are what we like best, while we’ve found the worst performance in products that claim to sunscreen as well as something like “skin care” or “skin moisturizers.” Watch out for those and test before depending on them.

Another thing I’ve learned over the years is that once you commit to preserving your skin, especially your face/neck/head, those with fair skin are not going to develop much of a protective tan. Thus, if you go with sunscreen and hat as skin protection, both have to be used religiously. (Also, as you get older you’ll want to spend more time in long sleeved shirts and long pants.)

As for exercise and caffeine possibly helping prevent skin cancer, that is indeed excellent news. But if you’re not protecting your skin, any protective effect from the workouts will no doubt be cancelled out. Ditto for the possible benefits of caffeine consumption.


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9 Responses to “Coffee as Sunscreen”

  1. Ryan July 31st, 2007 1:48 pm

    Speaking of sun block, here’s a great study on sunblock by the Environmental Working Group:
    It’s really thorough and I learned a lot about what’s in sun block. You can look up your Banana Boat and see how it rates.

  2. Lou July 31st, 2007 2:04 pm

    That is a GREAT resource Ryan, thanks for sharing the link!!!!

  3. pete anzalone July 31st, 2007 6:15 pm

    Who you callin’ a rat?

  4. Jim Jones August 1st, 2007 6:57 am

    Lou, so you quit caffeinne for health reasons, can you explain more? I think I’m at the same point.

  5. Mark August 1st, 2007 6:42 am

    I commented earlier, but cyberspace ate the comment. Anyway, I’ve almost quit coffee totally. Tea has taken its place and should have some of the same good effects. Lou, I’ve heard that getting a tan is less harmful than burning, but really only the lesser of two evils. Dark skinned or light, we’re all really in need of good sunscreen. I checked that link, and my sunscreen rates well. My wife’s gets a lesser mark.

  6. Clyde August 1st, 2007 9:09 am

    I figured somebody would link to that BS database. Read it carefully. You’ll see that it has a very strong bias without much science. For example, anything with “fragrance” gets huge deductions, nevermind that it doesn’t bother the vast majority of people. Some of their other claims about ingredients are pretty questionable but you have to read the nitty-gritty and not just the summary. There are a lot of other inconsistencies as well…enough that I’d call junk PR.

  7. Lou August 1st, 2007 9:26 am

    Shucks, Clyde knows his stuff so I’d tend to believe him about this. Clyde, anything else out there with info about sunscreen?

    Jim, I don’t like to get into too much personal health detail here, but let’s just say that if you go for more than one or two cups of joe a day, the negative effects may far outweigh anything positive, and two cups just didn’t cut it for me. It was all or nothing. Nothing is working great, and much better for getting to bed early before those alpine starts!

  8. Ryan August 1st, 2007 12:38 pm

    Clyde, while I don’t care about things like fragrance, I do care about things like UVA protection and I think their study does a good job of making that information available. Are there particular ingredient claims that you find questionable so I can go do some research?

    I just did some searching around for a counter point about the database but I haven’t been able to find one yet. If you have one, I’m really interested in reading it. I’d like to get the other side of the story form experts if it’s available.

  9. Badger Jentri August 11th, 2010 2:02 pm

    Hi Lou! I’m wondering if you’d be interested in field testing Badger’s new SPF 30 All Season Face Stick… perhaps we can win you back over to the zinc camp? 😉

    Please let me know – and thanks for your blog, it’s great!

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