Slather on the Coffee Sunscreen

Pull out that coffee cream soap bar before you head out into the sun. A new study by scientists at Rutgers University in the United States has found that caffeine, both ingested and applied topically, prevents the development of non-melanoma skin cancer in mice. The scientists, headed up by Dr. Allen Conney, director of the Susan Lehman Cullman Laboratory for Cancer Research, were building on earlier research that suggested caffeine ingestion helped mice fight off the damage caused by UVB radiation. UVB radiation in sunlight is one of the known causes of non-melanoma skin cancer.

In the earlier study, scientists fed mice caffeinated water and then exposed them to UVB lamps that damaged the DNA in their skin cells in the same way that the UVB rays in sunlight damage human skin cells. The caffeinated mice were able to kill off a greater percentage of damaged cells than those who had no caffeine, reducing the risk of those cells becoming cancerous. The researchers postulated that caffeine may inhibit the formation of ATR, a protein enzyme in the skin which is associated with the development of skin cancer.

Conney’s group, along with researchers at the University of Washington, genetically modified the levels of ATR in one group of mice, and rubbed topical caffeine on another group of mice. The genetically altered mice had 69 percent fewer tumors than regular mice, and four times fewer invasive tumors. The mice who wore caffeine sunscreen had 72 percent fewer squamous cell carcinomas.

The caffeine isn’t bulletproof, though. Both groups of mice eventually developed tumors when they were exposed to UVB rays for a long enough period of time. Conney believes that this means that ATR inhibition — whether through caffeine or another method — works best before UV skin cancers have developed.

The National Cancer Institute says that skin cancer due to sun exposure is the most common form of cancer in the U.S. with more than 1 million new cases diagnosed each year. Many human studies have linked coffee drinking with lowered levels of many kinds of cancer, including skin cancer. Conney’s research with ATR enzyme may give a hint about the mechanism by which coffee and caffeine fight cancer.

Conney suggests that caffeine might become a weapon in skin cancer prevention because it inhibits ATR and because it acts as a sunscreen that absorbs UV light that causes skin cancer.

Want to get the advantages of coffee as a sunscreen? Try this recipe for scrumptious-smelling coffee moisturizing cream. Slather it on after a shower and enjoy the delicious, stimulating aroma.


  • 3 oz. unscented skin cream with aloe vera or vitamin E
  • 3 oz. unscented sunscreen
  • 1 oz. witch hazel
  • 3 oz. triple-strength brewed coffee


To make triple strength brewed coffee, use a manual drip coffee cone and follow these directions.
Brew one cup of coffee at regular strength. Discard the coffee grounds and refill the filter with fresh coffee. Heat the coffee slightly, and pour it through the filter with new coffee grounds. Repeat.

Mix all the ingredients in a non-reactive bowl. Whip for two minutes to create a thick cream. Scoop into a plastic or glass opaque jar and keep covered, in a cool place.

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