Coffee scrubs have been growing in popularity for years now. They have a lot of benefits; they recycle used coffee grounds, they exfoliate your skin, and some people even believe the caffeine content helps tighten and perk up your skin.
Today's question is less about the caffeine and more about the skin. Stretch marks mar the surface of the skin any time you've gained and lost weight, and they can be an annoying reminder of your weight loss journey. For anyone concerned about their appearance, stretch marks are an obvious target for treatment. So the question is, can a coffee scrub help with stretch marks, or are there just a bunch of companies looking to dupe you with a sale?
What Are Stretch Marks, Anyway?
We believe that in order to truly evaluate whether or not a particular kind of treatment can work, you need to know what it's treating, and what causes the underlying issue. Thus, let's look at stretch marks with a scientific eye, to see what they are, what causes them, and how they might be treated.
Stretch marks are, essentially, scars. Rather than an abrasion, a cut, or another external source of damage that leaves a scar, however, stretch marks tend to form a little more gradually.
Stretch marks form, typically, because of weight changes. This can be because of dietary causes that lead to obesity, but they can also be caused by hormonal changes leading to weight gain. One of the most common causes for stretch marks is pregnancy, when a woman's body spends nine months putting on a lot of weight, between nutrients saved to keep the mother healthy and the developing baby itself.
Puberty and the associated growth spurt also typically can lead to stretch marks, though young people tend to be more resilient to them.
The more pliable and resilient the skin, the less likely stretch marks are to form. This is primarily measured by checking cortisone levels, though collagen and elastin both play an important role.
Essentially, as you gain weight, particularly if you gain weight quickly, your skin has to stretch to accommodate what's going on beneath it. This could be excess stored fat, it could be the development of a fetus, or it could be the growth of bones and muscle.
When the skin stretches, the amount of elasticity and pliability it has determines how much damage it takes while stretching. Think about a strip of fabric. You can stretch fabric to a certain degree, and it will normally be just fine. However, if there's a small tear in the fabric, it can pull apart and rip, which leaves a permanent hole in the sheet. Skin works in a similar way, though your body, of course, has ways to heal itself.
Stretch marks can also develop over time as you age and your skin loses its elasticity. This tends to happen in areas where gravity affects the tissue, such as breasts and obese stomachs. Gravity pulling down on the tissue puts pressure on the skin, which tears and forms stretch marks. This particular kind of stretch mark is called gravidarum.
There are also some medical conditions that can increase the chances of stretch marks or make them worse. Connective tissue diseases, such as Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, are a prime example.
Are Stretch Marks Dangerous?
Stretch marks are highly visible and worrying when they appear, but are they actually dangerous? Thankfully, you can set your mind at ease. Stretch marks are not dangerous in any way.
As scars, stretch marks are not weakening or otherwise opening up your skin. Your skin still fully protects your tissues beneath, and stretch marks do not increase the risk of infection or anything else.
The only threat stretch marks pose is psychological. If you're very concerned about your appearance, stretch marks can add stress to your life. It's no wonder that the more cosmetically-concerned among us want to find some kind of treatment. Self-esteem is very important one way or the other.
Now, if you're getting stretch marks for no apparent reason, it might be worth seeing a doctor just in case. As mentioned above, stretch marks can be a side effect of diseases like EDS, Marfan Syndrome, Cushing's Syndrome, or some adrenal gland diseases. It might be worth checking out. That said, those diseases tend to have other, much more prominent symptoms, so stretch marks are unlikely to be the first sign of the disease.
Can Stretch Marks Be Treated?
So, can stretch marks be treated at all? After all, if there's no real treatment, we can safely assume that a coffee scrub isn't going to help either.
The science is still out on this one, actually. There have been a variety of different treatments proposed and studied over the years. In fact, stretch marks have been a historical concern all the way back as far as the ancient Romans!
All manner of different kinds of treatments have been tried. Greeks and Romans tried olive oil salves to try to restore the skin. The people of Somalia and Ethiopia were known to use frankincense for a similar purpose.
In the modern day, a huge variety of different treatments have been tried. Lotions of all kinds, drugs, even light acids like glycolic acid have all been tried. On top of that, modern technology has introduced yet more new treatments, like laser therapy, microdermabrasion, and carboxytherapy.
Simply slathering your stretch marks with olive oil doesn't work, we know that much. Your skin may see some benefits from the oils, but reducing stretch marks isn't one of them. If anything, it may help retain skin elasticity and minimize future stretch marks, but it's not going to reduce the stretch marks you already have.
More modern treatments, like laser therapy, don't have enough study behind them yet to say whether or not they definitively work.
One thing to be cautious of is certain chemical treatments. For example, topical applications of tretonoin, a medication used for acne treatments and certain other illnesses, is very dangerous for pregnant mothers. The medication can penetrate the skin and circulate in the bloodstream, and it is known to cause birth defects. Thus, it can potentially be used to treat stretch marks caused by obesity, age, or puberty, but not for pregnancy.
In general, there doesn't seem to be a lot of ways in which stretch marks can be treated. Some scarring can potentially be reversed with treatments, but more often than not this involves long years of ongoing treatment, and only fades scars, not removes them.
How Coffee Scrubs Work
Alright, now let's look at the other side of the problem. How do coffee scrubs work?
A coffee scrub is generally a mixture of a carrier, usually something like olive oil or coconut oil, with coffee grounds. Often, different recipes for coffee scrubs include other ingredients, like lemon juice, brown sugar, or another mild abrasive. They also occasionally include drops of essential oils, vitamin oils, or other supplements.
The resulting mixture ends up forming a thick paste with bold sugar crystals and coffee grounds. It smells great, first and foremost. The oils help it stick to the skin as you rub it on, whether it's your face, breasts, stomach, thighs, or anywhere else you have stretch marks or blemishes you want treated.
Coffee scrubs are meant to do three things:
- A coffee scrub uses abrasive particles to exfoliate the skin with mechanical action, removing dead skin, clearing pores, and carrying away oils and dirt.
- A coffee scrub contains caffeine, which can very slightly penetrate the skin and provide a bit of vasoconstrictive action that reduces inflammation.
- Vitamins and other ingredients infused in the coffee scrub can also penetrate the skin, providing their benefits.
Of course, the exact benefits of a coffee scrub depend on what ingredients you put into it, how often and how long you use it, and how well your skin tolerates it. A lot of people find that coffee grounds and sugar are too abrasive for their skin, leaving it feeling raw and scratched rather than refreshed.
How a Coffee Scrub Could Help Stretch Marks
So, can a coffee scrub help reduce or heal stretch marks completely? Unfortunately, the answer is "probably not".
The primary mechanism by which a coffee scrub could affect stretch marks is through its abrasive properties. The crystals of sugar and the grounds of coffee help strip away surface layers of skin, exposing fresh skin beneath. The problem is, this doesn't actually do anything to address the cause of stretch marks. Stretch marks are simply scars caused by stretched skin. It's not like a scrub is going to un-stretch the skin, nor is it going to undo the formation of a scar.
Other effects people cite for coffee scrubs include the caffeine leading to vasoconstriction, which perks up and tightens the skin. This could work, if the caffeine could actually penetrate the skin. If you read our other post on the subject, however, you'll learn that caffeine is very slow at penetrating the skin. You would have to leave a coffee scrub in place for hours to get any noticeable amount of caffeine through the skin barrier, or use a more medically formulated lotion with a carrier that can penetrate the skin itself instead.
What a coffee scrub may be able to do is slightly reduce the redness or whiteness of stretch marks in comparison to your natural skin tone. It does this by freshening up the surrounding skin, so the stretch marks don't stand out quite as much. The effect is virtually unnoticeable, at least right away, so you would need to use a coffee scrub on a daily basis for months or years before you saw any tangible results.
The Drawbacks of Coffee Scrubs
There's one major drawback to using a coffee scrub to treat stretch marks. Caffeine actually inhibits the body's ability to create new collagen. This could be bad!
Your skin needs to produce new collagen to maintain its elasticity. Over time as you age and as sun damages the underlying dermis, your body finds it harder and harder to generate more collagen. This is why your skin starts to sag and you form wrinkles as you get older. As the body forms less and less collagen, the skin becomes less and less resilient.
As we know from learning how stretch marks form, this is bad news. Less collagen means less elasticity in your skin, which means you'll be more susceptible to stretch marks, whether from weight gain, pregnancy, or gravity.
Now, it's not all bad news. On one hand, the amount of caffeine that penetrates the skin from a coffee scrub is minimal compared to even drinking a single soft drink. The effect on collagen production is likely to be minimal or non-existent for topical caffeine from a homemade coffee scrub.
The other good news is that you can help boost your collagen production by taking a collagen supplement. This won't help heal your existing stretch marks, but it can help minimize the formation of more stretch marks in the future.
So, what's the verdict? No, a coffee scrub probably isn't going to do much to reduce or heal stretch marks. It might help even out their skin tone over time, but also, time alone does that. On the other hand, the exfoliation and other benefits of a coffee scrub are fine and it's organic and safe to use, so it certainly can't hurt to try.