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Can Coca Cola give you a better sun tan? Episode 141

Can Coca Cola give you a better tan?

Nanda asks…Will Coca Cola give you a better sun tan?

When I first head this I thought it was an obscure, ridiculous rumor. But I was wrong. it turns out it’s a very pervasive, ridiculous rumor.

Yeah, if you Google “using coca cola to tan” you get THOUSANDS of search results from people raving about the tanning powers of Coke. People all over the world say that you can get a darker tan if you apply Coke to your skin. My favorite is…Top ten myths about Coca Cola which just happen to be true. But all the article does is repeat the myth – there’s not a hint of evidence.
 Another website explained it this way…Imagine this, your body is the skillet, the sun is the fire, and the sugars and caramels are burning on you!

I don’t think that’s QUITE right. Even a high tech mechanism like that doesn’t convince me.

What about the Coca Cola company? Have they weighed in on this controversy?

The only official response from Coke I could find was on their UK website where they said “As much as we love Coca‑Cola, we really wouldn’t recommend using it in this way. There is no sun protection factor in it at all – it’s a drink!”

And that’ s exactly what I’d expect them to say regardless of whether it works or not. if they said it does work then someone could try it, get sunburned or skin cancer and sue them. Better to deny, deny, deny. So is there any science here?

First of all, some versions of this myth say to mix Coke with baby oil before tanning. So if you did this how do you know it’s not the baby oil giving a darker tan? There is evidence that oils can darken tans by reducing the amount of sunlight that’s reflected from the skin.  (Ref: Phototherapy treatment of psoriasis today) In this version of the myth it could just be the effect of the mineral oil.

But let’s take a look at the ingredients in Coke to see if there’s anything ELSE that could be accelerating the tanning process. The product is pretty simple it just consists of Carbonated Water, Sugar, Caramel coloring, Phosphoric Acid, and Natural Flavourings Including Caffeine.

The water certainly won’t do anything. I suppose in THEORY the sugars could dry on your skin and form a layer that reduces the reflection of sunlight (just like mineral oil does) but I don’t believe sugar has the right optical properties to do that.

Could the caramel coloring be staining the skin? Caramel does have staining properties but I doubt that as well because the concentration is so low. The viscosity of Coke is so low that you can’t really apply a thick layer to concentrate it either. So that doesn’t appear to be the answer.

Yeah, just about the worst application properties you can imagine. Phosphoric acid would have no effect it’s just there to control the pH.

Okay, so what about the natural flavors and caffeine?

Well, according to the text book Sunscreens by Nadim Shaath, insert reference] one way to boost a tan (which is actually increasing melanogenesis) is to increase the amount of an enzyme called tyrosine present in the melanosomes. One researcher demonstrated that a chemical known as theophylline may directly increase the rate of tyrosinase synthesis. (Of course this was done on cell cultures in the lab…) Theophylline is chemically related to theobromine which is found in the leaves of the cocoa plant so it COULD be a part of the “ natural flavorings” used in coke but since the exact recipe is secret we’ll probably never know.

Caffeine is another related chemical so the combination of the two THEORETICALLY may be able to boost melanogensis.

Of course, as I said a second ago, this has only been shown possible in cell cultures and NOT when applied topically. So you’d also have to prove that these chemicals penetrate skin and that there’s enough present to cause an effect.

Yeah. If there is Theobromine is Coke there’s not very much. since it’s only slightly water-soluble (about 330 milligrams per literhttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theobromine.) BTW, theobromine has also been identified as one of the compounds that may contribute to chocolate’s alleged aphrodisiac properties.

The bottom line: There doesn’t appear to be any scientific mechanism to explain how Coke could accelerate a sun tan.

How do sugar sprays texturize hair?

Allie asks…How do sugar sprays texturize your hair? There’s a Sugar Mist product, Cake Beauty has one and Bed Head has Sugar Shock. How do they work?

To answer this we took a look at the ingredients in these sugar sprays. The Sweet Definition Texturizing Sugar Mist product does contain a sugar extract. It also contains a classic styling polymer called VP/VA copolymer which is what’s actually responsible for it holding hair/providing texture.

I guess the name “Sweet Definition Texturizing VP/VA Copolymer Mist” just didn’t have the same ring.

The sugar may help a little but if too much is used it will make hair sticky because sugar is hygroscopic (meaning it can absorb water from the air.) Again, the polymer is really doing the work.

For the Cake Beauty product I couldn’t find ANY ingredient list. The website and their press release information only tells me what’s NOT in the product. I HATE when that happens. It’s impossible to tell WHATS in this thing. If it doesn’t contain a true styling polymer then it’s probably more of a texturizer than a holding product.

Finally, the Bed Head product has sucrose as well as PVP which is another classic styling agent. Most old school gels are PVP based.

I guess the bottom line is that if these sugar sprays are based only on sugar, they can give your hair texture (and some stickiness.) If the contain sugar but also have a true styling polymer then they can actually provide some hold.

Bed Head Sugar Shock Bodifying Sugar Spray ingredients

Water, PVP, Magnesium Sulfate, Sucrose PEG-17, Dimethicone, Glycerin, Polysorbate-20, Phenoxyethanol, Oleth-20,PEG-40, Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Caprylyl Glycol, Fragrance, Methylparaben, Disodium EDTA, Aminomethyl Propanol, Methylisothiazolinone, Butylphenyl Methylpropional, Citral, Coumarin, Hexyl Cinnamal, Limonene, Linalool.

I don’t really understand how the salt and sugar will provide much benefit because the sugar (as well as the glycerine and to some extent the propylene glycol) will attract moisture to your hair. That means stickiness. The salt will provide texture if it’s “dry” but the other ingredients around it will probably plasticize it to the point there you don’t get a good feel in your hair.

Can you use less of mineral sunscreen?

Kit Kat says…a well-known dermatologist says the recommended 1/4 tsp on face and 1/4 tsp for the neck isn’t applicable for physical sunscreen and you don’t have to use that much to get the proper protection. Is this correct?

I’ve never seen any data that suggests this is true. All sunscreens require a relatively thick coating to ensure appropriate protection. Skimping on how much you apply is not a good idea.

But with claims like this it’s always a good idea to check out the source material. I did find a link to the source of the Kit’s question. It was Dr. Neil Schultz on Derm TV.

I saw that video. First, I gotta say it really bugs me that he refers to mineral sunscreens as “chem-free.”

He does advocate using use less mineral sunscreen. His reasoning is that mineral sunscreens are micronized so that the particles are so small that a given number of particles will cover a larger amount of surface area.

That much is certainly true. But it seems to me proper coverage also depends on the exact concentration of the mineral sunscreen active and the spreadability of the formula. Does he offer any more proof?

In the video, he says “on the basis of personal experience and the use of chem free sunscreens by many thousands of patients, using less chem free than traditional carbon based sunscreens still results in the effective sun protection as well as a cosmetically  acceptable experience.”

I certainly respect his opinion as a professional but his personal experience and the uncontrolled observation of patients still sounds like anecdotal data to me.  This MAY be true but I still can’t find any credible source that backs this up so I’m very skeptical. So, why would you take the chance?

Beauty Science News

How cosmetics affect how people perceive you


Here’s a study published in the Journal Perception that looks at the influence of cosmetics on people’s perception of other people. In the study they had people look at pictures of other people wearing makeup and not wearing makeup. They had to rank them for things like attractiveness, dominance and prestige. The researchers were attempting to find out how makeup affects perception of social status. They found that men and women both thought people looked more attractive when they wore makeup. big surprise. However, women perceived people who wore makeup as more dominant while men thought they looked more prestigious.

Skin lightening ingredient approved in EU


Here’s another update on cosmetic ingredient safety from Europe: The SCCS says that alpha-arbutin is safe to use in skin lightening products. (Remember that hydroquinone has some side effects that can make it dangerous so this may be a good alternative although it’s not as effective.) In the EU HQ is allowed but only in prescription products so it’s more tightly controlled.

Magic powder turns beauty products into sunscreens


This story published in New Beauty sounded pretty scary. There’s a company who came out with a product called MOSS Halo Sun Protection Powder. They claim that you can mix this powder into your favorite skin care product to get SPF protection. The powder is made up of zinc oxide and then some other BS ingredients like willow bark, bamboo, and green tea extracts. They claim you can get an SPF of about 15 – 20. This seems like a terrible idea to me because sunscreen actives are very difficult to disperse.

Lo-Wash your face (Lotion Washing)

This isn’t really a news story but rather just some speculation I’d like to share with you and our listeners. It was triggered by another article I saw about No-poo for hair where you “wash” hair with conditioner. There’s also the “Low Poo” version where you use products with just a touch of surfactants. But it made me wonder if there’s an analogous beauty hack for skin: If you can wash your hair with conditioner, why can’t you wash your face with lotion? I call it “Lo-wash.”  The analogy holds up pretty well – both conditioners and lotions contain some emulsifying surfactants and a lot of lubricating materials like fatty alcohol and silicones. I don’t expect that lotion would deep clean your skin so it may not remove heavy makeup but if you’re just trying to remove sweat and oil and you don’t want to risk drying out your skin, it seems like something that might be worth a try. Let’s make Lo-Wash a thing!

Female smokers should time quitting with their menstural cycle.


I know that people spend millions, maybe billions of dollars trying to fight the signs of aging, but in reality there are pretty much only two lifestyle choices you can make that will have the most significant impact on the way your skin looks. Number 1 is to always use sunscreen when going out in the sun. And number 2 is don’t smoke. Smoking and sun cause wrinkles, skin discoloration and other signs of aging.

The problem is that once you start smoking many people find it hard to stop. Well, we don’t have any advice for men but for women, this latest study published in the journal Biology of Sex Differences suggests that women who want to quit smoking can have better success by timing their quit date with optimal days during their menstrual cycle.

It turns out estrogen and progesterone modulate addictive behavior. These ingredients fluctuate over the course of the menstrual cycle so they hypothesized that there would be a time during the cycle where the progesterone-to-estrogen ratio is high and addictive behaviors would be thwarted.

The women in the study were separated into two groups — those in their follicular phase (the time when menstruation begins until they ovulate) and those in their luteal phase (the time after ovulation). Results revealed that during the follicular phase, there was reduced functional connectivity between brain regions that helps make good decisions and the brain regions that contain the reward center, which could place women in the follicular phase at greater risk for continued smoking and relapse.

Which is a complicated way to say, if you want to quit smoking and improve your skin and overall health, you should do it after ovulation but before you have your period. That will give you a better chance of successfully quitting, according to this research.

Anti-pee paint

Finally, here’s a story…I’m not sure how it related to beauty science but researchers have invented a paint that repels urine. It’s being used on the outside of night clubs and bars where people tend to relief themselves. With the new paint the urine just bounces off the wall and sprays all over the perpetrator. Our female listeners may want to use this at home for their husbands and boyfriends.

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Shadowdancer says…These guys are great at cutting through the BS and getting to the truth of how beauty products work. Sometimes they do seem to know more about the science than about current trends; I wish they put the same effort into googling trends as looking up studies and journal articles.

i4Imagine says…One of the best! They provide such honest, straight forward information backed with science. It has definitely piqued my interest in skincare!


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Peter July 12, 2016, 1:08 am

    For the low-wash your face part, there are already multiple facial cleansing milks on the market. They don’t contain surfactants but only emulsifiers, so that’s basically almost the same as washing your face with a lotion. Some dermatologists recommend eczema patients to wash their face with their regular emmolient (moisturizer) and for men to shave with it as well.

    • Randy Schueller July 12, 2016, 7:01 am

      Interesting, Peter. I hadn’t thought of those products but you’re right, that’s pretty close to Lo-washing.

    • amy July 15, 2016, 4:50 pm

      agreed. isn’t “lo washing” basically the same as using an old fashioned cold cream? when I ran out of cream cleanser, I would sometimes use use olay complete (for sensitive skin) to wash my face and it worked just as well (just more expensive). just try to not get it in your eyes. ouch. I’m even able to use cream cleansers to remove heavy eye makeup!

  • Grace July 12, 2016, 9:08 am

    HA! They need to paint the entire French Quarter with that paint. Maybe 2 coats on Bourbon Street!

    • Eileen July 12, 2016, 10:43 am

      I first read about the paint in an article in the Times quite awhile ago. It was being tested in a town in Germany and was very successful. It didn’t take patrons long to figure it out. The only ones who still tried peeing on walls were the hapless tourists who couldn’t read the warning signs in German. LOL The locals thought it was a great joke 😉

      • Randy Schueller July 12, 2016, 11:49 am

        Bottom line: Avoid freshly painted German beer halls.

    • Randy Schueller July 12, 2016, 11:49 am

      It’s not called “Bourbon Street” for nothing!

  • Eileen July 12, 2016, 11:42 am

    I’ve been devoted to physical sunscreens for years (I have mild rosacea on my face) and I have found a couple cosmetically elegant ones that I love, but they are also much more expensive than their chemical counterparts and so I don’t use them for my entire body. I use about a teaspoon for face, ears, neck, and chest and then I’m able to switch to a cheaper physical/chemical formulation for the rest of my body.

    I can’t imagine skimping on the amount of sunscreen based on anecdotal evidence being offered by a dermatologist. With skin cancer on the rise, proper protection is just too important and so I’ll stick to the established guidelines until valid studies indicate otherwise.

    On an interesting sideline, Consumer Reports has been testing sunscreens for the past four years to see if they measure up to the SPF level that is stated on their labels. 43% of the 60 well-known sunscreens that were tested this year failed to live up to their SPF claim. The tests also revealed that the physical sunscreens were more likely than the chemical sunscreens to fall short of their claim 🙁 All the more reason not to short change the application. If it is the cost that motivates people to skimp–and that’s probably a big factor for many people–than the answer is to find a cheaper sunscreen and apply it per the guidelines rather than reducing the amount of physical sunscreen that is used. Or, do what I do and save the good stuff for the face and neck and use a cheaper physical/chemical sunscreen on the rest of the body.


    • Randy Schueller July 12, 2016, 11:48 am

      But but but a DERMATOLOGIST says it’s okay to skimp…

    • Quebec gal May 16, 2018, 7:22 pm

      Oh Eileen please help. I know it’s a long time since this post but I only recently discovered this blog. I have reactive acne prone skin and break out easily with sunscreen use. Could you tip me off about which physical sunscreen you’re using?

  • Dr. Racanelli July 19, 2016, 8:10 pm

    There are plenty of videos floating around showing Coke being used to remove rust… so, rubbing it on your skin and sitting in the sun definitely sounds like a GREAT idea 😉

  • ZoeH March 14, 2017, 11:13 pm

    If the powder worked, I would love the crap out of it. Too bad.