I Tried The Most Expensive Coffee Scrub In The World

First things first: You should know that I'm a bona fide beauty daredevil at heart. No product, treatment, or concoction is odd enough for me to refuse (although the jury's still out on those semen facials). In fact, these days I travel around the world to test out bizarre beauty ingredients as the editorial director of Around the World Beauty, a startup company dedicated to discovering the world's best-kept beauty secrets. So, it's my job to try it all.

On a recent trip to Bali, I was looking forward to getting my hands on a batch of Kopi Luwak, a type of coffee with a particularly funky story. Before being roasted, Arabica and robusta beans are fed to a civet, a tree cat native to parts of Asia and Africa. That's right; before any human has a sip of the brew the civet gets a taste. Coffee farmers will then sift through the kitty litter to uncover the magic beans and send them on their way to your coffee cup. (Jack Nicholson breaks it down best in the 2007 film The Bucket List.)

Known for its discriminating palate, the civet will only eat the ripest coffee berries on the farm. This fact, combined with the fermentation process that occurs in the animal's digestive system, is what makes Kopi Luwak so rich — and pricey. At up to nearly $100 per cup, it's the most expensive grade of coffee in the world.

But what I'd come to prove was whether the world-renowned grounds are as stellar in a coffee scrub as they are in an espresso machine — or do cheaper grounds work just as well? To test this out, I dumped 2 tablespoons of the grounds into an empty jar, and then added 1 teaspoon of organic virgin coconut oil and a teaspoon of extra-virgin olive oil. I spooned puddles of the mixture into the palms of my hands and rubbed it over my driest areas, including my knees, elbows, and the mild patches of eczema in the creases of my arms. After nearly a month of biweekly use, my skin is noticeably smoother and firmer, and I haven't had an eczema breakout since putting the scrub to the test.

Knowing the skin-care benefits of caffeine, though — I've been a fan of Frank Body, the Australian coffee-based skin-care range, for years — I wasn't convinced that my Kopi Luwak concoction trumped good old-fashioned coffee grounds. So I reached out to a team of skin-care experts to weigh in on my results. The overall response? There is no evidence to prove that the expensive stuff is better.

"There's definitely some possibility that there is a flora in the civet that is beneficial," says holistic dermatologist and author of Radiant Skin from the Inside Out Alan M. Dattner, MD. "But I don't think anyone has done the research on that." Integrative and women's health expert Taz Bhatia, MD, of the Atlanta Center for Holistic & Integrative Medicine, agrees. "Kopi Luwak may be more bioavailable and contain bacteria that helps bring balance to the skin," she says. Yet the scientific confirmation to support these claims is still MIA.

There had to be a plausible explanation for the noticeable difference in my skin, though. As it turns out, there are several. No one knows the beauty benefits of coffee better than Bree Johnson, cofounder of Frank Body, which sells a coffee scrub every 40 seconds. "Coffee is amazing for the skin because it's full of antioxidants and has the same pH as your skin, meaning it won't dry it out or damage it in any way," says Johnson. "It also stimulates blood flow, which promotes collagen production and is great for treating a range of skin concerns, from acne and eczema to stretch marks and cellulite." There's something to be said for its physical makeup, too. "Some natural ingredients, like walnut shells, are sharp and can cut the skin," says Dr. Dattner. "But coffee grounds can be just round enough to exfoliate the skin [gently]."

Additionally, the emollients that I added to my mixture have their own payoffs. "We don’t know the specific health benefits of Kopi Luwak over other coffee beans," says Dr. Taz. "But coconut and olive oils trap moisture in the skin and topically provide missing fatty acids, helping eczema." Dr. Dattner concurs. "The other ingredients that you put into your mix could be as important as the caffeine itself," he says. "They have the ability to adhere to the fat-soluble natural oils that are found in the coffee beans."

In this case, the double dose of oils could be the cause for my velvety skin, although others may have a different experience. "Choose your oils according to what you can tolerate and what best matches your skin type," says Dr. Dattner. Johnson and her team use cold-pressed sweet-almond oil for normal to dry skin, coconut and grape-seed oil for those with nut allergies or sensitive skin, macadamia oil for dry and flaky skin, and peppermint oil for acne-prone skin. "We also include rosehip oil in our Creamy Face Scrub [$20, available at Frank Body]," she says. "It's full of fatty acids and antioxidants, which are really great for reducing inflammation for those who suffer from rosacea."

As for whether Frank Body will sell Kopi Luwak scrubs in the future — not likely. "Kopi Luwak is a really high-quality bean, so it's great for drinking but [a good scrub] is not about flavor," Johnson says. "It's the manual exfoliation combined with a high caffeine content that makes it so effective."

And then, there's the price tag. "The problem is that Kopi Luwak is quite an expensive bean. I don't know if it'd be financially viable to use it in our products!"

Willing to fork up the cash and treat yourself to a dropping of Kopi Luwak? Try your own DIY scrub at home with Doi Chaang Coffee's Wild Thai Civet Coffee, $70, available at Dean & Deluca. But we think it's safe to say that the grounds you already have in your coffee machine can do the trick, too.

More from Skin Care