Retrospectacle: A Neuroscience Blog


In the vein of weird stimulants added to weird products, I have a new one to throw out: caffienated soap! Lots of people don’t like coffee (not me, I love love love it), but still want that delectably artificial pick-me-up in the morning. What are they to do??

Caffeine soap to the rescue!

The soap, called Shower Shock, supplies the caffeine equivalent of two cups of coffee per wash, with the stimulant absorbed naturally through the skin, manufacturers say.

“Tired of waking up and having to wait for your morning java to brew? Are you one of those groggy early morning types that just needs the extra kick?” ask the makers,

Supposedly the soap is very quick-acting; within 5 minutes you’ll feel the buzz. “Serving size” is 200 milligrams of caffeine per use, although I guess if you were really dirty you’d get quite a bit more. So you might wanna keep that old bar of Irish Spring around for evening showers, else you might have a few sleepless nights. From what I read, a cup of coffee contained about 40 mg of caffeine, so the 200mg soapy-dose is more like 5 cups of coffee or 2.5 Red Bulls! Yikes!

Perky Trivia
i-2f89720b1a5fb8403301e4b8daacb2bd-spider web caffiene.jpgAs we all know, caffeine is a nervous system stimulant. As you may not know, its the world’s most commonly used psychoactive drug, and 90% of North Americans consume caffeine in some form ever day. Caffeine evolved as a defense mechanism for plants. Insects eating a caffeinated plant become paralyzed and die, making it an effective pesticide. Global consumption of caffeine is around 120,000 tons.

Caffeine affects other species too (as mentioned above it was an insecticide), for example, caffeine administration in arachnids results in abnormal web patterning. This was described by NASA in a Tech Brief.

To the right: (top) normal web pattern by a spider never exposed to caffeine; (bottom) web pattern is disrupted in spiders after the administration of caffeine.

Now, quite interestingly, this NASA tech brief wasn’t limited to caffeine. The researchers gave these poor arachnids Benzedrine, marijuana, and chloral hydrate too. The point of these studies was to develop a technique for assessing chemical toxicity which bypassed expensive mammalian testing. According to the NASA brief (which is not much like a scientific paper at all), the degree to which the web is “messed up” reflects the degree of toxicity of the administered substance. However, one cannot assume that the biological, metabolic, and chemical reactions to such drugs are equivalent to what mammal’s reactions would be, therefore the rating system is probably largely arbitrary (yet still interesting).

Below: webs spun by spiders following the administration of several chemical types. i-beeef9e3714497261e65a7a345aa2d14-web chem.bmp


  1. #1 coturnix
    April 23, 2007

    But does that have to do with bycicles?

  2. #2 mark
    April 23, 2007

    That’s freaking awesome. I wish I could do studies like that.

    But as far as the soap goes, how readily will caffeine be absorbed through the skin? I’m not sure I buy this delivery system.

  3. #3 Boosterz
    April 23, 2007

    That’s the perfect lead in to this:

  4. #4 Zombie
    April 23, 2007

    Do you have any idea if (or how effectively) caffeine actually gets absorbed through the skin? That was the first question that came to mind when I saw this (somebody sent me the link last night).

  5. #5 Boosterz
    April 23, 2007

    Hmm, they took the first link down. Oh well, I have a second link. 🙂

  6. #6 Cameron
    April 23, 2007

    Best I can tell, you’d get something like %5-10 absorption…if you let the soap sit for a couple of hours.

    Don’t wash your kid’s mouth out with this stuff, if they could ingest a gram of caffeine they’d be in trouble.

  7. #7 Julie Stahlhut
    April 23, 2007

    I’ve never tried ShowerShock, but I remember from the ads that it also contains quite a bit of peppermint oil. Might the sensation of peppermint on the skin be responsible for a considerable wake-up jolt?

  8. #8 Spirula
    April 23, 2007

    one cannot assume that the biological, metabolic, and chemical reactions to such drugs are equivalent to what mammal’s reactions would be

    Shoot, you can’t even be sure within mammals. Though somewhat compelling, this type of testing tells you nothing more than what warning labels to put on Spiderman’s consumptables and toiletries.

  9. #9 Torbjrn Larsson
    April 23, 2007

    The delivery system leaves much to ask for, such as exact dosage, adjusting dosage after need, or sensitivity to individual variations. (At an uneducated guess, skin types differ much more than intestine linings as a result of harder constraints on the latter.)

    And worse, habituation to large amounts of coffeine makes it ineffectual.

    I don’t buy it. 😉

    brief (which is not much like a scientific paper at all)

    Technically, I guess a brief is a short summary of data that wouldn’t (or shouldn’t 🙂 make it as a full paper but still may be interesting as a pointer for others. Sort of like a letter, but outside an independent series of publications.

    (Btw, is there a scienceblogs basic post on different forms of publication? Perhaps it’s time to make one.)

    And spiders on drugs are cool.

  10. #10 Greta Christina
    April 23, 2007

    I’m imagining the public service announcement now: “This is your web. This is your web on drugs. Any questions?”

    And yes, spiders on drugs are wicked cool. Interestingly, they seem to do best on mescaline/peyote (although that might be dose-dependent more than anything else). “Hey, man, have you ever looked at your spinneret? I mean, really, really looked at your spinneret?

    And I love that on marijuana they “appeared to lose concentration about half-way through.” That is so… um, what were we talking about?

    P.S. That caffeinated web looks like my brain.

  11. #11 Torbjrn Larsson
    April 23, 2007

    It is really tempting to make pattern recognition and loose analogies, isn’t it? I can imagine a spider looking out on Paris from the Eiffel tower: “All right, I can see the spokes and the circles. But, dude, I would not so produce different thickness strands to move along. Bound to be traffic problems. What were these guys high on?”

    (Now you are probably thinking that it isn’t an appropriate analogy. I don’t know if that is true – we are talking french wine drinking city planners here. 😉

    P.S. My brain looks more like a rent apartment. Some dirty furniture (he he 😉 and leaky. But at least only one tenant. 🙂 D.S.

  12. #12 Shelley
    April 24, 2007

    Do you have any idea if (or how effectively) caffeine actually gets absorbed through the skin?

    Well, the peeps in my lab that I chatted with about this today said yes indeedy it could be absorbed through the skin. I saw it mentioned here ( in a WHO Chemical Safety Handbook:

    “In general, regardless of environmental conditions, sex and ethnic background, the barrier properties of the skin are surprisingly constant. No statistical differences were found in passive absorption of benzoic acid, caffeine or acetylsalicylic acid between Asian, black and Caucasian subjects (Lotte et al., 1993).”

    So, variation doesn’t seem to be a big factor. The handbook has some other interesting info about how chemicals pass through the skin.

    Still leaves the problems of dosage and eventual tolerance though. But I suppose thats the same problems as with regular caffeinated stuff.

  13. #13 Alex
    April 24, 2007

    Your a bit off with caffine levels: instant contains 40mg, espresso around 100mg. I think plunger is somewhere in the middle.
    Science: where else can you get paid for putting spiders on pot?

  14. #14 Grad
    April 24, 2007

    Getting your caffeine buzz started in the shower

  15. #15 Doug
    April 24, 2007

    Great post.
    These are truly mathematical strings with knots but different from nucleic acid and quantum strings.

    I wonder how these chemicals would effect silkworms.

    Apparently silk spider “dragline dope” and silkworm “dope” contain different proteins but have similar flow properites that behave like melted polymers.

    From ‘Taken for a Spin’ by Aimee Cunningham
    Scientists look to spiders for the goods on silk

    ScienceNews online and journal pp 231-234
    Week of April 14, 2007; Vol. 171, No. 15 , p. 231

    Article referenced Nature Materials NOV 2006

  16. #16 arosko
    April 24, 2007

    Boosterz, neither of your links work, but I think I know what you’re referring to. The video starts out sounding like a documentary about that NASA experiment, but then ends up with silly stuff like the spiders shooting each other and taking overeach other’s webs.

  17. #17 Torbjrn Larsson
    April 24, 2007

    the barrier properties of the skin are surprisingly constant.

    Ooh, am I glad I said “uneducated guess”! (And now I remember why I went into physics – it is often predictable.) But I’m also glad they said “surprisingly constant”. 😉

  18. #18 Jon H
    April 25, 2007

    It would seem that the NASA study has ‘shown’ that pot is less hazardous than caffeine.

  19. #19 Scholar
    April 25, 2007

    I heard that each cup of coffee you drink leaches 300 milligrams of calcium from your bones. Anyone else heard anything like that? (takes small sip)

  20. #20 Tlazolteotl
    April 26, 2007

    I remember seeing a series of these photos in one of those old Time-Life books we used to have as kids. Seems like I recall a web after LSD exposure too, and that it was very similar to the control web. I guess it isn’t politically correct to show that, though….what will we tell the children?!

  21. #21 Element106
    May 23, 2007

    You think caffeinated soap is crazy?! Look what these guys have:

  22. #22 resurgence skin care
    February 19, 2010

    One particularly promising study suggested that topical caffeine may also repair UV damage – and that it may prove to be a stronger antioxidant than certain green tea polyphenols, currently among the strongest and best-researched antioxidants around

  23. #23 resurgence skin care
    February 20, 2010

    While there is no doubt that caffeinated soap can cleanse the body, it is doubtful that the product actually provides much in the way of augmenting or substituting for a cup of coffee.

    I’ll still go for a cup of coffee.

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