QuestionWhat happens if you bathe in Red Bull?
Hopes&Fears answers questions with the help of people who know what they're talking about. Today, we wonder if you'll die, get sick or be very energized from taking a bath in Red Bull.
We’ve all been tempted by their promise of a quick pick-me-up, but energy drinks are notorious for their massive levels of caffeine, sugar and other mysterious stimulants. Overconsumption has reportedly caused cardiac arrest and death. Energy drink-related trips to the ER have gone through the roof, almost doubling between 2007 and 2011. But what would happen if, instead of drinking cans like Rock Star and Red Bull, you ran an experimental bath of energy drink and took a long soak? What would it do to your skin? Could an (admittedly ill-advised) dip in energy drink even prove fatal? We asked doctors, scientists and dermatologists to find out.
Kathleen E Miller
PhD, senior research scientist at Research Institute on Addictions, University at Buffalo, expert on energy drink use
You’d get sticky. Very sticky.
You’d probably cut yourself on the pop-top can.
This question is actually not as loopy as it sounds. The primary active ingredient in energy drinks is caffeine, which acts as a central nervous system stimulant when consumed internally but can also have a modest effect when applied externally. Because it dehydrates skin cells and constricts blood vessels, it may make your skin temporarily appear a little firmer and smoother; it can also play a role in promoting growth of hair follicles. (This is why caffeine is now sometimes found in cosmetics, body lotions, and hair loss products.) Sadly, though, it’s not likely to have any lasting effect on cellulite.
There is also some evidence that in sufficiently concentrated doses, caffeine can be absorbed through the skin as a stimulant pick-me-up. There are even caffeinated soaps (like Shower Shock or Bath Buzz) that promise to put a little extra pep in your daily cleansing routine. However, because topical absorption is a much less efficient way to get caffeine into the bloodstream than drinking it, scrubbing with these products – or even soaking in a tub full of Red Bull – probably wouldn’t have much actual effect. If you’re looking for a buzz in the bathtub, you’re better off bringing a straw.
Based on studies in rats, consuming 12 grams of caffeine– or 118 cups of coffee– would be lethal for a 125-pound adult.
Joan Salge Blake
MS, RD, LDN, clinical associate professor at Boston University, nutrition expert and author
Well it would be an expensive bath! That’s the first thing – it would cost you a lot of money to fill up a bath with energy drink based on what they are per can. Secondly, when you take a bath you want it to be in clean water and if you’re going to be in a tub of sugary liquid, I question what that’s going to feel like with soap. I’m not sure if that’s going to do the trick.
Third, there is some research to suggest that some caffeine can be absorbed through the skin. A lot of it will depend on how long the caffeine has been on the skin, and how long you’re taking a bath for. I’m not sure it would be my choice nor my recommendation to take a bath in energy drink – good old fashioned tap water, a bar of soap, and a wash cloth can really do a better job. To my knowledge we don’t have any research to suggest whether or not it would be fatal.
Dr Janet Brill
PhD, RDN, CSSD, FAND, Nutritionist, Go Red spokesperson, and author of several books including "Nutrition Together" and "Blood Pressure Down"
You may want to think twice before bathing in energy drinks. Energy drinks contain large amounts of caffeine and other legal stimulants such as ginseng and guarana. Caffeine concentration can range from 75 to 200 mg per serving (with some 2 ounce “shots” containing a whopping 208 mg – compare this to just 38 mg in a 12 ounce can of Pepsi). Individual responses to caffeine vary, however at high doses one should be concerned about the potential negative effects: increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, heart palpitations, dehydration, irritability, anxiety and sleeplessness. The combination of energy drinks (stimulants) with alcohol (a depressant) can be potentially deadly combo.
— In 2013, Red Bull was sued for $85 million for the death of frequent Red Bull drinker Corey Terry. In 2012, the New York Times reported that 5-Hour Energy had been cited in 13 death reports.
Bathing in an energy drink might actually be far more healthy for a person than consuming one. High levels of caffeine can lead to an elevated heart rate and occasionally palpitations. Far less caffeine would be absorbed through the skin than it would be by drinking the product. Caffeine does have some benefits for the skin, including skin tightening and decreased appearance of blood vessels. Following a bath in an energy drink the skin could carry the sweet scent of ginseng and other caffeine containing ingredients throughout the day. Energy drinks usually have a very high sugar content. Beverages with a high sugar content spike blood glucose levels and add empty calories to the diet. This can be avoided by applying the drink to the skin rather than ingesting it. Soaking in sugar may make the skin feel sticky. I would recommend thoroughly rinsing afterward or rather skipping the energy drink bath altogether in favor of a gentle cleanser and a moisturizer.