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Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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Coming Soon: A Jolt Of Caffeine You Can Spray On Your Skin

Sep 11, 2013
Originally published on September 11, 2013 6:16 pm

In our "Weekly Innovation" blog series, we explore an interesting idea, design or product that you may not have heard of yet. Do you have an innovation to share? Use this quick form.

Something called Sprayable Energy is coming soon to an online store. It is a topical caffeine spray. That's right. So if you only drink coffee for the energy jolt, and not the taste or experience, you'll soon be able to spray your skin to stay awake.

The pitch is that caffeine permeates the skin, and if sprayed in the neck area, it will get into your bloodstream more steadily, preventing the energy bursts and crashes caused by a venti-sized Starbucks.

This idea is the brainchild of Harvard undergrad Ben Yu, a molecular biology major and a Thiel fellow. It's a fellowship started by entrepreneur and PayPal founder Peter Thiel.

"One day, I was spontaneously looking at the molecular and chemical structure of caffeine in nicotine," Yu says. "Like if you think about a nicotine patch, nicotine goes through skin really well, and I realized caffeine might be able to permeate the skin, too. I sprayed it on myself, and I verified it was going through the skin and showing up in my bloodstream."

After mixing and testing, Yu and his business partner, former venture capitalist Deven Soni, raised enough money through crowd funding to manufacture the first batch.

Here's how it will work: Four sprays of the product — a dose — is supposed to give you the same energy boost as drinking a cup of coffee. Each bottle holds about 40 doses and will retail for $15. Delivery should start in November.

Since the product only contains caffeine, water and an amino acid derivative, Yu says he's likely to avoid regulation by the Food and Drug Administration. But Michael Jacobson at the Center for Science in the Public Interest says something like this is so new that "it's a very tricky area" on the approval front.

Then there's the cultural question. Will people want to spray their skin with caffeine instead of enjoying a cup of Joe? Yu says he's more interested in the utility of caffeine consumption, not the rituals around it.

"Caffeine is really a nasty molecule, and pure caffeine is terrible," Yu says. "We used it for the stimulative effect, and this culture has evolved around it where it's not about the effect, and just about enjoying the ritual aspects. For those people, they can keep drinking their coffee. But for everyone who wants the functional aspect of the caffeine, this is a much better delivery mechanism because of the steady rate. You could have decaf coffee and then spray yourself on the side."

For now, the spray is unscented, though Yu says if this takes off, he could imagine adding some fragrance to his sprayable energy. Imagine the possibilities! Not only could the energy give you the function of coffee, it could give you the aroma, too.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.