Sometimes, your skin is just moody. It tingles, prickles, itches, burns and you see it get red and bumpy. Even if you’d not characterise your skin as needy and sensitive, it can act up when the season changes. Just think of the time you spent in the glorious outdoors when the days get longer and sunnier. The sun may feel pleasant on your skin but UV rays can affect your skin’s natural barriers. The inverse is also true. When the days get shorter, temperature and humidity drop. Your skin has to work harder to keep its moisture levels. Add aircon or heating and no wonder your skin gets waspish.

That’s where the drink of the gods comes in. Guayusa is a caffeinated leaf coming with a ton of goodies such as vitamins C and D, calcium, potassium, and zinc. Before we dive into how guayusa can turn your cranky into affable skin, let’s first look at what it is.

About guayusa

Guyusa is a herbal infusion made from the leaves of a kind of holly called Ilex guayusa. This evergreen plant is native to the Amazon Rainforest.

Fresh guayusa leaves, photo by Anna Premo

Although technically not tea, the infusion made of its leaves is famous for its energy properties thanks to its high caffeine content. It’s around 2-3 % of by weight making it an alternative to coffee and energy drinks. In addition, it’s also known as an anti-inflammatory drink, well again thanks to caffeine but above else antioxidants, vitamins, and amino acids.

The oldest evidence that guayusa was used by us humans was found in a tomb of a medicine man in Bolivia. The medicine man was holding a bundle of guayusa leaves dated to be 1500 years old. Now, given that its natural distribution is in Ecuador, Peru, and southern Colombia. This means it was an important item for commerce.

Nowadays, the guayusa tree is cultivated in traditional forest gardens in the Amazon region. It grows up to 30 meters tall with dark green glossy leaves.

Traditional uses

Indigenous people brew guayusa leaves much like tea but it’s not related whatsoever to Camellia sinensis, the plant used to make green or black tea varieties. instead, it’s part of the holly family, just like the one used for festive decorations.

Guayusa has a long history in Ecuador and is deeply connected to the Kichwa (also Ketschua or Quechua). They drink the herbal infusion every day not only as an everyday drink similar to how we drink coffee but also in rituals and ceremonies. It tastes herbal, grassy and so ever slightly bitter.

Guayusa also goes by the name of “the night watchman” because it was drunk by hunters before evening hunts. In 1683, the Jesuits Juan Lorenzo Lucero observed how people made a decoction with guayusa so they could stay alert, especially when they feared an invasion by their enemies.

It was also often reported that people used guayusa to relieve their stomach problems. It was used in folk medicine to cleanse the stomach and the intestines. Guayusa was also known as anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial plant.


As caffeinated holly, guayusa is rich in natural caffeine which is responsible for improved wakefulness, focus – in short for the stimulation effect. But in contrast to coffee or energy drinks, it gives you a long lasting boost without the jitters or the crash.

Similar to tea (Camellia sinensis), it’s a source of L-theanine, the compound that’s responsible for increasing the frequency of alpha waves in your brain. This makes you feel less stressed and moody but without causing drowsiness. It’s also why you don’t get the jitters from caffeine.

Guayusa contains theobromine, a stimulating compound also found in cocoa. Theobromine and caffeine are related alkaloids.

Thanks to its high levels of antioxidants, guayusa is famous as an anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial plant. Caffeine itself is an antioxidant. But guayusa also has vitamin C, and other impressive antioxidants like polyphenols, saponins, and flavonoids.

Wake up your skin

When the seasons transition and it makes your skin cross, you may want to give it its caffeine fix. And no, caffeine will not put your skin into overdrive – on the contrary, it will “wake up” your skin, especially with guayusa infused products. The caffeine and the other antioxidants present will energise while at the same time calm your reactive skin.


Caffeine is a natural energiser and will depuff your skin by improving circulation. Moreover, as a natural diuretic, it will clarify excess fluids in the area where you apply it. That’s why eye creams often contain caffeine.


It’s inevitable that our skin changes as we grow older. But, damages done by exposing your skin to the sun, so called photo ageing changes normal skin structures. You’ll see dark spots and freckles on exposed parts of your body – not only your face but the back of your hands and neck.

The antioxidants combined with vitamin B3 (niacin) and vitamin C are great in that they help your skin guard against damage induced by the sun. They also can help brighten and even out skin tone.

How to use

Probably the most convenient way is to find guayusa-infused skin care products. If this proves difficult, you can substitute guayusa with caffeine. Just know that caffeine is not a 1 for 1 substitution.

If you want to get all of guyusa’s benefits, you could get its dried leaves and go the DYI route.

Possible side effects

So far, consuming guayusa is comparable to drinking green tea. You may however get the same effects like drinking too much coffee due to the caffeine.

Wrapping up

As a great source of antioxidants, guayusa is great to wake your skin up and make it affable all the while also reducing wrinkles and brightening your skin.

In closing, I leave you with an anti-crankiness toner recipe:

  • 2 tablespoon loose guayusa leaves
  • 0.5 dl rose water
  • 0.5 dl aloe vera water

Toss all the ingredients in a large pan and using low heat store until you see how the water takes on a tea-like colour. Remove from heat and let it cool before you strain it. Use the toner on your face and neck or wherever you need it every morning and evening.

Undo Damage With Guayusa, The Drink Of The Gods

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