Skin Care Ingredient Focus: Caffeine

Written by Lindsey Hunter-Ellul, MD on August 16, 2022 No Comments

caffeine for skin care

Almost 90% of adults in America consume caffeine for its properties. In safe doses, caffeine can enhance mental and physical performances, and recent studies have shown reduced risks of certain conditions including dementia, Parkinson’s disease, some cancers, and even all-cause mortality. Caffeine has become an increasingly popular skincare ingredient, but does it work? This natural stimulant behaves differently when ingested compared to its topical application. Let’s dive into the pros and cons of caffeine as a skin care ingredient.

What is Caffeine?

Caffeine is a natural compound found in several plants, including coffee beans. When ingested, it stimulates the central nervous system, helping us feel more awake and alert, enhancing productivity. Of course, too much of a good thing is bad and many physicians recommend limiting caffeine intake to <200 mg/day to avoid unwanted and potentially life-threatening side effects. When applied topically to the skin, caffeine can be absorbed into the blood stream, so skip the coffee bath and focus on using products with small concentrations of caffeine to achieve the desired skin benefits without the risks.

How Exactly Does Caffeine Help the Skin?

Caffeine can now be found as an ingredient in roughly 3% of over-the-counter skin care products. The coffee bean’s benefits primarily include its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

  • Reduces Inflammation, Puffiness & Skin Discoloration

Caffeine’s most evidence-based benefit includes its ability to reduce inflammation, puffiness and skin discoloration. As a vasoconstrictor (an agent that can cause blood vessels to “tighten up”), caffeine enhances microcirculation, which has been shown to reduce redness, lighten dark under-eye circles, and minimize under-eye puffiness.

  • Protects Skin from Harmful Ultraviolet Rays from the Sun

Sun damage is the skin’s worst enemy. Too much ultraviolet (UV) light leads to early onset skin aging, discoloration and wrinkles. As an antioxidant, caffeine protects skin from UV damage by deactivating free radicals— unstable molecules that break down collagen, leading to wrinkles and sagging skin.

  • Brightens, Smooths & Perfects Skin Tone & Texture

Restricting blood flow to the skin’s surface encourages microcirculation for skin, creating the appearance of brighter and smoother skin. By limiting free radical production, caffeine also contributes to plumper, wrinkle-free and youthful-looking skin.

  • Increases Collagen & Elastin Production

Some skin care providers claim the amino acids in green bean coffee oil are used to build more collagen and elastin, two proteins which give skin its flexibility and structure. Whether or not this is true, we do know that caffeine prevents the breakdown of these same two valuable proteins by neutralizing free radicals.

  • Reduces Fat & Cellulite

Caffeine may be able to dehydrate fat cells and stimulate the enzymes which break down fats into energy or waste products. This can result in temporarily smoother and more firm looking skin. Caffeine-based cellulite creams contain theophylline, an ingredient that claims to improve the look of cellulite. Research on the topic is mixed.

Who Can Benefit from Caffeine-Based Skin Care Products?

Caffeine-based skincare products are suitable for anyone who’s interested in preventing the signs of aging. This includes protecting skin from sun damage, wrinkles, droopiness and dullness.

Caffeinated skin care products are not, however, a permanent solution to inflammation, puffiness or discoloration. This skincare ingredient offers temporary improvement, but is not a cure.

The Best Skin Care Products with Caffeine

Caffeine is an active ingredient in several skin care products. The best and most-proven include eye creams and antioxidant serums, although you can find caffeine in just about any type of skin care product.

  • Moisturizers protect skin and reduce inflammation
  • Scrubs exfoliate and brighten skin
  • Eye Creams reduce puffiness and discoloration
  • Brightening Creams reduce redness and improve tone
  • Antioxidant Serums protect skin from sun damage
  • Cellulite Creams firm skin and reduce the appearance of cellulite
  • Hair Loss Treatments reduces androgenetic hair loss in all genders

Caffeine as an ingredient in any skin care product can also help other active ingredients become more effective by increasing their rate of absorption into the skin. You can find caffeine partnered with Vitamin C, niacinamide and hyaluronic acid.

How And When to Use Caffeine-Based Products

Caffeinated skin care products have small concentrations of caffeine and therefore are not designed to keep you awake at night, so they’re suitable for morning or evening use. However, as the product wears off, the benefits will wane. So, it’s best to use these products in the morning for brighter, less puffy skin during the day.

Are There Side Effects?

Caffeine as a skincare ingredient is very safe. Most caffeine-based skin care products contain just 1-3% active ingredient, so there’s not much risk to trying them to see if they’ll work for you.

Is Caffeine Recommended for All Skin Types?

Skin care products that include caffeine absorb easily in all skin types, no matter the skin’s thickness. For this reason, they’re suitable for any skin type, and can even encourage better absorption of your other skincare products.

Lindsey Hunter-Ellul, MD

Lindsey Hunter-Ellul, MD, FAAD is a Board Certified Dermatologist and is recognized as a Texas Monthly Super Doctors Rising Star. She has years of experience in medical dermatology, skin cancer, procedural and cosmetic dermatology, treating patients of all ages and skin types. Dr. Hunter-Ellul has served on several committees for the American Academy of Dermatology, Texas Dermatological Society, and was the Physician Editor for the AAD Directions in Residency Newsletter.

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