Can you even function in the morning without a good cup of coffee? It wakes you right up and gives you that boost to go out there and slay your day. But can caffeine perk up your eyes too? The skincare world thinks so. Skincare brands swear caffeine is the magical ingredient that gets rid of puffy eyes, reduces dark circles, and even treats cellulite.
Is this too good to be true? Is caffeine just the latest celebrity child that got the gig thanks to its coffee connection or can it really give your dark circles, wrinkles and cellulite the boot? The truth is somewhere in the middle. When I delved into the science of caffeine for skincare, this is what I discovered…
- What Is Caffeine?
- Benefits Of Caffeine: Is It Good For Skin?
- Side Effects Of Caffeine
- How To Use Caffeine
- What Are The Best Products With Caffeine?
- The bottom line
What Is Caffeine?
The world’s most consumed psychoactive drug, caffeine is a stimulant naturally found in coffee beans, tea, cacao, and other plants. It was first discovered in 1819 by German chemist Friedlieb Runge, who found it in the Arabian Mocha Bean. The most common sources of caffeine are the beans of the Coffea arabica, and Coffea canephora, and in kola nuts. By 2006, skincare had made its way into over 140 skincare products, particularly eye serums and cellulite creams. The average concentration of caffeine used in skincare products is roughly 3%.
Benefits Of Caffeine: Is It Good For Skin?
Skincare brands promise that caffeine can wake up your eyes, treat cellulite, and even reduce wrinkles. Is that really true? According to board-certified dermatologist Dr Howard Sobel, caffeine is “an anti-inflammatory when used topically. It can also reduce wrinkles, brighten skin, and de-puff by improving circulation in the skin.” Here’s what caffeine can really do for skin:
Can It Reduce Dark Circles?
Caffeine is a vasoconstrictor, a fancy way of saying it can constricts blood vessels. According to New York-based dermatologist Dr. Kavita Mariwalla, “Caffeine helps the microcirculation of blood in the skin, which is why it also helps decrease brown discoloration underneath the eyes, but only over the short term.” If your dark circles are caused by blood pooling under the eyes, using an eye cream with caffeine could help a little. But, if they’re caused by genetics, a poor night’s sleep, or excessive production of melanin, caffeine won’t help at all.
Can It Decrease Eye Puffiness?
Caffeine is a popular ingredient in eye creams that claim to decrease puffiness. According to Rachel Nazarian, MD is a dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group, “Caffeine is a great topical ingredient to improve puffiness and improve circulation in skin, so consider it a vital ingredient for under-eye puffiness.”. She also warns you that results are temporary. You need to use it every day for best results.
However, it’s not the miracle worker the media and skincare brands make it out to be. A 2011 study has found that “the overall efficacy of the selected caffeine gel in reducing puffy eyes was not significantly different from that of its gel base.” I wouldn’t be surprised to find out it works as well as plain old cucumber or tea bags, too. Just saying.
Can It Prevent Wrinkles?
Caffeine is an antioxidant. Like all antioxidants, it neutralises the free radicals that destroy collagen and elastin, a process that eventually leads to premature wrinkles and sagging skin. By stopping this damage, caffeine helps prevent the premature formation of wrinkles. But it can’t reduce the wrinkles you already have (only retinoids can do that). There’s also some initial research done on animals that says it can reduce sun damage, too. I’m waiting for more studies to confirm this on humans, but it sounds promising so far.
Related: How To Fight Wrinkles: What Really Works
Can It Reduce Cellulite?
Caffeine is a very common ingredient found in cellulite creams. Rumour has it that cellulite can dissolve fat below the skin by converting it into fatty acids that can then be removed by the increased blood flow it generates. It’s true that caffeine can increase blood flow, BUT there’s no proof that applying cellulite on the surface of your skin will dissolve the fat below. For this to happen, caffeine would have to penetrate skin much deeper than it actually does.
What caffeine does is dehydrate skin cells. This magic trick makes your skin look smoother, so it looks like your cellulite is going away. In reality, this is just an optical illusion. Once the temporary effects of caffeine are gone, your cellulite is still there. Bummer! While we’re on the subject, dehydrating your skin cells isn’t a great idea, anyway.
Related: Get Over It, Cellulite Is Normal
Can It Treat Rosacea?
Remember when I told you caffeine is a vasoconstrictor? That can help with rosacea, too. I’ll let dermatologist Leslie Baumann do the talking: “[because caffeine has the ability to constrict blood vessels, it] can be a tremendous boon to those who suffer from rosacea, which is essentially caused by frequently dilated blood vessels that lose their ability to contract.”
Side Effects Of Caffeine
Caffeine is generally considered to be safe. But, due to the increased blood circulation it brings, it can cause redness. In high concentration, it can also cause stinging in sensitive skin. If you’re experiencing side effects, stop using caffeine.
Can You Skincare Products With Caffeine During Pregnancy?
During pregnancy, it’s advised to greatly reduce the amount of caffeine you’re ingesting. The little amount of caffeine used in eye creams and serums is unlikely to cause any harm. As for cellulite creams, they cover a bigger area of skincare, so use them sparingly – especially if you’re drinking a lot of coffee. Remember, it’s always the dose that makes the poison.
How To Use Caffeine
It depends on what product it is in. If you’re using an eye cream or serum with caffeine, use it after facial serums but before moisturiser. Apply 4 dots on the under-eye are and gently pat the cream/serum in with your ring finger (it’s the gentlest). If you’re using a cellulite cream with caffeine, simply massage it onto the affected area using circular motions.
What Can You Use Caffeine With?
You can use caffeine with any other skincare ingredients. Caffeine is a team player that works well with other actives.
Who Should Use It?
The jury’s still out there on whether caffeine really works or not. I recommend it only to women who want to reduce puffy eyes (and even then, tea bags or ice cubes may give you the same results – and be cheaper too).
What Are The Best Products With Caffeine?
- The Ordinary Caffeine 5% + EGCG Depuffing Eye Serum ($8.90): This serum contains a high concentration of caffeine to depuff puffy eyes (but it does nothing for dark circles). I like it because it also contains green tea (EGCG), a powerful antioxidant that prevents premature aging and crow’s feet. Available at Beauty Bay, Boots, Cult Beauty, SpaceNK, The Ordinary, Ulta.
- Q+A Caffeine Eye Serum (£6.50): This hydrating eye serum contains a big dollop of caffeine paired with a bunch of antioxidants to prevent premature wrinkles. Available at Sephora.
- Good Molecules Caffeine Energizing Hydrogel Eye Patches ($18.00): These hydrogel patches are a great way to wake up your eyes and fake a good night’s sleep. Enriched with niacinamide to deeply hydrate the eye area and anticipants to prevent eye wrinkles, they also help prevent reduce puffiness. Available at Ulta.
- First Aid Beauty Sculpting Body Lotion ($34.00): Needless to say, skincare products can’t sculpt your body. So what does this do? It uses a mix of caffeine and moisturising ingredients to make cellulite look less noticeable and antioxidants with soothing properties to keep skin looking young and reduce irritations. Available at First Aid Beauty, Sephora, and Ulta.
The bottom line
I have mixed feelings about caffeine. It has great antioxidant properties and can help you reduce some types of dark circles and even soothe rosecea. But it’s hardly the miracle worker it’s touted to be. It won’t do anything for cellulite or most types of dark circles.