the inkey list caffeine serum review

The Inkey List Caffeine Serum is like a double espresso for your under-eye area. That’s the goal, at least. Just like an espresso boosts your energy and helps you feel more alert, this caffeine serum promises to make you look fresh and awake. How?

The usual things: depuffing dark circles, getting rid of dark circles, and even reducing fine lines. But does it deliver? If you know me, you’ll know I’m very skeptical of eye creams in general, so all these claims have my inner BS radar on high alert. On that note…

Spoiler alert: I’m sticking to coffee. And concealer. Here’s why:

About The Brand: The Inkey List

The Inkey List was founded in 2018 bu Colette Laxton and Mark Curry in an attempt to make skincare less confusing. They believe that, if you have better skincare knowledge, you can make better decisions. I agree with them there.

But, I believe they created The Inkey List after noticing how much money The Ordinary was doing and they wanted some of that. I mean, The Inkey List is such a copycat of The Ordinary. They share lots of the same formulations, one-active-per-product philosophy, and black and white packaging. Couldn’t they make it more obvious?

The difference? The Inkey List is the younger trendy sister. While The Ordinary sticks, for the most part, to solid science, a lot of The Inkey List products use actives that are more marketing hype than anything else. Plus, they have sooooooo many products, they totally defy their “making skincare simple” mission. Just saying…

Key Ingredients In The Inkey List Caffeine Serum: What Makes It Work?


There’s a reason caffeine is one of the most popular ingredients in eye products. Caffeine is a vasoconstrictor: it tightens the blood vessels in the eye area, making your dark circles and puffiness look less obvious.

The catch? It works only if your dark circles are caused by leaky blood vessels. Mine aren’t, so hard luck. This can’t help me. I’ll have to stick to concealer.

FYI, here’s a little test to know if your dark circles are caused by leaky blood vessels: make some pressure on the dark circle and see what happens.

If the darkness temporarily disappears, leaky blood vessels are the culprit. I can’t guarantee caffeine will make them go away for good, but it can certainly help you.

Even if caffeine won’t help your dark circles, there’s still another good reason to use it: it’s a powerful antioxidant that fights free radicals, protects skin from UV damage and prevents premature wrinkles. 

But, is there enough caffeine in The Inkey List Caffeine Serum to do the job? Not really. It’s fairly down the ingredient list, so don’t expect miracles here.

But hey, at least it won’t irritate skin (high doses of caffeine can do that). It’s up to you to judge if the trade-off is worth it.

Related: The Truth About Caffeine In Skincare: What Does It Really Do?


Hyaluronic Acid is another popular ingredient in eye creams (and any other skincare product you can think of). Here’s why: this moisture magnet attracts water into the skin and binds it there. It’s so powerful, it can hold up to 1000 times its weight in water!

Skin loves all that extra moisture: it plumps it up so fine lines and wrinkles look smoother, makes it softer and gives the complexion a luminous glow.

Related: Why You Should Add Hyaluronic Acid To Your Skincare Routine


Matrixyl 3000 is a peptide that’s super popular at the moment for its ability to boost collagen production, firm skin and reduce wrinkles.

The press jumped on it like it’s the best thing since sliced bread. The truth is a little different: the only studies that prove Matrixyl 3000 can do all that are from the manufacturer.

I’m not saying they’re lying. But they have a vested interested in making Matrixyl 3000 sound as awesome as possible. Take these claims with a pinch of salt.

Related: Do Peptides In Skincare REALLY Work?

The Rest Of The Formula & Ingredients

NOTE: The colours indicate the effectiveness of an ingredient. It is ILLEGAL to put toxic and harmful ingredients in skincare products.

  • Green: It’s effective, proven to work, and helps the product do the best possible job for your skin.
  • Yellow: There’s not much proof it works (at least, yet).
  • Red: What is this doing here?!
  • Propanediol: It’s a solvent used to dissolve other ingredients in the eye cream.
  • Polyglyceryl-6 Distearate: A synthetic emollient that makes your skin softer and smoother to the touch.
  • Cetyl Alcohol: It keeps skin hydrated by preventing moisture loss and enhances the texture of the formula.
  • Hydroxyethyl Acrylate/Sodium Acryloyldimethyl Taurate Copolymer: It’s used to enhance the texture of a cream and to help the active ingredients better disperse all over during application.
  • Jojoba Esters: Jojoba-derived emollient wax esters that impart a soft, silky feel to the skin without leaving a greasy residue behind.
  • Glyceryl Dibehenate: It enhances the texture of skincare products and imparts a soft, silky feel to the skin.
  • Albizia Julibrissin Bark Extract: It has anti-inflammatory properties that reduce redness and irritations.
  • Squalane: A lighter derivative of squalene, it has emollient properties that deeply moisturise skin, strengthen its protective barrier, and prevent water loss – without being comedogenic.
  • Polyglyceryl-3 Beeswax: It helps the watery and oily parts of the formula stay together, so they don’t separate into an unpleasant mess.
  • Phospholipids: Lipids made up of glycerol, fatty acids, and phosphate that occur naturally within the human body. They draw moisture from the environment into your skin, helping to keep it hydrated for longer.
  • Tribehenin: A mixture of glycerin + behenic acid that helps prevent moisture loss, keeping skin hydrated.
  • Ethylhexylglycerin: It boosts the effectiveness of the preservative phenoxyethanol (the main preservative in this formula) and makes skin feel softer too.
  • Xanthan Gum: It helps to thicken skincare formulas.
  • Glycine Soja (Soybean) Extract: A rich source of antioxidants that fight free radicals, protect skin from environmental damage, and keeps skin younger-looking.
  • Polysorbate 60: A sorbitol-based emulsifier that keeps the oily and watery parts of a formula from separating.
  • Disodium Edta: It neutralises the metal ions in the formula, preventing them to spoil the cream.
  • Glyceryl Behenate: It helps other ingredients better penetrate the epidermis and makes skin softer and smoother.
  • Butylene Glycol: It hydrates skin by drawing water from the air into it.
  • Glycine Soja (Soybean) Sterol: An emollient that makes skin softer and smoother.
  • Leuconostoc/Radish Root Ferment Filtrate: A natural preservative derived from radishes fermented with Leuconostoc kimchii, the lactic acid bacteria tused to make kimchi. It has strong antimicrobial properties. 
  • Carbomer: A thickening agent that also prevents the watery and oily parts of a formula from separating.
  • Darutoside: It has anti-inflammatory properties that reduce redness and irritations.
  • Polysorbate 20: It improves the texture and feel of skincare products.
  • Phenoxyethanol: A preservative that kills a wide range of germs, helping to keep the product safe for use.


This is a creamy, yet lightweight lotion that takes a while to completely absorb. It feels just the littlest bit tacky on. It’s not unpleasant, but also not the best texture. I like to use products that feel so weightless, I forgot I applied them, know what I mean?


It’s fragrance-free. I like that. I know, I know, it’s so nice when a cream smells like a bouquet of lilies or a bunch of oranges. But fragrances are the most irritating ingredients in skincare. The eye area is already very delicate – more so than other areas of your skin. The Inkey List made the right call by leaving this irritating ingredient out.

How Do You Use It?

You can apply the eye cream both in the morning and at night. Eye creams go after serums, but before moisturisers and sunscreen. Apply 5 tiny dots on the undereye area and pat the cream in using your ring finger – it’s the gentlest. Gentleness is key here. Rubbing your cream can stretch skin and result in wrinkles!


The Inkey List Caffeine Serum comes in an opaque squeeze tube hat keeps the active ingredients stable and effective. It’s also hygienic, which matters with an eye cream. You want to minimise the chance of any bacteria or germs getting into the cream and in your eye. The tube has a needle-like tip for easier application. But, doesn’t it give you The Ordinary vibes?

Performance & Personal Opinion

Despite its name, The Inkey List Caffeine Serum feels more like a lightweight lotion than a liquidy serum. It takes a few minutes to absorb and it dries to a slightly tacky finish, but it never feels uncomfortable on. Oh, and it layers well under sunscreen or makeup. I’ve never had any problems with pilling so far. Phew!

If your skin isn’t too dry, this will provide you will the moisture your skin needs. It’s fairly hydrating and leaves skin softer and smoother. But drier skin types definitely need to follow up with a richer moisturiser (your face cream will do).

But can it get rid of puffy eyes and dark circles? Not really… I mean, it does help a little with puffy eyes – but that’s nothing that a tea bag won’t fix. Instead, it does nothing for dark circles. Caffeine only helps if yours are caused by leaky vessels.

If they’re genetic or caused by a bad diet, a poor sleeping pattern, or sun exposure, caffeine can do nothing against them. You’ll need a good old concealer for that. I’m sticking to that, too.

By the way, if you’re curious to know how it compares to The Ordinary Caffeine Solution 5% + EGCG, check out my comparison here.

Related: Dark Circles: Causes & Cures (What Really Works)

The Inkey List caffeine serum

How Does The Inkey List Caffeine Serum Compare To The Ordinary Caffeine Solution 5% + EGCG?

TEXTURE Thicker texture, feels a little tacky. Lightweight, non-greasy.
CAFFEINE Contains just a smidgen of it, so it won’t do much. Contains 5% caffeine. It’s more effective, but more irritating.
ANTI-AGING No extra antioxidants. Contains green tea to fight premature wrinkles.
PERFORMANCE Hydrating and reduces puffy eyes a little. Works a little better and faster because of the higher caffeine content.

Let’s start with the texture. A lightweight serum that sinks in quickly without leaving a greasy residue behind, The Ordinary Caffeine Solution 5% + EGCG is more pleasant to use. The Inkey List Caffeine Serum is heavier and feels tackier on.

The Ordinary also contains a bigger dose of caffeine. That’s a double-edged sword. It’s good because it means it works better and faster. It’s bad because 5% caffeine can be irritating for sensitive skin. If yours gets irritated easily, opt for The Inkey List.

The other reason I prefer The Ordinary serum? It features EGCG, the key antioxidant in green tea. This antioxidant helps you fight free radicals and has anti-inflammatory properties to boot. The Inkey List doesn’t have any extra anti-aging actives, so don’t expect it to do much in this department.

How Does The Inkey List Caffeine Serum Compare To The Other The Inkey List Eye Creams?

If you’ve read this far, you’ve probably figured out I’m not a big fan of this eye cream. To be honest, I’m not a big fan of eye creams in general. If skincare products could really fight dark circles, no one would have them anymore. That’s why I prefer to skip eye creams and use my face moisturisers and serums on the eye area too. Works like a charm and saves you money to boot. But, if you want to use an eye cream, let’s take a look at what else The Inkey List has to offer:

  • The Inkey List Brighten Eye Cream (£10.99): It claims to use 2% BRIGHTENYL to fight dark circles, but that alone won’t do much. What really makes it lighten dark circles is mica, a molecule that reflect the light in such a way that your dark circles look smaller. In other words, the cream has a temporary cosmetic effect. Save the money and use concealer instead.
  • The Inkey List Retinol Eye Cream (£10.99): Retinol is the only thing that really works against crow’s feet. It reduces them by boosting collagen production and fighting free radicals. The brand claims it uses 3% Vitalease™ (Retinol). It’s a way to lie without lying. 3% retinol is way too high and would seriously irritate your skin. It’d be irresponsible to use that much. Vitalease is a retinol COMPLEX. 3% doesn’t refer to the % of retinol. It refers to the % of the overall complex, which features other ingredients in addition to retinol. I personally use my retinol facial serum on my eye area, but if yours is too strong for you, this is a gentler alternative. Don’t use it more than 3 nights a week. Available at Boots, Cult Beauty, Sephora, and The Inkey List.

What I Like About The Inkey List Caffeine Serum

  • Creamy texture.
  • Fragrance-free.
  • Moisturising, makes skin softer.
  • It helps reduce puffy eyes a little.
  • Practical packaging.

What I DON’T Like About The Inkey List Caffeine Serum

  • The texture feels a little tacky.
  • It doesn’t do anything for dark circles.

Who Should Use This?

This eye cream is for you if you’re looking for something to reduce puffy eyes (and don’t want to use tea bags instead). But it won’t do much for dark circles. And by the way, no one needs a separate eye cream/serum.

Does The Inkey List Caffeine Serum Live Up To Its Claims?

Reduce dark circles. It can help only if they’re caused by leaky blood vessels.
Reduce puffiness. It can help a little.
Reduces fine lines. It has antioxidants that help prevent new fine lines, but it can’t single-handedly reduce the ones you already have.

Is The Inkey List Cruelty-Free?

Yes, The Inkey List is truly cruelty-free. They don’t test on animals. They don’t outsource the process to a third party. And they don’t sell in countries where animal testing is required by law.

Price & Availability

£8.99 at Cult Beauty and Feel Unique

The Verdict: Should You Buy It?

No one needs an eye cream. But if you know that caffeine works for your skin (hint: for most people, it doesn’t), The Inkey List Caffeine Serum is an affordable option to consider.

Dupes & Alternatives

  • Revolution 5% Caffeine Solution + Hyaluronic Acid Targeted Under Eye Serum (£6.00): A simple serum with caffeine and hyaluronic acid to hydrate the delicate under-eye area. Available at Beauty Bay and Boots.
  • The Ordinary Caffeine Solution 5% + EGCG (£5.80): As I mentioned above, it’s a lighter option with better antioxidants properties. Available at Beauty Bay, Boots, Cult Beauty, Sephora, The Ordinary, and Ulta.


Propanediol, Polyglyceryl-6 Distearate, Cetyl Alcohol, Hydroxyethyl Acrylate/Sodium Acryloyldimethyl Taurate Copolymer, Jojoba Esters, Glyceryl Dibehenate, Albizia Julibrissin Bark Extract, Squalane, Caffeine, Polyglyceryl-3 Beeswax, Phospholipids, Tribehenin, Ethylhexylglycerin, Xanthan Gum, Glycine Soja (Soybean) Extract, Polysorbate 60, Disodium Edta, Glyceryl Behenate, Butylene Glycol, Glycine Soja (Soybean) Sterol, Leuconostoc/Radish Root Ferment Filtrate, Hyaluronic Acid, Carbomer, Darutoside, Polysorbate 20, Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-7, Palmitoyl Tripeptide-1, Phenoxyethanol