Caffeine in skincare: does it really work?


Caffeine isn’t just for mornings anymore.

This simple yet effective ingredient is gaining traction in the beauty world, thanks to its popularity on TikTok and celebrities claiming that caffeine-infused skincare products are a quick and affordable way to give your face a boost. little boost.

Why caffeine is added to skincare products

While it may sound too good to be true, these caffeinated skincare devotees might be onto something.

Caffeine is a vasoconstrictor, meaning it narrows and constricts blood vessels, says Jeffrey Hsu, MD, board-certified dermatologist and co-director of Oak Dermatology in Chicago.

“When used in skincare, caffeine reduces blood flow to the skin and makes it look brighter and firmer,” says Dr. Hsu. “It is often considered an anti-aging or anti-wrinkle ingredient in face, eye and even body care.”

The key to making skin care products work is proper formulation. In particular, when the right amount of caffeine is used, it can be an effective ingredient in cooling your skin, eliminating dark circles under your eyes, and reducing puffiness on your face.

Several studies, such as the one published in the International Journal of Cosmetic Sciencesshow that caffeine molecules are small enough to pass through the top layers of your skin, so they can really penetrate and do their job intradermally, says Hsu.

But it’s worth noting that just because a product claims it contains caffeine doesn’t automatically mean it will give you the benefits you’re looking for, he says.

“For caffeine to be effective as mentioned, it must be applied in very concentrated doses,” says Hsu. “I always recommend patients opt for medical-grade skin care products because they’re backed by controlled studies that prove product formulations, ingredient transparency, and efficacy.”

When evaluating skincare labels, marketing jargon like “clinically proven” and “professional grade” doesn’t necessarily equate to “medical grade,” adds Hsu. “Medical-grade products are dispensed in a medical practice or medical spa where a medical director oversees operations.”

Potential Benefits of Caffeinated Skin Care Products

Caffeine works primarily through circulation, so it’s fast-acting, protective against oxidative stress, and anti-inflammatory for the skin, says Ife Rodney, MD, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Eternal Dermatology and Aesthetics in Fulton, Maryland.

Caffeine may also help protect against photodamage, such as fine lines and wrinkles after sun exposure. “Studies show that caffeine helps when applied after exposure to UVA and UVB rays,” says Dr. Rodney. “You’ll get that immediate protection against oxidative stress, but it can wear off over time. Skincare products should include other active ingredients that can help repair your skin.

Some other ingredients that are great for the skin include aloe, tea tree oil, shea butter, vitamin C and jojoba oil, Rodney says. “These all contain antioxidants, which slow down oxidative stress and can even help restore damaged cells,” she explains.

Speaking of sun-kissed skin, a growing body of animal research suggests that caffeine may have anti-carcinogenic properties, Hsu says.

“In a study done on mice, for example, topically applied caffeine promoted apoptosis, or cell death, in sunburn-damaged cells,” he says, referring to a published paper. in December 2021 in the Journal of Biology, Medicine and Biochemistry. “The researchers concluded that topical caffeine causes actual cell death in squamous cell carcinoma and benign skin tumors.” Squamous cell carcinoma is a type of skin cancer. Of course, large-scale clinical trials are needed to find out if humans would see the same anti-cancer effects.

Are there any downsides to using caffeine in skincare?

The main downside is that caffeine’s skin benefits only work for a short time, like drinking a cup of coffee, Rodney says. “Caffeine is a temporary fix and won’t cure wrinkles or bags under the eyes,” she says. “You should always invest in other skincare items that work well with this product and target your specific long-term skin concern.” Examples include cleanser with salicylic acid, serums with vitamin C and niacinamide, moisturizers with ceramides and broad-spectrum sunscreen, Rodney suggests.

Caffeine can also irritate your skin, causing redness from increased blood flow. If you have sensitive skin or caffeine sensitivity, you can start by testing this ingredient in small doses on a limited area of ​​your skin.

“I suggest doing a small test patch, about the size of a penny, behind the ear or on the jawline,” says Hsu. “Do it several times and see how the skin reacts before using it.”

Caffeine Skin Care Products Dermatologists Love

One of the most popular skin-care products is Inkey Caffeine Eye Cream ($9.99, Actress Gemma Chan and musician Alanna Haim swear by the staple food for reducing puffy eyes in the morning. It contains a popular anti-aging peptide called Matrixyl 3000, which is known to improve anti-wrinkle performance, although more research is needed to determine how well it can penetrate through your skin, an article suggests.

But that’s not the only product you’ll find caffeine in – the ingredient has popped up in serums, body scrubs, and even cellulite treatments. Here are some of the items recommended by dermatologists.

1. Biosance Squalane + Caffeine Toning Body Cream

According to Rodney, this product blends caffeine with herbal derivatives, which are active ingredients that help soothe skin, speed up cell turnover, or provide extra hydration. She notes that it also contains squalene, which research shows helps moisturize the skin.

Biosance Squalane + Caffeine Toning Body Cream, $28,

2. InterFuse EYE Treatment Cream

This medical-grade purchase contains Kakadu plum extract, which is packed with antioxidants to help fight free radicals, which break down collagen, an effect that contributes to signs of premature aging by causing fine lines and wrinkles, says Hsu. A recent study found that Kakadu plum extract retains high antioxidant activity even after being added to a cream.

InterFuse EYE Treatment Cream, $110,

3. The Ordinary Caffeine 5% + ECGC Anti-Puffiness Eye Serum

Rodney likes this product because the caffeine is derived from green tea, which contains more antioxidants than caffeine derived from coffee. “Antioxidants are great for repairing the delicate skin under the eyes,” she says. Rodney notes that it also contains hyaluronic acid, to help keep the skin under your eyes plump and well hydrated. Research supports the idea that hyaluronic acid can help rejuvenate skin and stimulate collagen production, which keeps skin firm and plump.

The Ordinary Caffeine 5% + Anti-Puffiness Eye Serum ECGC$7.50,

4. ZO Skin Health Cellulite Control Cream

In addition to caffeine, this medical-grade product, recommended by Hsu, contains plankton extract to moisturize the skin. A review suggests that marine ingredients, like seaweed, may have a range of benefits for the skin, from reducing pigmentation to reducing wrinkles.

ZO Skin Health Cellulite Control Cream, $98,


Caffeine is growing in popularity as a vital skin care ingredient, and for good reason. It temporarily constricts blood vessels to reduce puffiness and make your skin look fresh and tight, much like your favorite Instagram filter.

Although its effects are noticeable, they are temporary. Your best bet may be to use products that combine caffeine with ingredients that promote long-term skin repair, like vitamin C, hyaluronic acid, or sea algae.

Remember that caffeine applied to your skin can still be absorbed into your bloodstream. If you are sensitive to caffeine, be sure to use it with caution and consult your dermatologist to see if it is right for your skincare needs.

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