Is Caffeine the Jolt Your Skin Needs?
Some people swear they can’t live without caffeine, a.k.a. the morning cup of joe. But could it be a “must” in your skincare as much as your coffee mug? N.Y.C.-based board-certified dermatologists Dr. Marie Hayag, founder of Fifth Avenue Aesthetics and Dr. David Shafer of the Shafer Clinic, help explain what the buzz is all about.
What’s the Benefit of Caffeine in Skincare?
Caffeine, as a skincare ingredient, gets superstar status for a number of reasons, including that anyone can use it, regardless of skin type or skin concerns. Aside from that, its number one benefit is being a vasoconstrictor, “Which means it narrows your blood vessels and reduces blood flow to the area it’s applied to,” says Dr. Hayag. So how does this help the skin look better? “Ultimately this reduces redness and the appearance of inflammation. A reduced accumulation of blood under the eyes also helps brighten the look of dark circles.”
Benefit number two? Caffeine has antioxidants, which can help “protect skin from UV radiation and damage that can cause signs of aging,” explains Dr. Hayag. Caffeine’s third claim to fame is that it’s been shown to stimulate lipolysis. Say what? “It’s the breakdown of fats,” says Dr. Hayag. “Lipolysis prevents excessive fat from accumulating in cells and may make the skin appear smoother and tighter.” A caveat, however, to this amazing-sounding perk: “This property is not very well studied.”
What Products Have Caffeine as an Ingredient?
Because of the reasons listed above — minimizing redness and puffiness, antioxidant richness and lipolysis— “Caffeine is a common ingredient in eye creams and serums, along with anti-cellulite body care products,” says Dr. Hayag. But it’s important to remember that caffeine can be dehydrating, so products with caffeine also need to have ingredients that are heavily moisturizing as well, she says. For example, the best-selling Sunday Riley AutoCorrect Eye Cream boasts caffeine as well as super-hydrating watermelon rind extract. (Can’t you just picture the juiciness of watermelon now?!)
Is caffeine effective for minimizing the appearance of cellulite? Yes, say experts, who point to caffeine and retinol (0.3 percent or higher) as the two most effective ingredients to help smooth the look of cottage-cheese skin. “Caffeine has anti-fibrogenic and pro-metabolism effects that help shrink fat through enzyme activation and alternation in cellular energy processes,” says Dr. Shafer. Translation: Caffeine can shrink certain fat cells (not all over the body, however, like the potentially-dangerous fat that can accumulate around organs).
Dr. Shafer adds that it’s important to use “a professional brand and certainly do not mix in caffeine purchased illicitly into your own products.” Got that? No DIY — leave it to the pros or your skin will protest.
How Does Skincare Caffeine Compare to Coffee Caffeine?
To clarify, is the caffeine in skincare the same thing that’s in chocolate, tea and coffee? Yes, says Dr. Hayag. “The caffeine can be extracted from plants that naturally contain it, like green coffee beans, or it can be synthesized in a lab, which has the same molecular structure as what is found in naturally-occurring caffeine.” And that’s why the practice of putting tea bags on your eyes has been around for so long — the antioxidants and caffeine improve the look of the eye area. Unfortunately, there isn’t the needed burst of moisture in the tea bags to get the same beneficial effect as a caffeinated eye cream.
Also, keep in mind that what you drink or eat doesn’t make its way to your skin, says Dr. Shafer. “Ingested caffeine is not reaching the skin in doses similar to those applied topically.” Nor can you get a caffeine buzz from skincare. “It would require a large amount of product applied to a very large surface area,” he says.
Just as a cappuccino buzz is only temporary, so are the perks of caffeine in skincare. Explains Dr. Hayag, “The benefits of caffeine are temporary and are not long-term solutions.” She advises looking for products with “other ingredients that can contribute to improving the overall health of your skin” in the long run. (For example, lutein, found in AutoCorrect, has shown to aid in long-term moisture retention.) And until you get to that well-rested, no-undereye-bags state of being, “Caffeine is a quick way to look refreshed.”