You’ve probably heard that caffeinated beverages like coffee and tea can be good for your health. While too much caffeine is dangerous – especially in energy drinks and supplements – it’s considered perfectly fine in moderation.
Coffee in particular has been well studied and has been linked to all sorts of good things, including reducing the risk of heart problems and even some neurological diseases. (Though it’s believed that both coffee and tea contain other potentially beneficial ingredients besides caffeine.) That’s what happens when you put the stuff in in Your body, but what is on your body?
Caffeine has certain properties that might be good for your skin, too — and cosmetic companies have introduced caffeinated products like eye creams, anti-cellulite lotions, tinted moisturizers, and cleansers that deliver it. But does a caffeinated product actually make your skin look better than a decaffeinated product? When it comes to skin health, here’s what the experts say.
Manufacturers say caffeine gets results
There are several reasons skincare companies include caffeine in their products, they say. “Caffeine, which is derived from coffee beans, helps visibly refresh and recharge skin,” says Lizz Starr, executive director of product development at Origins, which offers a line of caffeinated products called Ginzing.
Susie Wang, founder and skincare chemist at 100% PURE, which also offers caffeinated products, says the ingredient has many benefits, such as “around the eyes, it brightens dark circles and smooths the area; on the body, it helps detoxify and minimize cellulite; on the skin, it accelerates the healing of sun-damaged skin; and in the bathroom it stimulates blood circulation and supports lymphatic drainage.”
How does caffeine achieve all of these benefits in skin care products? “When caffeine is used topically in a cream or serum, a chemical it contains called chlorogenic acid (CGA) can soothe sunburnt skin and help heal acne-prone skin with its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties,” says Wang. “Antioxidants in caffeine may also help reduce signs of hyperpigmentation in the skin, including dark circles, sun spots, redness, and fine lines.”
“Last but not least, when coffee is used in an exfoliant, it can help improve circulation in the body by dilating blood vessels,” says Wang. This process is known as microcirculation, Wang says, which helps reduce the appearance of cellulite on the skin.
What caffeine does, according to dermatologists
While there is some evidence that drinking coffee may have some of these skin benefits, there is less evidence that topical treatments work.
“The research we have on these products isn’t that extensive, and what we have isn’t entirely compelling,” says dermatologist Rajani Katta, MD, associate clinical faculty at Baylor College of Medicine and McGovern Medical School at UT Health in Houston. “There are limits to research. For example, several of the cellulite cream studies were conducted on animals, not humans. Some limited studies of cellulite creams in humans – just 15 people in one study – saw a benefit, but since they didn’t have a placebo group, it can be difficult to really evaluate the study results.”
In another study that Dr. Katta mentioned, the researchers looked at a caffeine gel to see if it reduced puffiness under the eyes. “The researchers compared the caffeine gel to a similar gel formulation that did not contain caffeine, and the results were actually similar in both groups,” she says. “This study shows the importance of having a placebo group when trying to study the effects of skincare ingredients.”
The researchers theorized that the reduction in puffiness wasn’t really due to the caffeine itself, she says, but rather to the cooling effects of the gel formulation, which led to narrowing of blood vessels and less fluid in the skin.
Also as a 2020 contribution in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology on oral consumption suggests that although we often think of “coffee” and “caffeine” interchangeably, there may be another property of coffee in particular that can affect the skin.
Caffeine could theoretically be beneficial for the skin
Despite the lack of studies proving its effectiveness, caffeine could theoretically be beneficial for the skin. “The ingredient caffeine is an antioxidant, so it could certainly be helpful in rejuvenating aging skin and treating wrinkles,” says dermatologist Patricia Farris, MD, of Metairie, Louisana. “Caffeine also constricts blood vessels, which is why it’s found in many skincare products to help reduce redness and puffiness under the eyes. [But] There are very few studies on this ingredient alone.” She points to the same small study of just 15 patients that showed some improvement in cellulite.
“Here’s what I tell patients about caffeine: When combined with other ingredients, caffeine offers skin benefits,” she says. “Although there aren’t many studies on this ingredient alone, cosmetic chemists have used caffeine in combination with other ingredients because of its unique skin benefits, such as: B. the narrowing of blood vessels.”
Can Caffeine in Makeup Give You a “Coffee Buzz”?
If you’re concerned that using these products will turn you into a nervous mess, Dr. Katta and Dr. Farris that this is unlikely. “You’re not going to get enough caffeine from a skincare product to get a coffee hit,” says Dr. Farris.
But again, there is not much research on this topic. “We don’t have enough research studies to answer this question well – ideally, you want volunteers to apply caffeinated creams to their skin and then measure the caffeine levels in their bloodstream,” says Dr. ring-tailed lemur “With today’s research we know that caffeine has the ability to penetrate the skin barrier, so theoretically if you apply enough caffeine cream to a large enough body surface it could have a stimulating effect. This shouldn’t be a problem with the small amount of eye cream, but it could theoretically be a problem if you use anti-cellulite cream all over your legs, for example.”
People who are particularly sensitive to the effects of caffeine should avoid using the products over large body surfaces, says Dr. ring-tailed lemur “But in general we wouldn’t worry about systemic risk if you use them on a smaller area of the body like the eyes.”
For this reason, Dr. Farris, if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, avoid caffeinated beauty products. However, you are unlikely to exceed the 200 mg caffeine limit for pregnant women recommended by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).
People who have a specific allergy to a specific ingredient should exercise caution and read ingredient lists. As always, consult your healthcare professional about any individual ailments or concerns you may have before beginning any new skin care regimen. (And be sure to check out these new breakthrough anti-aging products, according to dermatologists.)