Spotlight On: Caffeine

A good cup of coffee never fails to wake us up and make us ready to face the day. But while caffeine may be an effective pick-me-up in the morning, is it beneficial even when applied topically to the skin? Lately, lots of companies have included caffeine in their products, claiming it can treat cellulite, dark circles and fight premature aging. But if that’s true, who do women who drink coffee still have to deal with those problems? That’s because, while caffeine provides some benefits to the skin, it’s not a miracle ingredient. So, what does it do? In cosmetics, it has three functions: it works as an antioxidant, a vasoconstrictor and a diuretic.

Can caffeine treat cellulite?

Sadly, there is no proof that caffeine is an effective treatment for cellulite. There were only two studies claiming caffeine can reduce cellulite, but they were both conducted by companies that sell anti-cellulite products. That doesn’t mean they are lying, but that it’s best to wait for independent, peer-reviewed studies confirming these findings before rushing out to buy a cream just because it contains caffeine. However, topical application of caffeine can dehydrate skin cells, making skin appear temporarily smoother (in this case, it acts as a diuretic).

Can caffeine treat dark circles?

Yes and no. Dark circles can be genetic, caused by excessive melanin production, by a tear or by blood pooling under the eyes as a result of inflammation or vasodilation (this last type can be recognized because when you apply pressure to it with a finger, the color disappears). Because caffeine is a vasoconstrictor (it can constrict blood vessels), it can reduce the dark circles caused by blood pooling and also puffiness, but of course the results are only temporary. For other types of dark circles, your best ally is a good concealer.

Can caffeine treat rosacea?

Caffeine has anti-inflammatory properties that can help those affected by rosacea. According to dermatologist Leslie Baumann, 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”.

Can caffeine prevent premature aging?

Caffeine has antioxidant properties and, when topically applied to the skin, it protects it from free radical damage, thus helping prevent the signs of aging. However, it’s just one of the many antioxidants available and not the necessarily the best one (antioxidants work best when you use a bunch of them together instead than relying on just one). In addition, a study conducted on mice suggests that caffeine can also reduce sun damage. More evidence to fully confirm this is needed but nevertheless it sounds promising.

The bottom line

I believe caffeine to be a very hyped-up ingredient. It has antioxidant properties (but so do lots of other ingredients), can’t reduce cellulite but only make skin look smoother and can help treat dark circles caused by blood pooling but only temporarily. Those with rosacea though may benefits from its anti-inflammatory properties. Overall, it is not a bad ingredient and it does provide some benefits to the skin, but its effects, at last those we know so far, aren’t as exciting as to make me want to buy a product solely because it contains it. For now, I think it’s best to stick to a good cup of coffee and only buy products with caffeine when they also contain other ingredients whose benefits have been fully proved.

Do you use any skincare products with caffeine?

8 Comment

  1. I like the way you style your articles – even though they’re a bit longer, the bite-sized subsections make them easy to read.

    And no, I don’t use any caffeine prodcuts.

    • Ana, thanks. I’m glad you like it. I hope that this way, being easier to read, people will be more prone to read the entire thing. But even if they can’t, they can always get the gist of it at the end. :)

    • La Bisbetica, I’m sorry the cream disappointed you. Unfortunately caffeine can only make skin look smoother, not reshape or reduce anything.

  2. What do you think about caffeine in anti hair loss/stimulating shampoos and other similar treatments? Could it really stimulate hair growth?

    • Regn, according to this study http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17214716, caffeine is a “stimulator of human hair growth in vitro”. This could lead to new treatments for hair loss. The products will have to be formulated so as to contain enough caffeine to be able to penetrate hair and not be rinsed off though so I guess it will work better in leave-in ones rather than shampoos.

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