Caffeine In Skin Care: What It Does And Expert-Recommended Products

Table of Contents How It WorksDark Circles And Wrinkles? Caffeine To The RescueDoes Caffeine Work On Cellulite?It’s Best Paired With Other Powerful IngredientsWhat To Look For When You’re Shopping If you regularly start your morning with caffeine, you might want to start slathering it on your face as well as […]

If you regularly start your morning with caffeine, you might want to start slathering it on your face as well as sipping it.

With everyone’s favorite pick-me-up growing in popularity as a skin care ingredient, we checked in with medical experts to see what really works — and what has not yet been scientifically proven.

How It Works

“Caffeine is being increasingly used in cosmetics, thanks to potent antioxidant properties and protection of cells against UV radiation,” dermatologist Loretta Ciraldo, founder of Dr. Loretta skin care, told HuffPost. “That protection slows down photoaging, including improving wrinkles and age spots.”

“It’s strategically placed in certain skin care products, from eye creams to cellulite creams, for what people view as a ‘pick me up’ effect,” said dermatologist A. Shadi Kourosh, assistant professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School.

One of the reasons it’s so popular is that it’s so good at penetrating the skin, the experts said. “It’s able to get where it needs to go,” said dermatologist Rebecca Marcus, the founder of Maei MD Skincare. “By constricting blood vessels, caffeine helps boost microcirculation, and it can reduce puffiness.”

Dark Circles And Wrinkles? Caffeine To The Rescue

One area where caffeine is likely to be most effective is in the under-eye area, “Because the skin in the under-eye area is thin, ingredients are able to penetrate and have a stronger impact,” dermatologist Marisa Garshick explained. Caffeine is what’s known as a vasoconstrictor.

“Since it constricts or shrinks blood vessels, it reduces blood flow, which decreases inflammation and redness and ‘depuffs’ swollen areas of skin,” Kourosh said. “It’s helpful for swollen puffy eyes or flushing or redness of the skin, due to allergies, rosacea or alcohol — which we know in the business as ‘the skin hangover.’ Caffeine-containing products can help, because caffeine does the opposite of alcohol. Whereas alcohol dilates blood vessels in the skin, causing or worsening redness and swelling, caffeine can help neutralize them.”

However, how effective it can be depends on what’s causing the issue in the first place. “Dark under-eye circles can run in a person’s family, for example,” Kourosh said. “Health factors can cause them, and certain skin types are prone to them. So if there is more going on than just puffiness that doesn’t resolve with a chilled compresses or caffeine-based cream, it’s time to consult a dermatologist.”

Caffeine constricts blood vessels, reducing blood flow and decreasing inflammation and redness.

MAIKA 777 via Getty Images

Caffeine constricts blood vessels, reducing blood flow and decreasing inflammation and redness.

Does Caffeine Work On Cellulite?

There are lots of products that claim to reduce cellulite, and many of them contain caffeine. Why? “Caffeine is a compound within the family of methylxanthines, commonly found in coffee and tea,” said dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, the director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital’s Department of Dermatology. “It may also directly enhance breakdown of excess fat, since methylxanthines have been demonstrated to increase metabolism and fat breakdown.”

Good news, right? Well, maybe. According to Zeichner, “the effects on skin conditions like cellulite are modest, because in order for the caffeine in a product to exert its effects, it actually needs to get to the fat itself, which means it needs to penetrate through the full layer of skin into the subcutaneous tissue. That’s a challenge for any topically applied ingredient.”

Garshick added, “It may be able to dehydrate tissue locally, which can make the skin appear tighter and firmer, break down fat by blocking phosphodiesterase activity and by vasoconstricting the blood vessels. But with that said, more studies are needed.”

It’s Best Paired With Other Powerful Ingredients

Aesthetic plastic surgeon Michele Koo told HuffPost, “Caffeine is not a cure-all, but, when paired with certain ingredients, it can brighten skin, lessen swelling and act to guide certain ingredients into cells for results.”

What does it work best with? “It’s great to blend with other antioxidants as part of a cocktail to defend against daily assaults from free radicals due to UV radiation, environmental toxins and pollution,” Marcus said. “It can be combined with other ingredients that have antioxidants, like vitamin C, which can be helpful for brightening,” Garshick suggested.

But be sure to keep applying it consistently. Just as the energy you get from a cup of coffee wears off eventually, so do the effects of caffeine in skin care products. “You need to use the product daily to see the effects,” dermatologist Nicole Negbenebor said. “Once you stop using it, your skin will return to its usual state.”

If you’re wondering whether this ingredient is right for you, Negbenebor offered this thought: “Topical caffeine is not a permanent solution, and people looking for more long-term tightening or wrinkle reduction should look into retinoids instead.”

What To Look For When You’re Shopping

“Most topical formulations contain 3% caffeine,” Negbenebor said. “If a product has a lower percentage, it may not be as effective. And if the concentration is too high, it may cause irritation or burning. You may also notice increased redness on the skin, given its ability to increase blood flow locally.”

“As with any ingredient, when you’re trying a new product, it’s wise to apply it to a small test spot to make sure your skin isn’t sensitive to it,” Marcus advised.

Ready to check out some products that rate highly with the experts? Here are their top caffeinated picks.

HuffPost may receive a share from purchases made via links on this page. Every item is independently selected by the HuffPost Shopping team. Prices and availability are subject to change.

Amazon

Andalou brightening luminous eye serum

“This product has caffeine to help shrink blood vessels in the under-eye area and reduce puffiness,” Garshick said. “It also has antioxidants, including fruit stem cell complex and vitamin C, to help brighten the skin and help to protect against free radical damage. The goji glycoproteins help to firm and lift the skin, making it a great all-around treatment for the under-eye area.”

Beigic

Beigic Regenerating Oil

“I personally like this oil simply because I’m a fan of serums, oils and green coffee oils,” Koo said.

Amazon

Bliss Fabgirl Firm body firming and contouring cream

“This cream contains caffeine as well as shiitake mushroom extract, a favorite ingredient of mine, which helps to brighten skin and enhance elasticity,” Marcus said. “It has hydrators, including panthenol and shea butter, to hydrate and plump the skin to improve overall tone and texture.”

Sephora

Sol De Janeiro Brazilian Bum Bum Cream

“If you want to try to use a cellulite cream — and I caution that these really seem to help only in the most subtle cases — I would try one with caffeine,” Ciraldo said. “This product has been used with success by some of my own patients.”

Amazon

Exposed Skin Care acne treatment serum

“This product combines 3.5% benzoyl peroxide and green tea, which is an excellent source of caffeine,” Ciraldo said. “It works great for acne.”

Amazon

La Roche-Posay Pigmentclar dark circles eye cream

“This cream combines niacinamide with caffeine for extra anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and brightening properties,” Marcus said. “The metal applicator tip feels cool during application and helps to smooth and soothe delicate under-eye skin.”

Amazon

The Ordinary caffeine solution 5% + EGCG

“This concentrated caffeine serum can be used in the undereye area to help reduce puffiness and brighten the undereye skin,” Garshick said. EGCG stands for epigallocatechin gallate, a polyphenol found in green tea.

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