Caffeine In Skin Care: 5 Benefits Of Moving It From Your Mug To Your Moisturizer
Jamie Schneider is the Beauty & Wellness Editor at mindbodygreen, covering beauty and wellness. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare.
Whether you're an avid tea drinker or can't imagine giving up your cup (or three) of coffee, caffeine may be a staple in your kitchen. But in addition to the necessary jolt of energy on an especially drowsy morning, caffeine actually has a bunch of benefits that don't require sipping on a warm elixir. Namely, caffeine can enhance your beauty routine—allow us to introduce you to the world of caffeine in skin care, with five reasons you should apply it topically:
Caffeine is a vasoconstrictor (meaning, it compresses blood vessels in the skin), which makes it a great skin soother. According to board-certified dermatologist Zenovia Gabriel, M.D., FAAD, constricting blood vessels can reduce redness in the skin, specifically "conditions like rosacea, which presents generalized redness and flushing."
It adds up: One 2018 study on caffeinated coffee consumption1 found that avid coffee drinkers were 23% less likely to develop rosacea, as constricting blood vessels could help reduce that inflammation. So while you'll want to load up on coffee to reap those benefits (and a host of others while we're at it), applying caffeine topically could yield similar results.
Brightens the skin.
Caffeine won't "wake up your skin" in the same way sipping it will help your grogginess subside. Rather, much like a trusty vitamin C serum, caffeine has a whole lot of antioxidant properties that aid your skin cells by neutralizing damaging free radicals. And while there's limited research to support caffeine's ability to brighten skin, many derms have seen favorable results with anecdotal evidence, using caffeine (often listed as green tea because of the high flavonoid content) routinely in their practice. Take board-certified dermatologist Loretta Ciraldo, M.D., FAAD, for example: "Antioxidants are brightening ingredients," she tells mbg. "When anything oxidizes, it turns to a darkened color (think of an old sterling silver teaspoon). Caffeine has antioxidant benefits, and this can help brighten the skin."
Remember that vasoconstriction process? Well, constricting blood vessels in the skin can not only reduce redness and flushing, but it can also help decrease swelling or puffiness. Again, the scientific literature is limited, but "caffeine has been shown to have short-term effects that help reduce inflammation," Gabriel explains. And when that inflammation ebbs, puffiness tends to go with it.
"That's why green tea lotions used under the eyes can help with puffiness," Ciraldo adds. Or, you can go the DIY route and take a couple of moistened green tea bags, placing them under your eyes for a soothing effect. (Looks like that age-old remedy for under-eye swelling actually carries some weight!)
Reduces the appearance of cellulite (sort of).
Here's the short answer: Caffeine can help, sure, but it won't smooth the appearance of cellulite for good. Instead of soothing green tea, this is where your coffee scrubs come into play; you can use a coffee exfoliant to buff targeted areas, and you might even see temporary improvements in skin texture. But cellulite is a deeper skin issue, says Gabriel. "Topical preparations can improve the superficial component of cellulite, but typically deeper procedures are necessary to eliminate the appearance."
Ciraldo agrees: While caffeine can tighten the skin superficially, it won't get to the root of the problem. "Cellulite reflects the fact that women have a much thinner dermal layer than men," she says. "Men have a thicker dermis, so you don't typically see the uneven texture of the fat layer." That is to say, caffeine can help the appearance but certainly not forever (and it won't solve the actual issue at hand).
As mentioned, caffeine has powerful antioxidant properties. That said, it can help protect against UV ray exposure, which is important, as staving off UV-induced free radicals can help delay photoaging (in case you need a refresher, "skin photoaging is a result of the oxidative stress from UV radiation," board-certified dermatologist Kautilya Shaurya, M.D., tells us here).
While it can't exactly reverse the effects of photoaging, it can surely help slow the process. Consider caffeine another star antioxidant to add to the list of must-haves, especially in a topical form.
How do you use it?
Both Gabriel and Ciraldo agree that topical caffeine is most commonly available through eye creams and moisturizers. (It makes sense, as that's the area people may need the extra de-puffing and brightening boost.)
If you don't want to break the bank on an eye serum, no worries—Ciraldo says you can make your own straight from your kitchen. "Try soaking a green tea bag in warm water, put it into the refrigerator, and apply under one eye," she says. "If after 10 minutes that eye looks less puffy and brighter, you can try this as a daily eye treatment." (Read more about the classic tea-bag-on-eye trick here.)
On the body care front, you can also find caffeine in the form of coffee scrubs (great for exfoliating) and lotions to nourish and tighten the skin.
Any risks of using caffeine topically?
Caffeine is generally a very safe ingredient, Ciraldo notes. It earned a score of 1 on the EWG's Skin Deep scale, confirming that it's a low-hazard ingredient with a good amount of studies available on the topic. It's also, says Gabriel, formulated at fairly low levels in products, usually less than 1%: "So they're not likely to pose a risk or create adverse reactions systemically."
Of course, it's always best to consult your doctor if you're experiencing an adverse reaction to a skin care product or if you think you may be especially sensitive to caffeine. But generally, the risk is rather low.
The bottom line.
While consuming caffeine has its own host of health benefits, you might want to consider using the ingredient topically as well. It poses some pretty significant advantages for your skin with minimal risk, so feel free to try it out and watch your skin become firm and bright. As we learn more about the skin-healthy benefits, we can expect caffeine to quickly shift from its spot in the kitchen to comfortably nestling on the bathroom shelf. From your mug to your moisturizer.
Jamie Schneider is the Beauty & Wellness Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare. In her role at mbg, she reports on everything from the top beauty industry trends, to the gut-skin connection and the microbiome, to the latest expert makeup hacks. She currently lives in New York City.