Read The Label: What You Need To Know About Caffeine In Skincare

Not just a staple in your coffee cup – caffeine can do wonders for the skin. From brightening the eyes to firming the skin, here’s what you need to know about the revitalizing ingredient.
Written by Vivien Moon
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Read The Label: What You Need To Know About Caffeine In SkincareNatanja Grün/Unsplash

Feel like you need a dictionary every time you look at the ingredient list of a beauty product? Still unsure of the difference between retinol and retinoids? What about the unique benefits of vitamins B, C, and E? Are alpha and beta hydroxy acids the same thing? The skincare aisle can be overwhelming, but you don’t need a PhD in cosmetic chemistry to navigate it. With expert help, The AEDITION is demystifying and simplifying the beauty industry — one label at a time.

Seeing ‘caffeine’ on a beauty product label might have you wondering if this ingredient could possibly be as powerful for the skin as it is in a morning wakeup routine. As it turns out, it can offer an array of benefits for the face and body, thanks to its blood vessel-constricting qualities that will depuff the eye area and reduce the appearance of cellulite in a way jolt of java might not. Commonly found in eye and body care products, caffeine can have an energizing effect from head to toe that goes far beyond your favorite cup of joe.

What Is Caffeine?

A natural stimulant, caffeine is an alkaloid that is derived from some 60 plant species, coffee and cacao beans among them. While you likely eat or drink it every day as part of your morning pick me up or afternoon chocolate fix, it also deserves a spot in your skincare routine. “Caffeine is an antagonist of adenosine receptors [in the central nervous system], which constricts blood vessels,” says Morgan Rabach, MD, a New York City-based board certified dermatologist.

But that’s not its only benefit. “Caffeic acid, which is found in caffeine, is a form of hydroxycinnamic acid, a very potent antioxidant — even more effective than ferulic acid — that assists the skin in anti-aging,” explains Amy Spizuoco, DO, a board certified dermatologist in New York City. When applied topically, caffeine is a revitalizing booster for the skin that will not leave you feeling jittery.

What Does Caffeine Do in Skincare?

Topical Caffeine Skincare Benefits Infographic

“Caffeine works to constrict blood vessels, which can reduce dark circles and puffiness around the eyes, as well as redness on the face,” Dr. Rabach shares. It should come as no surprise then that it is often included in eye creams and even makeup (think: concealers) that aim to minimize dark circles and reduce puffiness. “It shrinks capillaries and constricts blood vessels, fighting skin darkening and dullness,” says Sheena Yaitanes, founder of Kosas. “So, [it makes] dark areas, like under eyes, look brighter.”

Caffeine is also a common addition to body care products that are formulated to smooth skin or reduce the appearance of cellulite. “Many cellulite products contain caffeine because prolonged use of the caffeic acid on the skin helps it appear smoother,” Dr. Spizuoco says.

Finding The Right Product

The beauty of caffeine is that it plays well with other ingredients. According to Dr. Rabach, it is “most effective” around the eyes, where the skin is thin and it can be easily absorbed, though it can also be used on the face to “reduce puffiness and redness.”

For a caffeine boost that doesn’t involve coffee, the Fountain of Truth Magic Wand: Sculpting Eye Roller awakens tired eyes. But it’s not just eye creams that feature the ingredient. The Kosas Revealer Concealer, a creamy brightening formula for the under-eye area, features caffeine alongside a host of other rejuvenating actives. “It contains arnica and panthenol to soothe, as well as peptides and hyaluronic acid for plumping and moisture retention,” Yaitanes says, adding that pink algae extract is also included to “hydrate the skin and fight free radicals.”

If combating cellulite is your goal and you don’t want to wait for Qwo™, Sol de Janeiro’s fan-favorite Brazilian Bum Bum Cream instantly smoothes and firms. “We formulated it with our ‘Brazilian Beauty Blend’ of cupuaçu butter, açaí, and coconut oil, as they perfectly complement the caffeine-rich Guaraná fruit,” explains Sol de Janeiro founding partner Camila Pierotti. “Using a caffeine-powered product along with ingredients that nourish and condition will make your skin feel soft, smooth, and supple.”

Who Is Caffeine Best For?

Caffeine is a great addition to any skincare routine that is looking for an instant brightening and tightening effect on both the face and body. While it can be a hero ingredient for many, Dr. Rabach warns that those with skin sensitivities or certain medical conditions consult with a professional first. “Patients with rosacea and other types of redness on the skin should consult a board certified dermatologist to see if products with caffeine are right for them,” she says. “Patients that have blood pressure that is sensitive to caffeine taken by coffee or tea may want to consult their doctor before using creams, as these do get absorbed systemically.”

When To Use A Caffeine-Infused Product

When treating under-eye concerns, Dr. Spizuoco says that caffeine is “best used in the morning.” Many skincare experts recommend applying eye care products as your very first step (after cleansing and toning) to ensure proper absorption. For those who are hoping to enjoy the smoothing benefits of caffeine on their lower limbs, Dr. Spizuoco says “it is best used at bedtime” — though some caffeinated products promise an instant boost. In those cases, apply it just before heading out in your favorite cut-offs or hitting the beach.

Caffeine-addicts worried about overdoing it can rest assured: it is safe for regular use. “You would have to consume an extremely large amount of caffeine in one sitting for it to be toxic,” Pierotti says. “For caffeine in your skincare routine, always follow the usage instructions on the package.”

The Takeaway

Whether you start your day with a caffeine boost or not, a caffeine-infused beauty product may very well deserve a spot in your routine. The buzzy active offers the eyes a refresher with its ability to shrink capillaries and reduce puffiness, while it can stimulate blood flow to help create a smoother appearance in body care products. As with any ingredient, it only works if you work it, so consider consistent use to see results.

All products featured are independently selected by our editors, however, AEDIT may receive a commission on items purchased through our links.

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VIVIEN MOONis a senior editor at AEDIT.

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