Today we’re looking into what makes caffeine in skin care products so special. Since it’s really easy to become overwhelmed when searching for a new product, Ingredient Spotlight is here to break down the basics. Here we’ll teach you how an ingredient works and leave you with product recommendations to help you with your search.
I have this persistent, soft-focus fantasy of being the kind of person who wakes up bright and early every morning, ready to take on the day; the kind of woman who gets her energy from sun salutations before work and sucks down green juice and lemon water without ever falling prey to the 3pm slump; the kind who credits their clear skin and shiny hair to clean living and never, ever touching caffeine.
This is not the kind of person I actually am, as the mid-afternoon espresso shot I’m currently nursing can attest, and if we’re being honest here, it’s probably not the kind of person you are either. After all, studies suggest that over 90% of Americans consume some form of caffeine daily, with half of us taking in 300 milligrams (2-4 cups of coffee’s worth) or more.
Of course, nowadays, caffeine is making its way into a lot more than cups; in fact, you’re almost as likely to find it in your face creams as you are to pour cream in your coffee. But while you know what caffeine does inside of your body (makes sure you don’t fall asleep on your keyboard after lunch) do you actually know what it’s doing when you apply it to your skin?
Caffeine’s effect on skin:
Applied topically, caffeine has a couple of different effects, the big ones being vasoconstriction, diuretic effects, and free radical fighting. Vasoconstriction, in case you skipped out on high school biology like I did, is the (temporary) shrinking of blood vessels; it’s what happens in your eyes when you put in drops to “get the red out.” On skin, that helps out with ruddiness and flushing, but it also can give you a serious leg up in the undereye area if you have particularly pale or thin skin that’s prone to dark circles. That amazing shrinking action can also go to work on your pores, making them look smaller and the surface of your skin look and feel firmer.
Speaking of firmer, if you’ve ever seen body creams that tout their cellulite diminishing power, it’s a fair bet you’ll find caffeine somewhere on the label. That’s thanks in part to vasoconstriction, but also to caffeine’s diuretic effects, which allow it to dehydrate fat cells for a short period of time, making the skin look smoother. On your face, that same effect lets caffeinated skin products purge puffiness, especially the kind you get first thing in the morning around the eye area (noticing a trend here?)
The last major contribution that caffeine makes for skin care is in its antioxidant benefits. While there’s limited data on exactly how much free radical busting topical caffeine brings to the party, animal studies have shown that the buzz-bringer can fight against the effects of UV damage, while one Harvard study found that people who drink coffee have a reduced risk of skin cancer compared to caffeine avoidant types. And since caffeine along with other antioxidant powerhouses like flavonoid-rich green tea, and this is one time you can feel good about working more caffeine into your routine.
If you’re ready to give your skin a wakeup call, one of our favorite caffeine delivery devices is My Skin Mentor Dr. G Crystal Deep Peeling, which does double glowifying duty by combining salt microcrystals and lemon extract to slough away dead skin while the caffeine kicks puffiness and redness to the curb.
Craving something more coddling? We love masks infused with caffeine carriers like tea to simultaneously depuff the eye area and steep the rest of your face in antioxidant-infused moisture. Try the Etude House Therapy Air Mask – Aloe which soothes skin with aloe extract, or the Manefit Natural Gift Green Tea Pore Care Sheet Mask, a hydrogel mask with whole green tea leaves right in the gel so you know you’re getting a potent antioxidant punch.