Caffeine is already a staple in our kitchens and our social lives, but it has recently been popping up in our skincare routines as well.
The buzzy ingredient is often found in products formulated for daytime use, like eye creams and moisturizers, but can it really “wake up” your skin? We tapped two experts to learn everything there is to know about the benefits of caffeine in skincare products—read on to find out if your skin might enjoy a hit of caffeine as much as you do.
What are caffeine’s purported skin benefits?
The skincare products available on the market that feature caffeine as a star ingredient promise to “wake up” skin—that is, de-puff under-eye bags, decrease the appearance of dark circles and generally contribute to a brighter, more refreshed complexion.
But the truth is that research on caffeine in skincare has been mixed. The benefits are often minimal, especially because the concentration of caffeine used in a skincare product isn’t typically potent, due to potential issues with irritation. And while some studies have shown that caffeine can have some “awakening” effects, other studies have actually found it can be detrimental to skin. A 2014 study published in Drug Design, Development and Therapy found that the use of caffeine on skin actually reduced the production of collagen. “The desire to use caffeine-infused products is mostly caused by hype or trends,” explains celebrity dermatologist Dr. Harold Lancer, who works with Margot Robbie, Michelle Williams, Kim Kardashian West, Jennifer Lopez and many more A-listers.
Why is caffeine found in so many eye creams, in particular?
Because caffeine is a vasoconstrictor (read: it constricts blood vessels), an eye cream that contains the ingredient can—temporarily—reduce the amount of blood flow to the area, thus causing the skin to look less puffy and irritated.
However, since “the science behind the ingredient is mixed, with some studies showing some benefit while others do not, [it’s important to] remember that puffy eyes can be also due to fluid retention from other factors, such as diet (high alcohol or salt intakes can both cause it), allergies, insufficient sleep or even crying,” says Dr. Monica Li, a dermatologist and clinical instructor at the University of British Columbia’s Department of Dermatology and Skin Science. “Trying to improve [those] factors that cause a swollen and dark appearance in the thin skin of the under-eye area may be more effective [than using caffeine-infused skincare products].”
The bottom line? “Caffeine actually has a high ability to penetrate the skin to cause vasoconstriction that can help reduce the appearance of under-eye puffiness,” says Dr. Li. Just don’t expect anything more than a temporary reduction.
Are skincare products that contain caffeine suitable for all skin types?
Just as some people can’t handle a caffeine buzz, not all skin types are well-suited to the ingredient. “People with highly reactive, sensitive or easily flushed skin should use products containing caffeine with caution,” warns Dr. Lancer. “It causes an exceeding exacerbation of sensitivity and redness in the skin.”
This is especially true if you’ve been using caffeine-infused products for some time and then stop, due to something called “rebound redness,” a common side effect of vasoconstrictors or redness-reducing products. Rebound redness happens when the blood vessels that have become used to being constricted don’t get the dose of caffeine they’ve become used to, and go into redness overdrive.
So, who should use caffeine-infused skincare products?
If you don’t have sensitive skin and go in with relatively low expectations, then by all means, give caffeine a go. “Given its transient effects, caffeine-infused topical products would need to be used every day to reproduce the intended (temporary) skin benefits,” says Dr. Li. So yes, “there are clinical studies supporting the idea that caffeine can improve puffiness of the under-eye region, but only if excess fluid retention is the reason, rather than dermal fat distribution in the region, previous injuries or surgeries in the area.” (Caffeine also won’t help if puffy eyes run in your family).
Are there any ingredients that should not be used with products containing caffeine?
“Retinoids should not be in the same product as caffeine,” suggests Dr. Lancer. “Exercise caution even when using two different products, one containing retinol and the other caffeine, as having them interact can aggravate the inflammatory components of retinol.” If you accidentally combine the two, you may notice things like redness, tightness or discomfort, and you should stop using any active ingredients until your skin calms down.
Is there any legitimacy to the claim that caffeine can reduce the appearance of cellulite?
A popular internet tip suggests using old coffee grounds as a so-called cellulite treatment; there are also plenty of cellulite products out there that claim to deliver a mess-free boost of caffeine to skin. “There is absolutely no legitimacy to this at all,” says Dr. Lancer.
(That said, reusing old coffee grounds as a DIY physical exfoliator on your arms and legs is a good way to make your beauty routine greener—just don’t expect any miracles.)
So, should you skip your next caffeine-infused skincare buy?
While you shouldn’t purchase a product specifically because it’s formulated with caffeine, skincare products that contain the ingredient are often made with other calming, puffiness-reducing actives (like antioxidants), that work in conjunction with the caffeine to provide the skin benefits you’re likely looking for.
Below, we’ve rounded up products that combine caffeine and other must-try active ingredients.
The Inkey List Caffeine Eye Cream
Formulated with caffeine and hyaluronic acid, this lightweight eye cream hydrates and plumps up skin to reduce the appearance of fine lines.
Frank Body Caffeinated Face Moisturizer
A blend of caffeine, shea butter and antioxidant-rich vitamin E leaves the skin feeling smooth and nourished.
Sephora Collection Brightening Eye Cream
This brightening eye cream contains caffeine to help brighten the eye area, as well as hyaluronic acid to boost hydration.
The Ordinary Caffeine Solution 5% + EGCG
A few drops of this potent eye serum—which contains caffeine, green tea leaf extract and hyaluronic acid—can help temporarily reduce puffiness and dark circles.
Sunday Riley Autocorrect Brightening and Depuffing Eye Contour Cream
Caffeine and ginseng root extract are the star ingredients in this luxe eye cream that claims to instantly brighten and depuff the eye area.