The Benefits of Caffeine and Coffee to the Skin

27 February 2021


Coffee, tea or skincare? Image credit: Cosmopolitan.


If you need your morning coffee for your caffeine fix; can caffeine in skincare prep your skin the same way? From eye serums to cellulite creams, caffeine has infiltrated the world of skincare and made its name as anti-aging, cellulite busting and anti-inflammatory ingredient. This review will look at science behind caffeinated skincare products, whether they work and how to use them.


What is caffeine?


Caffeine is a natural stimulant that is commonly found in coffee, tea and chocolates. The effects of consuming caffeine are well known- improved mood and concentration and elimination of physical fatigue1,2. Anyone need a flat white right now?


In cosmetics and skincare, caffeine has far more interesting and controversial properties. Although it doesn’t perk the skin up, caffeine has been used in skincare mostly for its antioxidant, anti-cellulite and anti-inflammatory effects.


Cafe in Space, Arario Museum, Seoul


What are the dermatological benefits of caffeine?


Some of the reported dermatological benefits of caffeine:

Reduced dark eye circles and puffy eyes- Caffeine is commonly found in eye creams and serums. It is a vasoconstrictor3 (an ingredient that shrinks blood vessels); so it may reduce swelling and the appearance of eye bags. Caffeine also has the effect of improving microcirculation4 to improve the appearance of dark eye circles.

Anti-cellulite– Caffeine stimulates lipolysis (breakdown of fats) through several intracellular mechanisms5-7. The drainage of the lymphatics and fats is also enhanced with caffeine8.

Reduces flushing in rosacea– Caffeinated coffee intake has been associated with reduced incidence of rosacea9, likely due to its vasoconstrictive properties.

Contains antioxidants– Caffeine is an antioxidant for some types of free radicals10. When used together with sunscreen, caffeine also provides additional UV protection against premature skin aging and some types of skin cancer11,12.


Related blogposts:

Rosacea: Symptoms, Triggers, Skincare and Treatments

5 Skincare Tips for Sensitive Skin and Rosacea


Need an extra shot of caffeine? Marc Jacobs recently released a caffeine infused line of concealer and foundation.


What does the research say about caffeine in skincare?


The results of studies on caffeine in skincare are mixed-while some studies show that caffeine in skincare benefits the skin; there are studies that don’t show that caffeine is useful at all.


For eyebags and dark eye circles; caffeine eye creams and eye serums may be nothing more than hope in a jar. Although the premise for using caffeine in eye creams sound promising, data has shown otherwise. In a study that compared 3% caffeine gel versus a control in subjects with puffy eyes, the difference in efficacies between both groups was insignificant13. This is not surprising at all from a medical perspective. Eye bags and dark eye circles are due to structural deficits which cannot be fixed by vasoconstriction alone.


Related blogposts:

Do Eye Creams Work?

Dark Eye Circles: Laying I’m Tired to Rest

How to Get Rid of Eye Bags Without Surgery: Under Eye/ Tear Trough Fillers


The anti-cellulite effects of topical caffeine are slightly more promising. A few small studies in animals14,15 and humans show that caffeine improves the appearance of cellulite and reduces the number of fat cells in tissues16,17. Another limitation of these human studies was that caffeine was used in combination with other active ingredients which may confound the results like retinol16,17. Larger and more robust studies are needed to ascertain caffeine’s role in treating cellulite before recommending its use. For now, mainstays for cellulite treatments like retinoids and fractional CO2 lasers remain the standard of treatment.


Similarly, the data on caffeine’s antioxidant benefits are promising but limited. Caffeine seems to provide protection against some, but not all types of free radicals10. Although topical caffeine may offer some protective benefits against skin cancer; most of these studies were conducted in animals18-20. Additional research is still needed to ascertain whether these benefits can be replicated in humans.


Related blogposts:

The Beginner’s Guide to Starting Retinoids

5 Affordable & Popular Retinoids Serums Reviewed

Is Bakuchiol An Effective Retinoid Alternative?

Stretch Marks: A Doctor’s Guide


One of my favourite places for coffee in Seoul- Maison Kitsune in Gar0su-gil


How does consuming caffeine in drinks affect our skin?


Coffee and tea lovers- this one’s for you! As two of the most widely consumed beverages in the world; here’s the skinny on drinking caffeinated drinks. Feel free to grab a latte before you continue reading.


One good news for coffee drinkers: consuming caffeine has been linked to lower risks of skin cancer in human studies21-23! A specific DNA repair gene called NEIL3 seems to be the link to caffeine’s role in inhibiting the growth of tumors24. A study in Singapore also supported this relationship. In the Singapore Chinese Health Study, participants who consumed 400mg/day of caffeine (approximately 4 cups of coffee) had significantly lower risks of non-melanoma skin cancer23. Interestingly, this risk reduction was seen only in participants who consumed coffee or black tea in this study23. Participants who consumed green tea or soda, which also contain caffeine. The authors of this study concluded that consumption of coffee or black tea may reduce the risk of non-melanoma skin cancer in Chinese subjects23.


The effect of caffeine on rosacea is however, more contradictory. Rosacea is a chronic inflammatory skin disorder affected by multiple triggers such as heat, drinks and foods. Hot, caffeinated drinks like coffee and tea are long regarded to be triggers for rosacea flares, however there are studies that suggest otherwise9,25. This might be due to caffeine’s vasoconstrictive properties that mitigate vasodilation causing rosacea flares.


One question that remains unanswered despite the numerous studies on coffee consumption and rosacea is whether these outcomes are related to caffeine itself; coffee (which contains other bioactive molecules besides caffeine); or the temperature of the drink. In one study of 5000 participants with rosacea, caffeine seemed to accord a protective effect when consumed as coffee22. However, this protective effect was not seen in decaffeinated coffee other caffeinated drinks such as tea and soda22. Taken together, these findings suggest that regular coffee may contain caffeine and other bioactive molecules (that we might not know about yet) that have a positive effect on rosacea. While more studies are still needed to ascertain these findings; at least for patients with rosacea; coffee avoidance is not necessary. Let’s raise a cappuccino to that!


 Blue Bottle Coffee in Samcheong-Dong. Great coffee and a nice view of historic buildings in Seoul.


What are the side effects of using caffeine in skincare?


For most of the studies on topical caffeine; a concentration of 1-5% topical caffeine is largely safe for use with very low risks of side effects3, 5-7, 8, 13. However, topical caffeine seems to delay wound healing, based on ex vivo studies26– something minor to be aware about. After all, caffeine should not be used on wounds anyway!


How much is too much caffeine?


For some of us caffeine addicts (guilty!)- excessive consumption can cause adverse cardiovascular events and death. Although frankly, death by caffeine overdose is extremely rare. In a study of caffeine related deaths, the caffeine concentration in the blood of the deceased ranged from 79-344mg/L27. To put things in perspective, the average caffeine concentration in the blood after consuming a 130mg oral dose of caffeine (approximately 10oz of caffeinated coffee) is 4mg/L28. So don’t worry, upsize your latte if you want to.


If you’re thinking of drinking four cups of coffee a day to protect your skin- rest assured that this is also a safe dose based on a systematic review of 381 studies29. However, there are simpler ways that you can protect your skin- sunscreen and antioxidants in skincare!


Related blogposts:

My Sunscreen Reviews: the Best, Worst and Unsafe Ones I’ved Tried

Sunscreen Beyond the Basics: Trends, FAQs and Controversies

Topical Vitamin C- One of the Best Ways to Protect Your Skin 


Conclusion on caffeine and our skin


My fellow coffee lovers- we can rejoice! Drinking coffee seems to have dermatological benefits such as reduced risk of skin cancer and flushing in rosacea. Consuming other caffeinated beverages such as green tea and soda does not seem to confer these same advantages. Perhaps there’s more to caffeine in coffee-the presence of other bioactive molecules in coffee may also play a role. Whatever it is, I’m raising my coffee mug to that.


The benefits of using caffeine in skincare are promising but still need larger studies to validate these claims for dark eye circles, eye bags and cellulite. I might need to start my day with a cup of coffee; but I’m going to have to pass on caffeinated skincare.


If you enjoyed this post, you might enjoying the following skincare posts:

Probiotics in Skincare and Supplements: Do They Work?

Azelaic Acid: A Multitasking Skincare Active to Know

Everything You Need to Know About Hyaluronic Acid

How to Lighten Pigmentation and Dark Spots with Skincare

Niacinamide: A Versatile Skincare Ingredient

Ceramides: A Relief for Dry & Sensitive Skin and Eczema

The Ordinary Skincare Review and Ingredients Decoded

The Inkey List Skincare Review and Ingredients Decoded

2020 Beauty Trends: Skincare and Beauty Treatments from Korea


If you made to the end of this post- here’s a visual treat of Shozo Coffee Store, one of my favourite places for coffee in Tokyo.



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