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Caffeine, "America's most used drug", works on skin in the three primary ways: as an antioxidant (fighting future signs of aging), a diuretic (making the skin temporarily appear smoother), and a vasoconstrictor (may help to reduce puffiness and dark circles caused by vasodilation).
Is ingesting caffeine beneficial to the skin?
Based on current research, there seems to be a benefit and a detriment to caffeine. When ingested in daily doses of coffee, Devasagayam et. al found in 1999 that there are enough antioxidants from the caffeic acid in caffeine alone to provide benefits. The benefits of caffeine were affirmed by a 1999 study by Lou et. al which found that oral consumption of caffeinated black or green teas or caffeine alone (0.44 mg/mL) inhibited carcinogenic skin tumors in mice, but equal doses of non-caffeinated black or green teas did not inhibit tumor formation. Although promising, one must note that the average SKII mouse used in the study is 20 grams, whereas the average human is 70000 grams. This means the equivalent dose of caffeine for a human is 1.54 grams of caffeine; in comparison, common doses of caffeine are about one-tenth this amount (0.050-0.150 grams), and a lethal dose of caffeine is only twice this amount (about 3.00 grams). Therefore, at this time, one should not start consuming caffeine in order to reduce skin cancer tumor formation. However, the antioxidant properties of caffeine have been established.
On the downside, Whitmore and Levine have pointed out that caffeine may thin the dermis, as they have shown a correlation between increases in caffeine consumption and skin thickness. As one ages, the skin decreases by about 7% thickness every ten years, so assisting the thinning of the skin with caffeine consumption may make the skin appear older before its time.
What are the effects of caffeine in skincare products?
Topical application of caffeine or caffeine sodium benzoate have been shown by Lu et. al earlier this year to have a sunscreen effect, enhance UVB-induced apoptosis, and inhibit UVB-induced skin carcinogenesis when applied to the skin of mice. The exact mechanism by which caffeine achieves these aims is not yet known, but it may be related to the fact that the caffeic acid found in caffeine has been found to have some antioxidant activity. Topical application of caffeine additionally dehydrates skin cells, making the skin temporarily appear smoother. a diuretic (making the skin temporarily appear smoother). Lastly, caffeine is a vasoconstrictor, and its topical application may reduce the appearance of under-eye puffiness and dark circles, although only those caused by vasodilation. Dark circles may also be caused by excess production of melanin, in which cause caffeine would not most likely help.
Can caffeine be used to treat cellulite?
Caffeine is one of the more typical ingredients to show up in cellulite creams and lotions. According to Paula Begoun, author of Don't Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me, there are two reasons for the inclusion of caffeine in anti-cellulite creams. The first is that caffeine strongly resembles theophylline, another xanthine that exhibits anti-inflammatory effects. However, it has been found that when a special liposome-encapsulated system that enhanced caffeine absorption is in place for at least two months, theophylline can diffuse through the skin and reduce the subcutaneous fat. It was additionally once believed that aminophylline, which comes from theophylline, was effective in fighting cellulite; however, according to Begoun, researchers have disproved this theory. The second reason caffeine may show up in cellulite products is because oral consumption of caffeine has been related to weight loss, although these results come from oral consumption of caffeine, not topical application.
Caffeine is found in the anti-cellulite treatment L'Oréal Sublime Day/Night ($12.49, Drugstore.com). According to TheShowbuzz, in a study by L'Oréal, 150 women who used both the day and the night gel for four weeks lost an average of 1/2" from their thighs. No data was released on the reduction in the appearance of cellulite. Caffeine is also found in Neutrogena Anti-Cellulite Treatment with Retinol ($21.95, Amazon.com). A nearly complete list of major anti-cellulite treatments on the market as of 2003 is also available here.
What skin care products for the face contain caffeine?
Caffeine is found in the following products, amongst others:
1.) Revalé Skin. (Night Cream, $75.00, CaliDerma.com). Contains 1% coffee-berry (a new highly potent antioxidant) and caffeine.
2.) Topix Replenix Cream. ($43.00, MakeMeHeal.com). Contains caffeine, green tea (a potent antioxidant, although less so than coffee-berry), and hyaluronic acid.
So overall, should I drink caffeine or use skin care products that contain caffeine?
Because drinking caffeine both provides antioxidant benefits (a plus) and thins the skin (a minus), caffeine should be consumed in moderation (an estimate: <250 mg) for the skin. In addition, for other health purposes, caffeine consumption should be limited to no more than 250 mg of caffeine daily, as heavier doses of caffeine have been associated with increased risk of osteoporotic fracture, restlessness, nervousness, insomnia, flushing of the face, increased urination, muscle twitching, irritability, irregular heart beat and psychomotor agitation. Wikipedia provides an excellent chart on this page of the mg of caffeine in commonly consumed sources of caffeine.
Using caffeine in skincare products seems to be somewhat beneficial. Caffeine has anti-carcinogenic benefits when applied topically, which works in its favor. However, although caffeine is an antioxidant, it is not a particularly potent antioxidant, nor is it a network antioxidant that works synergistically to enhance the behavior of other antioxidants. For long-term anti-aging benefits via antioxidants, try Revalé Skin or Topix Replenix Cream, which have coffee berry and green tea, respectively, as additional antioxidant sources. Cosmetically, caffeine is a vasoconstrictor and a diuretic, so it will temporarily reduce the appearance of undereye puffiness/dark circles caused by vasodilation and smooth the skin. However, these effects are, most likely, only temporary. Based on current knowledge, I am lukewarm about the effects of caffeine for the skin. For the time being, I would consume it in moderation and only use it in skincare products that have ingredients with other, more established benefits.