The science behind using caffeine for the skin

Credits: Irene Coco
Edited By:
Alexandra Vaughn , MD

What is Caffeine?

Caffeine is a heterocyclic alkaloid organic compound that is found in the seeds, nuts, and leaves of multiple plants native to South America and East Asia. As a skingredient, it can now be found in over 185 products including, but not limited to, facial moisturizers, scrubs, eye creams, anti-cellulite lotions, sunscreens, and tanning bronzers. 

Chemical structure of caffeine

Credit: PubChem


What Does Caffeine Do?

Some common properties and functions of caffeine include…



Anti-aging/UV protectant

Kills UV damaged skin cells, prevents the formation of precancerous cells, and sunburn lesions* that contribute to signs of aging


Protects against abnormal cell growth/damage from sun exposure ie: melanoma cancers


Improves microcirculation, makes skin appear smoother and firmer to reduce the appearance of cellulite


Unknown mechanism may strengthen the anti-inflammatory response of immune cells


Reduces harmful free radical formation to prevent cell and tissue damage

Hair growth

Improves hair cell barrier, stimulates the growth of follicle


Decreases blood flow to the skin, topical application cited to improve dark circles under eyes


Potential Side Effects of Caffeine?

According to the Environmental Working Group Skin Deep database, caffeine is recognized as a generally safe low hazard ingredient. This may be due to the relatively low concentration of caffeine found in cosmetics, typically estimated around 3%. As a good rule of thumb, test new products on a skin patch prior to full use. Side effects of topical caffeine have not been vigorously discussed in reports, with findings including:


The Buzz About Caffeine

It’s not just about skin-care, baggy eyes, and anti-cellulite. Caffeine is used as a hydrophilic model for testing how to make drug delivery more effective via the skin. Compounds such as nanoparticles and microemulsions ie: “permeation enhancers” are in development to better understand how to improve topical and transdermal application.



Practical Tips for Using Caffeine

  • Pay attention to labels, and ask professionals. Your dermatologist is a great source for science-based research and formulas specific to your unique skin care
  • Start small: test a new product with caffeine on a small area of skin prior to full use
  • Avoid more sensitive parts of the skin, including under the eyes, face, or in particular dry/itchy areas.
  • Take a before and after photo. Comparisons can better identify if a product is worth its value.

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