From our double shot, extra hot, non-fat vanilla lattes to new under eye anti-puffiness serums, a jolt of caffeine has alluring qualities in making our lives more endurable. However, while there is significant study into many of the benefits of ingested caffeine, the jury is still out on the long-lasting benefits of this “miracle” ingredient, when topically applied as a part of an anti-aging regiment.
The benefits from the oral intake of caffeine in the many beverages in which it is found: teas, coffee, sodas etc. has long been the subject of study in the medical and pharmaceutical arenas. Many studies have concluded that: whether working as a powerful antioxidant within the body, as an active ingredient in the prevention of Parkinson’s disease or gallstones, or as a possible inhibitor in the development of certain cancers, moderate consumption of caffeine is generally accepted to do a healthy body more good than harm.
However, consumers are now seeing an increase in caffeine being used topically. This has lead to the question, eloquently posed by Dr. Bernard Gram founder of SKIN1, “what is the safety and efficacy of topical caffeine on human skin,” and moreover, as Dr. Linder queries, “what long-term improvement can be expected” through the topical application of caffeine?
Caffeine in “EyeJuvenation”
Appreciating that scientific data is lacking, caffeine is clearly being heralded as “a new exciting product used in many topical creams both as an anti-inflammatory product as well as an anti-oxidant.” Dermatologist Dr. Melissa Babcock explains why caffeine is now finding itself one of the more pre-eminent ingredients in the cosmetic industry. “First off, caffeine is best known for its ability to cause vasoconstriction (the ability to make blood vessels smaller) and therein to decrease redness in skin.” Dr. Babcock shares that, “for patients with rosacea, this can be a wonderful product.” However, she reminds us that “the effects are not long term so the product needs to be applied daily for best results.
Dermatologist Dr. Jennifer Linder echos the sentiment that “caffeine seems to be one of those “miracle” ingredients that is getting a lot of hype for the moment.” Especially in support of the trend toward “EyeJuvenation,” one of the top anti-aging trends identified by the International Association of Physicians in Aesthetic Medicine (IAPAM). The vasoconstrictive properties of caffeine are being marketed in eye products designed to reduce puffiness. However, Dr. Linder is equally careful in recognizing that there is “little research supporting these claims,” and while the short term “benefit” of reduced puffiness can be attributed to an increase in circulation, “again no studies have been performed for eye-area usage.”
Caffeine Contributes to Cellulite Improvements
In a recent study, coffee was declassified as a diuretic. Previously thought to contribute to fluid loss, coffee consumption has now been found to be no more effective as a diuretic than water. However, Dr. Linder notes that, “in studies, caffeine-containing products increased cutaneous microcirculation and reduced the appearance of cellulite.” Further, Dr. Linder found several studies “on the physiology of cellulite that support microvascular changes in cellulite-effected tissue.” She is wary, though, that while “these studies show caffeine increasing microcirculation, topical products cannot typically penetrate the skin and devices like ultrasound may be needed for proper absorption.”
Amos Lavian, founder of Dermalect Cosmeceuticals, builds upon Dr. Linder comments. He has seen improvement in clients who use cellulite products which utilize caffeine to reduce the dimpling of cellulite. Given that cellulite is not a “fat condition”, dimpling that may be caused by vasodilatation may be successfully, albeit temporarily, improved through the topical application of caffeine containing products. Further, in a Finish study done in 2000, cellulite products that listed caffeine as “an active ingredient” reported “to reduce thigh diameter during treatment,” likely resulting in a reduction in the overall breadth of cellulite dimpling.
Caffeine Combats Photoaging
Caffeine has antioxidant properties as well. Antioxidants fight free radicals in the body which damage cells, and research shows specifically that caffeine can decrease the formation of skin cancers after exposure to UVB radiation (a component of sun light that leads to the majority of skin cancers). “Caffeine appears to accomplish this by causing the damaged skin cells to die; therefore, they are unable to divide and form skin cancers,” notes Dr. Babcock. Moreover, Dr. Gram references similar studies where ultraviolet rays were introduced to skin that was treated with caffeine. Interestingly, “the caffeine targeted abnormal skin cells to destroy, but kept the healthy, normal skin cells intact.”
Therefore, “while antioxidants prevent wrinkles but do not treat wrinkles,” comments Dr. Leslie Bauman, caffeine applied topically as an ingredient in sunscreens or foundations may enhance these products’ ability to virtually stop photoaging of the skin.
Dr. Babcock also comments on the use of caffeine in hairloss remedies. “Caffeine has increased hair growth in vitro (outside the human body). Studies have shown caffeine increased hair growth and prevented the negative effects of testosterone on hair growth in cultured hairs.”
Equally, Dr. Linder tentatively touts caffeine’s ability to spur hair growth in male pattern baldness. She mentions a Swiss company Alpecin, whose hair loss restoration products claim that caffeine causes increased hair growth. In support of Alpecin’s claim, Dr. Linder cited a study from the Department of Dermatology and Allergology, at the University of Jena, in Germany, that found that caffeine did seem to stimulate hair growth during in vitro testing. However, in an effort to be duly diligent regarding the long term benefits of caffeine for hairloss, Dr. Linder cautions that, while this is “a creative use of a ingredient to try to improve an often frustrating problem, I would need to see more data, clinical results and proof that their delivery vehicle insures the caffeine is absorbed before making a conclusion.”
Can Caffeine Permanently Turn back the Clock?
Ultimately, after reviewing the findings of many pre-eminent dermatologists and cosmeceutical experts, there clearly is not enough clinical data to definitively determine whether a product relied upon to wake us up in the morning can also have a lasting effect on the ravages of time?
Dr. Babcock offers some sage advice to those looking for the fountain of youth in a product containing caffeine. “People should consider where they buy products with caffeine or other antioxidants. It is important to determine what the concentration of the active ingredients is. Cosmetic companies understand what ingredients are popular and try to include them in their products for advertising purposes. Sometimes the levels of active ingredients are so low that they are ineffective. Products sold in physicians offices many times have higher concentrations of active ingredients and are better made.”
So the caffeine controversy continues. Enjoy a cup of green tea with breakfast, and afterwards, appreciate that cellulite cream with caffeine, even if its benefits last only for the few hours you are on the beach.
Jeff Russell, Executive-Director
International Association for Physicians in Aesthetic Medicine (IAPAM)