Caffeine description

Caffeine is the chief stimulant in beverages such as coffee and tea. It’s often included in skin care products with claims that it will improve the look of cellulite or puffy eyes. Unfortunately, research into caffeine’s effects in this regard are mixed. Caffeine’s popularity in products related to cellulite is due to its distant relationship to aminophylline (an ingredient once thought to improve the look of cellulite), which is a modified form of theophylline, and caffeine contains theophylline. Applied to skin, caffeine may have soothing and antioxidant properties, especially when skin is exposed to UV light. It can penetrate skin and has a constricting effect, which can help improve the look of redness but also may be sensitising. When it comes to puffy eyes, there is no research indicating caffeine can have any benefit; in fact, research has shown caffeine has an inhibitory action on a key protein in skin that helps it look younger. Truly, it’s a mix of pros and cons for skin, though lower amounts (less than 1%) in skin care products probably don’t present much, if any, risk.

Caffeine references

  • Drug Design, Development, and Therapy, October 2014, pages 19,923-1,928
  • Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, 2013, issue 1, pages 8-14
  • British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, August 2009, pages 181-186
  • The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, January 2009, pages 36-40
  • BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, March 2006, issue 9, page 17
  • Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry, November 2005, issue 11, pages 2219-2223

Peer-reviewed, substantiated scientific research is used to assess ingredients in this dictionary. Regulations regarding constraints, permitted concentration levels and availability vary by country and region.

Ingredient ratings


Proven and supported by independent studies. Outstanding active ingredient for most skin types or concerns.


Necessary to improve a formula's texture, stability, or penetration.


Generally non-irritating but may have aesthetic, stability, or other issues that limit its usefulness.


There is a likelihood of irritation. Risk increases when combined with other problematic ingredients.


May cause irritation, inflammation, dryness, etc. May offer benefit in some capability but overall, proven to do more harm than good.


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Not Rated