Coffee beans held in cupped hands

Most of us will have at some point pined for a freshly brewed coffee. Perhaps it was on the train, as your eyes grew heavy, the ticket inspector announcing that once again a crisp packet on the line had delayed your journey. Maybe it was the first thing in the morning, after your cat decided 5am was a perfectly reasonable hour to ask for food. Either way we know the real reason we crave it so much. Caffeine, and all the energising power it brings. 

Drinking caffeine clearly has its effects. However, that’s only if you drink it, right? Surely those caffeine loaded shampoos don’t actually wake you up? Does caffeine-infused skincare really make you glow or is just your imagination saving you from the embarrassment of paying for snake oil? Luckily the boffins in the lab have worked long and hard to get to the bottom of this contentious issue, so grab a coffee, take a sip and read on. Their findings might just cause a bit of a buzz.

First things first, does caffeine even get absorbed?

Surprisingly yes! A study found that when applied to the skin, a significant amount of caffeine actually makes its way all the way through. This suggests that its effects are not only genuine but that you could theoretically get your morning fix just by lying in a coffee bath for half an hour. Obviously you might get a couple of puzzled looks if you were to put that theory to the test but if in doubt you could just look up and whisper “it’s for science”.

What if I don’t have time to brew a coffee bath?

Clearly it takes longer to absorb substances through our skin than stomach - that’s why evolution kindly gave us mouths. However, even in five minutes, caffeine makes its way into the epidermis, the top layer of skin. This means that products such as scrubs and face masks, which sit on the skin for longer, are more effective at improving its feel and look.

Improving, how?

Caffeine is a kind of molecule known as a vasoconstrictor; simply put it makes blood vessels smaller. This not only prevents skin puffiness but can make it appear less red too - due to the reduction in the amount of blood at the skin surface. While this is true everywhere, it works particularly well on the face and under the eyes, where darker patches are generally more visible and likely to appear.

Keep going...

Well, studies have shown that applying caffeine to sunburnt skin might actually reduce the risk of certain kinds of cancer, effectively encouraging damaged cells to selflessly fall on their swords before they can cause any trouble. It goes without saying that it is not a replacement for a high factor sunscreen of course, but after a day in the sun it seems to have significant benefits. It’s also been found that caffeine-infused skincare products helped to significantly reduce the appearance of cellulite in test subjects by aiding in the dehydration of those pesky fat cells.

And going...

You’ve probably heard of the term free radicals. They’re kind of like tiny bouncy balls in your body, flying around indiscriminately and smashing up the furniture. Fortunately caffeine is a powerful antioxidant, acting to remove these from your system. This basically means your skin cells stay in top condition for longer, delaying the appearance of wrinkles and keeping you looking as fresh as a double shot, almond milk, skinny maccifrappichino.

What should I look for in a caffeine product?

So this is an important part. Not all products are created equal. While many extol the virtues of caffeine on their labels they do not always sit long enough on the skin to have any noticeable effect. Shower gels, for example, are generally washed away immediately, meaning they’re largely pointless unless you want to lather up and slide around the room for five minutes. As we said earlier, masks and scrubs are the most effective products along with creams. Coffee scrubs in particular also have the added benefit of removing layers of dead skin, helping the caffeine to make it’s way directly to the healthy layers quicker and more effectively.

So there you go, the boffins have given their (rather smooth) thumbs up. Of course the most vital aspect to choosing caffeine based skincare is knowing how it was made. Make your skin and your mind feel fab by choosing cruelty-free, sustainable products - made locally and with natural ingredients. Follow those simple rules and you’ll be glowing in no time.