Gone are the days when caffeine was just something that gave your morning coffee its kick: it's become the must-have ingredient in a wide range of beauty products, ranging from bump-busting cellulite creams to serums designed to banish eye bags. But is caffeine really the miracle ingredient it's made out to be?
When it comes to beauty products, caffeine works in three main ways: as a vasoconstrictor, an antioxidant and a diuretic.
As a vasoconstrictor, it constricts blood vessels and can therefore tighten and refine pores. Its antioxidant qualities mean it can protect the skin from free radical damage which can lead to premature ageing. Finally, its diuretic properties mean it can help to drain excess fluid from the body and therefore reduce cellulite, fluid retention and puffiness.
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The caffeine con
Recently there's been an increase in products that claim to go one step further. Several brands have been admonished by the Advertising Standards Authority after claiming that topical application of caffeine-based products can help to break down fat cells.
Daniel Vaudd, the British perfumer and certified cosmetic scientist, explains why this simply isn't possible. "Fat tissue is found below the epidermis, past the dermis in the subcutaneous tissues," explains Daniel. "This is out of the remit of cosmetic products."
However, when used correctly, caffeine is certainly a useful beauty ingredient. To appreciate caffeine's benefits, it's important to understand how it works when used in skincare products. In addition to its skin-repairing and protecting properties, it also boosts the effectiveness of other ingredients.
"Caffeine works as an active ingredient carrier — which is to say that it aids in the absorption of the main ingredient that does the hard work," explains Daniel.
"So for example, an eye cream which contains caffeine can help with the appearance of tired eyes but this isn't just due to the caffeine."
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While it's true that caffeine can help to constrict blood vessels, in reality, the amount used in eye creams isn't enough to have much of an effect on dark circles (which are caused by enlarged blood vessels).
However, while retinol, hyularonic acid, vitamins C and E and ceramides are much more important when it comes to eye creams and facial skincare products in general, the inclusion of caffeine can boost the way in which our skin absorbs these ingredients.
When it comes to products for the rest of your body, caffeine works slightly differently, although it's worth bearing in mind that no scientific study has ever shown that caffeine can reduce cellulite.
However, caffeine-based products can help to reduce the appearance of cellulite by improving circulation and promoting drainage, boosting blood and lymphatic circulation and helping to flush out toxins, which are all equally important when it comes to the art of bump-busting.
But while slathering on various lotions and potions is all well and good, boosting our circulation with regular exercise is equally important, as is drinking at least two litres of water a day and avoiding high sugar foods.
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Calling all scrubbers
Regular use of body scrubs combined with body brushing has also been proven to reduce the appearance of the dreaded dimples, due to the way in which these techniques boost circulation. When using a body brush, use long, firm strokes towards the heart to stimulate the lymphatic drainage system and flush out toxins.
Look for caffeine-based scrubs that can be used with a body brush or loofah, but keep an eye out for additional ingredients such as vitamin C, which can reduce the appearance of cellulite by boosting collagen production, and Pro vitamin B5 (pathenol), which helps to reduce moisture loss and improve the skin's general appearance.
"The best way to circumnavigate the myriad of skincare products is to know your skin type and to always enquire about clinical trials — paying close attention to the skin types that were included in the study," advises Daniel Vaudd.
More importantly, don't believe the hype: the blurb on the back of the latest anti cellulite product might well list Victoria Beckham as a fan or promise that you'll drop a dress size in a month, but in reality, it's never going to happen, no matter what the ingredients are. And in all honestly, who wants to look like Posh anyway?