Can This Buzzy Ingredient Really Wake Up Your Skin?

Everything you need to know about caffeine as a skincare ingredient.
By Souzan Michael Galway
Can This Buzzy Ingredient Really Wake Up Your Skin?

(Photo: iStock)

Caffeine is already a staple in our kitchens and our social lives, but it has recently been popping up in our skincare routines as well.

The buzzy ingredient is often found in products formulated for daytime use, like eye creams and moisturizers, but can it really “wake up” your skin? We tapped two experts to learn everything there is to know about the benefits of caffeine in skincare products. Find out if your skin might enjoy a hit of caffeine as much as you do.

The concept of caffeine in skincare waking up skin is denoted by a coffee mug used as the face of an alarm clock. (Photo: iStock)

What are caffeine’s purported skin benefits?

The skincare products available on the market that feature caffeine as a star ingredient promise to “wake up” skin—that is, de-puff under-eye bags, decrease the appearance of dark circles and generally contribute to a brighter, more refreshed complexion.

But the truth is that research on caffeine in skincare has been mixed. The benefits are often minimal, especially because the concentration of caffeine used in a skincare product isn’t typically potent. (This is due to potential issues with irritation.)

And while some studies have shown that caffeine can have “awakening” effects, other studies have actually found it can be detrimental to skin.

A 2014 study published in Drug Design, Development and Therapy found that the use of caffeine on skin actually reduced the production of collagen. “The desire to use caffeine-infused products is mostly caused by hype or trends,” explains celebrity dermatologist Dr. Harold Lancer, who works with Margot Robbie, Michelle Williams, Kim Kardashian West, Jennifer Lopez and many more A-listers.

Why is caffeine found in so many eye creams?


Caffeine is a vasoconstrictor, which means  it constricts blood vessels. Because of this, an eye cream that contains the ingredient can—temporarily—reduce the amount of blood flow to the area, thus causing the skin to look less puffy and irritated.

However, since “the science behind the ingredient is mixed, with some studies showing some benefit while others do not,” says says Dr. Monica Li, a dermatologist and clinical instructor at the University of British Columbia’s Department of Dermatology and Skin Science. Puffy eyes may also come from other factors, such as fluid retention, diet (consuming a lot of alcohol or salt, for example), allergies, insufficient sleep or even crying.

“Trying to improve [those] factors that cause a swollen and dark appearance in the thin skin of the under-eye area may be more effective [than],” explains Li.

The bottom line? “Caffeine actually has a high ability to penetrate the skin to cause vasoconstriction that can help reduce the appearance of under-eye puffiness,” says Dr. Li—just don’t expect anything more than a temporary reduction.

Is caffeine in skincare suitable for all skin types?

Just as some people can't handle a caffeine buzz, not all skin types are well-suited to the ingredient. “People with highly reactive, sensitive or easily flushed skin should use products containing caffeine with caution,” warns Dr. Lancer. “It causes an exceeding exacerbation of sensitivity and redness in the skin.”


This is especially true if you’ve been using caffeine-infused products for some time and then stop, due to something called “rebound redness,” a common side effect of vasoconstrictors or redness-reducing products.

Expect rebound redness to happen when the blood vessels that have become used to being constricted don’t get the dose of caffeine they’ve become used to, and go into redness overdrive.

As such, it's not recommended for people with rosacea.

So, who should use caffeine-infused skincare products?

If you don’t have sensitive skin, you can definitely try caffeine in skincare. Just keep your expectations low.

“Given its transient effects, caffeine-infused topical products would need to be used every day to reproduce the intended (temporary) skin benefits,” says Dr. Li. So yes, “there are clinical studies supporting the idea that caffeine can improve puffiness of the under-eye region, but only if excess fluid retention is the reason, rather than dermal fat distribution in the region, previous injuries or surgeries in the area.”


In short, caffeinated skincare won't help if puffy eyes run in your family.

Are there any ingredients that should not be used with products containing caffeine?

Retinoids should not be in the same product as caffeine,” notes Dr. Lancer. “Exercise caution even when using two different products, one containing retinol and the other caffeine. Having them interact can aggravate the inflammatory components of retinol.”

If you accidentally combine the two, you may notice redness, tightness or discomfort. If this happens, you should stop using all active ingredients until your skin calms down.

Is there any legitimacy to the claim that caffeine can reduce the appearance of cellulite?

A popular internet tip suggests using old coffee grounds as a so-called cellulite treatment. There are also plenty of cellulite creams out there that claim to deliver a mess-free boost of caffeine to the skin. “There is absolutely no legitimacy to this at all,” says Dr. Lancer.

(That said, reusing old coffee grounds as a DIY physical exfoliator on your arms and legs is a good way to make your beauty routine greener. Again, just don’t expect any miracles.)

So, should you skip your next caffeine-infused skincare buy?


Don't purchase a product specifically because it’s formulated with caffeine. However, skincare products that contain the ingredient are often made with other calming, puffiness-reducing actives. These actives, like antioxidants, can work alongside the caffeine to provide the skin benefits you’re looking for.

Here are 9 skincare products that contain caffeine and other must-try actives

The Inkey List Caffeine Eye Cream, $14

This tube of The Inkey List Caffeine Eye Cream is an example of a caffeine in skincare product.

Formulated with caffeine and hyaluronic acid, this lightweight eye cream hydrates and plumps up skin to reduce the appearance of fine lines. It also contains peptides to smooth the skin. It can be used morning and night to revive tired eyes and help prevent dark circles.

The Ordinary Caffeine Solution 5% + EGCG Eye Serum, $10

This jar of The Ordinary Caffeine Solution serum is an example of a caffeine in skincare product.

A few drops of this potent water-based eye serum—which contains caffeine, green tea leaf extract and hyaluronic acid—helps temporarily reduce puffiness and dark circles. Follow with a moisturizer or eye cream to lock in the benefits. It's easy to apply topically and fits nicely in your travel case, too.


Murad Targeted Eye Depuffer, $85

This tube of Murad Targeted Eye Depuffer is an example of a caffeine in skincare product.

Thanks to a cooling metal applicator, this gel cream instantly depuffs. It contains topical caffeine and peptides to firm and reduce the appearance of under-eye bags, as well as a light-reflecting complex.

Kosas Revealer Concealer, $42

This tube of Kosas Revealer concealer is an example of a caffeine in skincare product.

If you're after a little more coverage, this creamy concealer by Kosas is just the ticket. It contains plenty of skincare ingredients, including caffeine to reduce dark circles, hyaluronic acid and peptides to hydrate and arnica to reduce redness. Plus, it's available in 28 shades in a range of undertones.

Youth To The People 15% Vitamin C + Caffeine Energy Serum, $93

This jar of Youth To The People 15% Vitamin C + Caffeine Energy Serum is an example of a caffeine in skincare product.

This caffeine-infused serum contains a 15 percent dose of vitamin C to brighten and reduce hyperpigmentation. Apply in the morning for best results, and follow up with sunscreen.

Sunday Riley Autocorrect Brightening and Depuffing Eye Contour Cream, $88This dispenser of Sunday Riley Auto Correct is an example of a caffeine in skincare product.


Caffeine and ginseng root extract are the star ingredients in this luxe eye cream that claims to instantly brighten and depuff the eye area. It also contains watermelon rind extract, which is said to provide hydration to the skin. We love the light-reflecting particles that immediately brighten the under-eye area.

Biotherm Blue Pro-Retinol Eye Cream, $80

This blue jar of Biotherm Blue Pro-Retinol Eye Cream is an example of a caffeine in skincare product.

Formulated with pro-retinol (a gentle form of retinol), this caffeine-infused balm-like eye cream tackles both fine lines and dark circles. It also contains the brand's signature life plankton, which hydrates and plumps skin.

Sephora Collection Brightening Eye Cream, $24


This jar of Sephora Collection Brightening Eye Cream is an example of a caffeine in skincare product.

This eye cream contains the right balance of caffeine content to help brighten the eye area, as well as hyaluronic acid to boost hydration. It's also fragrance-free, a bonus for the delicate under-eye area.

Biossance Squalane + Caffeine Toning Body Cream, $41

This jar of Biossance Squalane + Caffeine Toning Body Cream is an example of a caffeine in skincare product.

This fast-absorbing, lightweight body cream contains squalane to hydrate, niacinamide to improve texture and caffeine to help firm skin. We love that it's fragrance-free, making it a great pick for those who want to layer their own fragrance on top.


Originally published in 2020; updated in 2023.

While the product in this piece has been independently chosen by our editors, this article contains affiliate links, so we may earn a small commission when you make a purchase through links on our site at no additional cost to you. 


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