Many people are surprised to see caffeine in the list of cosmetic ingredients on the label of their cream. Everybody knows that caffeine is extracted from coffee and it is this substance that makes our coffee so refreshing and invigorating. But what is it doing in face cream? Amazingly enough, caffeine is a face slimming ingredient! More on that below.

"Caffeine is being increasingly used in cosmetics due to its high biological activity and ability to penetrate the skin barrier. This alkaloid is frequently used as a hydrophilic model substance in human and animal skin penetration as well as different synthetic membrane using Franz diffusion cell experiments. The commercially available topical formulations of caffeine normally contain 3% caffeine. As for a cosmetic purpose, caffeine is used as an active compound in anti-cellulite products because it prevents excessive accumulation of fat in cells. This alkaloid stimulates the degradation of fats during lipolysis through inhibition of the phosphodiesterase activity. Caffeine has potent antioxidant properties. It helps protect cells against the UV radiation and slows down the process of photoageing of the skin. Moreover, caffeine contained in cosmetics increases the microcirculation of blood in the skin and also stimulates the growth of hair through inhibition of the 5-alpha-reductase activity". (C) 2012 S. Karger AG, Basel, Switzerland

Caffeine was discovered not that long ago, in 2019 it will have been 200 years since the moment when a German chemist, physician and philosopher Friedlieb Ferdinand Runge extracted a transparent substance, that turned into crystals when dried, from coffee beans and called it caffeine.

These crystals are easy to dissolve in hot water, but rather hard in cold (everyone who ever tried to brew ground coffee in lukewarm water knows that the result is not exactly the fragrant drink that we’re used to). Naturally, the stimulating properties of coffee had been known long before Runge discovered caffeine.

People noticed a long time ago that some drinks are invigorating — in Africa they brewed coffee berries, in China — tea leaves, in Paraguay and Chile — mate shoots, in Brazil — the dried guarana berries. And all the plants people ever used to fight fatigue and restore their energy contain one and the same substance — caffeine. It may be called theine, mateine or guaranin, depending on the plant its found in, but from the chemical point of view it is always the same molecule. Of course plants don’t produce caffeine to boost their energy—its function is to repel harmful insects and attract the ones that pollinate the plant.

The discovery of caffeine started the studies of stimulating plants’ properties. A drink that contains caffeine affects our body like a stimulator. The intensity of the effect depends on the caffeine contents in the drink — guarana berries, for example, contain twice as much caffeine as coffee beans, so guarana-based drinks are more potent.

The universal effects of caffeine are well known — it reduces drowsiness, creates a surge of energy, speeds up the heartbeat, raises the blood pressure a little, can make one excited and restless, improves concentration. A cup of coffee also acts like a digestive — increases the secretion of the gastric juice. Basically, caffeine simultaneously stimulates nervous, cardiovascular and digestive systems. However caffeine does not actually do all these things itself — it simply contributes to the increase of an active substance, a transmitter of sorts, that in its turn activates the stimulating processes in matter of minutes. The minute we finish a cup of coffee, tea, mate or guarana drink, the amount of the enzyme that destroys the transmitter decreases, and cells are quickly filled with stimulators making us feel excited.

So what happens when we apply a cream with some caffeine to the skin? The skin reacts to it in almost the same way the body responds to a cup of coffee — all the processes, especially the ones that were suppressed, activate. If the skin and hypodermic tissue were puffy, caffeine provides face slimming by activating liquid drainage. If there is some fat under the skin, caffeine increases face slimming even more as natural fat splitting process is enhanced. It is precisely these properties that made coffee, green tea and guarana extracts so popular in anti cellulite skin care.

The size of a caffeine molecule is small, so it penetrates into deep skin layers easily and in a few minutes reaches hypodermic fatty tissue. Caffeine solutions ensure local weight loss — it may not be very noticeable on the thighs, but double chin, malar bags (the swelling on the upper edge of the cheek bones) or bags under eyes can be reduced quite fast.

A lot depends on the concentration: if a cream contains less than 1% of caffeine, it can hardly be expected to provide noticeable effect. It’s just like with the drink — the more you water down your coffee cup, the less energy you get from it. So there should be rather a lot of caffeine in cosmetics for it to work. Meder Beauty Lipo-Oval Concentrate contains the maximum allowed dosage of 3% caffeine, face slimming effect very high. Lipo-Oval Mask comes in with 1%, as the exposure with sheet mask is much longer.

A home made scrub made of coffee grounds contains caffeine too, but in much smaller quantities than a cosmetic solution that came from a lab, plus you are also getting the less beneficial substances produced by frying coffee beans!

Caffeine’s face slimming effect is not limited to weight loss! On its way to the fat cells caffeine manages to tone up the capillaries, support the cells’ membranes, and lessen the loss of moisture in the skin. The activation of cells’ life processes restores the skin's youthful energy.

Another important quality of caffeine is its ability to intensify the synthesis of cholesterol, a lipid essential for the creation of the skin’s protective mantle. Young skin synthesises enough lipids of its own to remain covered with a protective layer, that helps it retain water and other useful substances. The older we get, the less lipids our skin is able to produce, and caffeine restores the skin’s ability to do that.

Recently it was discovered that caffeine protects the skin from UV-damage as well and restores the skin after sunburn, so it would make sense to add it into your summer routine.

It is well known that drinking too much coffee or tea can make one feel jittery and overstimulated. And the frequent use of too concentrated caffeine based solutions can irritate the skin. This is why you should never apply anti cellulite cream onto your face, hoping to achieve face slimming with caffeine and get rid of double chin. Just as the taste and the effect of coffee can be moderated by adding milk or spices, the cosmetics usually contain other substances, besides caffeine, that can reduce or enhance its stimulating effect.


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