Caffeine is a naturally occurring substance that is derived from plants. It can be found in the beans, leaves, and fruit of more than 60 types of plants, including the coffee plant, tea bush, kola nut, and guarana berries. Most commonly used as a food and drink ingredient, caffeine can be found in coffee, tea, chocolate, sodas, and even some prescription and nonprescription drugs, such as cold and allergy medications.
Caffeine is a mild stimulant. When ingested, then, it temporarily stimulates the central nervous system. The effects of caffeine can be felt as soon as 15 minutes after ingesting it, and the temporary effects can last as long as six hours. The effects of caffeine vary from person to person; however, this stimulant has the potential to increase an individual’s heart rate, body temperature, blood flow, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels. In moderate quantities, defined as 250 to 300 mg a day, or about three cups of coffee, caffeine typically does not produce any negative effects. Individuals can enjoy the stimulant benefits of coffee, giving them increased alertness, without negative physical symptoms.
When caffeine is ingested in large quantities, however, it can produce negative side effects. Generally, more than 1000 mg, which equals 10 six-ounce cups of coffee, of caffeine would need to be consumed for most individuals to experience negative side effects. An excessive amount of caffeine can lead to sleep deprivation, as the body is unable to recognize when it is tired and needs rest. Individuals who do not react well to caffeine or who consume too much can experience dizziness, nausea, thirst, anxiety, insomnia, appetite changes, dry mouth, or blurred vision. Some caffeine users can even experience heart palpitations after excessive caffeine use.
Caffeine’s use extends beyond the food and beverage industry, however. The beauty and skin care industry includes caffeine as an ingredient in a range of products. In skin care products, caffeine is used primarily as a skin conditioning agent, offering a range of benefits. In many ways, caffeine has similar effects on the skin as it does on the body when it is ingested. With antioxidant properties, caffeine can help to neutralize free radicals, which are unstable compounds that can attack and damage skin cells. Eliminating free radicals and preventing future damage make caffeine an effective ingredient in promoting healthy skin. At the same time, caffeine-based skin care products can improve the appearance of dry or damaged skin, creating more supple, healthier skin.
In addition, some research indicates that caffeine-based skin creams can help reduce the appearance of cellulite by dehydrating fat cells and creating smoother skin. Changes are temporary and will discontinue when the product is no longer used, but caffeine-based creams can help fight dimpled skin.
In eye creams, caffeine can reduce puffiness and redness and help eliminate dark circles and shadows under the eyes. Caffeine is a diuretic, and this quality helps it drain excess fluid from under the eyes, which can contribute to dark circles in many cases. It is also a vasoconstrictor, meaning that it narrows, or constricts, the blood vessels using small muscles in their walls. Its qualities as a vasoconstrictor make caffeine effective at eliminating redness from the skin, including around the eyes. In addition, some rosacea sufferers credit caffeine-based products with reducing the skin redness that plagues them.
Body scrubs and body washes also use caffeine, typically in the form of coffee. The caffeine in these products, in conjunction with other ingredients, detoxifies skin, leaving it smooth and healthy. Caffeine-based body washes can refresh and revitalize skin for the day ahead. Caffeine-based cleansers are used daily or weekly to rejuvenate skin.
The Food and Drug Administration has approved caffeine as a Generally Recognized as Safe food substance as well as an active ingredient in over-the-counter stimulant drugs. Because of its FDA approval, the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel deferred evaluation of caffeine, deeming it as safe to use in beauty and skin care products. The Cosmetics Directive of the European Union permits the use of caffeine in beauty and skin care products in Europe.
The positive effects of caffeine as a beauty and skin care ingredient continue to be researched. However, several studies have pointed to the range of benefits that come from plant-based caffeine as an ingredient.