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One Pump of Coffee in My Serum, Please


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If sipping on a caffeinated beverage is a nonnegotiable and essential part of your morning routine, you're not alone. Some of us prefer coffee, while others prefer tea (which, if you didn't know, actually contains almost as much caffeine as coffee). Either way, thanks to the zing of energy and enhanced brain function it provides to us, caffeine is one of the most popular ingredients in the world.

But, have you ever wondered how these magical drinks affect your body and skin? With all the coffee scrubs and caffeine eye creams out there - does the “awaken” effect also apply to our skin?

Caffeine's got A-game: Antioxidants

Both coffee and tea contain high amounts of multiple antioxidants. A diet rich in antioxidants can help your body's cells (including skin cells) fight off free radicals that contribute to the aging process, like the sun, pollution, smoke, and more.

Coffee contains the antioxidant ferulic acid, which is shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body and skin. Green tea, on the other hand, contains a compound called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which is also known to have anti-inflammatory benefits as well as helping to protect cells from damage.

Coffee is also high in niacin (aka vitamin B3) which helps the body's systems as a whole function better. If we're talking about the skin specifically, it helps to protect skin cells from UV damage.

All these lovely benefits don't mean you should go soaking your organs in caffeine though! When it comes to being mindful about food, you'll want to be mindful about caffeine intake too.

Not to be Captain Obvious, but about that sleep…

Since caffeine stimulates our brains by blocking the sleep hormone adenosine, it very well could prevent us from getting a proper night's sleep.

If this is a no-duh moment for you, well consider beauty sleep a real thing too. Our bodies heal and regenerate cells while we sleep in addition to reducing cortisol. Long-term, lack of proper sleep can wreak havoc on the skin, not to mention the entire body.

Do I have to give up coffee to get rid of acne?

If you're especially acne-prone you may want to take note because, while caffeine itself doesn't cause acne, it may make acne worse.

Caffeine stimulates our adrenal glands which produce the stress hormone cortisol. This hormone can increase oil production in the skin which can lead to acne.

In addition to cortisol, it may also be how you take your coffee. Roughly 65 percent of people drink their coffee with cream and/or sugar. Both of these coffee drink additions can negatively impact acne.

Dairy contains growth hormones, which can lead to acne. Sugar, on the other hand, creates surges of insulin and bursts of inflammation which increases hormones and puts oil glands into overdrive. This creates a perfect breeding ground for P. acnes bacteria to form.

If you have stubborn acne it may be a good idea to take a break from caffeine or drink it black to see how your skin reacts. Luckily, cafes have plenty of dairy and sugar alternatives now. We're looking at you, oat milk.

Bonus? It may decrease the risk of skin cancer

A 10-year study, performed on almost 450,000 people, suggests that drinking more coffee may decrease your risk of malignant melanoma. Researchers noticed that people who drank more than four cups of regular (not decaf) coffee per day had a decreased risk of malignant melanoma by 20 percent, compared to those who didn't drink coffee.

Can caffeine dehydrate the skin?

A common misconception about coffee and tea is that it's dehydrating to the body and skin. However, research suggests otherwise!

In this study, they compared people who drank 3-6 cups of coffee per day with people that drank just water and then tested their levels of hydration. Ring the bells for the good news: there was, surprisingly, no real level of difference.

Sure, caffeine is a mild diuretic but think about what coffee and teas are made with - almost all water with a small dose of caffeine. You would be using the bathroom regardless of drinking water or caffeinated drinks.

But this is not permission to not drink water, or replace water with coffee and tea. As a rule of thumb, if your pee goes darker than lemonade, drink more pure water.

If you want thoroughly caffeinated skin, look for…

Within skin care, you may see ingredients like coffee arabica seed oil, caffeine, or green coffee extract in addition to ground coffee in a body scrub. Topical application packs some great benefits as well since it delivers the ingredients directly to the area being treated.

Coffee grounds for cellulite concerns

You'll often find ground coffee in body scrubs or caffeine/coffee extract as the main ingredients in cellulite treatments. The theory is that caffeine can constrict blood vessels and temporarily reduce the appearance of cellulite. But the research around this is slim. Chances are the smooth skin comes from the exfoliating coffee grounds and movement of massaging over the skin. It's still skin care!

Coffee and tea extracts in serums and moisturizers

You may also find coffee and tea extracts in moisturizers and facial serums because of the potent antioxidant protection. Look for products with coffee and tea extracts to help fight off free radicals and slow down the production of wrinkles, dark spots, and more.

Eye creams with coffee

Since caffeine can constrict blood vessels, increase circulation, and provide anti-inflammatory benefits, its one of the star ingredients of many eye creams. Ideal for the mornings, when the eye area can look its puffiest, a caffeinated eye cream may be the shot of wake-me-up your dark circles and red eyes need.

All in all, there are many pros (and fewer cons) to keeping caffeine in your skin care rotation, topically or as a cuppa in the morning.

Dana Murray is a licensed aesthetician from Southern California with a passion for skin care science. She's been using her knowledge to blog about skin and bust skin myths on her Instagram since 2016.