Once labelled a dehydrating toxin, coffee is setting the skincare world alight with its proven depuffing and calming properties. Let’s raise a double-shot venti to this versatile bean
Words: Alice du Parcq
Still-life photography: Benoit Audureau
It’s been called a drug, a poison, a skin-parching diuretic. It’s responsible for the vicious circle that perks us up and disrupts our sleep. But for those of us in the UK who drink 1.7 billion cups of it per day, coffee gives us the best feeling in the world. And now we love it so much we’re willing to smear ourselves in it, as convincing new evidence reveals coffee has myriad benefits for the skin, body and hair.
It’s a beauty myth that caffeine causes rosacea flare-ups, as it’s actually the heat. “Caffeine in coffee has a positive cosmeceutical effect, by causing blood vessels to constrict and shrink,” says Dr Anjali Mahto, dermatologist and spokesperson for the British Skin Foundation, who explains how it can offer temporary relief for rosacea by causing blood flow to slow and red thread veins to look less pronounced.
“Caffeine is one of my favourite molecules,” adds Dr Tom Mammone, executive director of research and development for Clinique, who discovered its anti-inflammatory properties by accident. “A scientist in our lab was toying with soothing agents; she pointed at her coffee cup and said, ‘What if we tried this?’ It had a remarkable effect on calming irritation and increasing levels of adenosine triphosphate, the skin’s energy supply.”
And it’s this energy surge that’s responsible for caffeine’s top billing in a host of new active eye creams. The tear ducts require a constant flow of energy to pump water around our eyes, and everyday skin afflictions such as tiredness and stress deplete those energy reserves. The result? Water retention in the form of puffy eye bags. “Caffeine triggers that energy and helps to prevent fluid accumulation,” says Mammone.
In its raw, sooty form, the idea of applying coffee to the skin sounds absurd but search #TheFrankEffect on Instagram and you’ll see 60,000 dirt-speckled images of women smothered in ground coffee, including fascinating before and after shots of eczema and spider veins miraculously faded. That’s all down to new Australian brand Frank Body, which uses coffee as a key active ingredient in its body scrub. “It’s messy, dirty and honest, that’s why we’re called Frank,” says founder Jess Hatzis. “Our chemical researcher identified that when small amounts of coffee penetrate warm damp skin, blood flow and collagen production are improved, hence the firming and smoothing effect – which is why we’ve expanded the range to include finer grinds within our facial offering.” So why not simply drink up coffee’s wizardry? One cup alone won’t diffuse enough caffeine to impact the skin in the way that applying it topically will, plus the stuff in your cup uses 100% arabica beans for flavour, but it’s the cheaper robusta variety that yields the cosmeceutical magic with double the caffeine content at 2.7% compared to arabica’s 1.5%.
And caffeine’s toxic reputation? Unfounded it seems. Yes, it’s a mild diuretic, but we’re naturally programmed to stop drinking it when we feel dehydrated. “We've co-evolved to use coffee symbiotically,” says Mammone. “Research shows the people in countries that grow coffee live longer and have better health.” From scrubs to serum to potentially ground-breaking sun protection, everyone’s waking up to coffee’s benefits. Scroll down for our pick of the best caffeine-based products to perk up your beauty regime.
1. Cell Dynamic Eye Focus Night, £180, NUBO
Marina Shcherbinina, founder and CEO of NuBo, calls this “lymphatic drainage in a bottle.” That’s due to its combination of caffeine, butcher’s broom root and quinoa seed extract, which tones and strengthens blood vessel walls – reducing redness, swelling and discolouration under the eye. (harrods.com)
2. Pep-Start Eye Cream, £22, Clinique
You can’t miss this nifty neon roller-ball eye cream: just a few weeks since its launch, it’s become the best-selling product in the history of Clinique’s UK website. The caffeine extract is combined with peptides, proteins and algae extract to brighten, decongest, hydrate and impart a well-rested look. (clinique.co.uk)
3. Hair Growth Serum Intense, £30, Grow Gorgeous
Caffeine has the ability to interact with our hair follicles, helping to stimulate hair growth and also increase blood flow to deliver better nutrition and repair to hair follicles. The result? Stronger individual strands. With each bottle containing the equivalent of 51 cups of caffeine, this serum is proven to be as effective as lauded medical hair loss treatment, Minoxidil. Users massaging 20 drops into the scalp daily noticed an increase in growth in as little as two weeks. (boots.com)
4. Everyday Face Moisturiser, £17.95, Frank Body
Following the success of its body scrub, Frank has launched coffee-based facial care with green coffee bean extract. This silky moisturiser makes a great all-rounder: it calms and comforts sensitive skins, controls and heals the blemish-prone and leaves no residue. Its subtle coffee scent has a Pavlovian energising effect, too. (uk.frankbody.com)
5. Beauty Remedy Concealer Pen, £25, Marc Jacobs
For a caffeine hit with extra coverage, this all-in-one concealer and brightener provides a good dose of long-lasting pigment without looking cakey. The palladium metal applicator cools skin on contact, and it’s available in nine shades – far more than most competitor under-eye pens. (harrods.com)
Photography: Benoit Audureau