Is Caffeine The New Hyaluronic Acid? Here's What You Need To Know

Designed by Meg O'Donnell
If your skin is dehydrated, chances are you might not know about it. Unlike dry skin, which typically manifests in obvious patches that are often flaky, itchy, sore and rough to the touch thanks to a lack of lipids (or oils), skin that is dehydrated lacks water and presents differently. Tightness, fine lines, dullness and increased sensitivity are just a handful of symptoms, which, according to Amanda von dem Hagen at glo Skin Beauty, can often be exacerbated by central heating, air conditioning, exposure to hot and cold temperatures, and harsh skincare products.
Thankfully, there are ingredients which can help alleviate dehydrated skin. You've no doubt heard skin experts extolling the virtues of one of those in particular: hyaluronic acid, a substance which helps skin cells retain moisture, filling out lines, making skin look brighter and feel a little bouncier. Naturally occurring in the skin anyway, it's tried, tested and beloved by everyone from dermatologists to beauty editors – provided it's used in the correct way, on damp skin, otherwise it could draw moisture from deeper within cells, dehydrating skin further.
But it looks like there's another ingredient vying for first place when it comes to increasing hydration: caffeine. This may come as a shock, seeing as caffeine has long been claimed to dehydrate the body (a claim which has lately been deemed questionable by research and health experts) but recent information released by the Estée Lauder Companies' research and development team found that caffeine actually has the ability to effectively enhance skin hydration when applied topically (on the surface of the skin) – and in a pretty clever way.
The research, published by EurekAlert, found that topical caffeine increased "naturally occurring electric fields on the surface of the skin," which subsequently increased the water content. Dr Tom Mammone, vice president of skin physiology and pharmacology for Clinique research and development worldwide, breaks it down. "While I’m not sure what drinking caffeine will do to skin, in my experience of using caffeine topically we have seen cosmetic benefits," he explained. "Putting it on topically increases moisturisation by increasing the energy of skin." As well as charging energy and therefore producing more water in the process, Dr Mammone mentioned that caffeine also has the ability to reduce inflammation (redness and swelling) and pigmentation (often caused by environmental factors such as pollution and increased sun exposure) in the skin.
In other words, caffeine is an all-rounder, as the head formulators at new skincare brand The INKEY List explain further. "Caffeine is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory," the experts told R29. "It helps to protect the skin from free radicals that are known to accelerate skin damage and produce lines, wrinkles and sun spots. This makes it a great ingredient to help slow down any future skin damage." Try Allies Of Skin's Molecular Multi-Nutrient Day Cream, £79, or Clinique's Moisture Surge, £24.
When it comes to the delicate skin around your eyes, it is often debated whether topical skincare products can penetrate deep enough to target things like dark circles and puffiness, but for all-over, gentle hydration try INKEY's Caffeine Serum, £8.99, which absorbs in seconds and banishes tightness. If you prefer creamier formulations, Origins' GinZing Refreshing Eye Cream, £22, boosts hydration, minimising fine lines, and makes skin feel less taut and uncomfortable after cleansing. And if you're really worried about the effect the environment has on your skin, especially around your delicate eye area, The Ordinary's Caffeine Solution 5%, £6, also contains EGCG – a powerful antioxidant derived from green tea. Great skin all round.

More from Beauty

R29 Original Series