Retrospectacle: A Neuroscience Blog

As an admitted Sephora junkie, I’ve come across a lot of caffeine-laced cremes for sale that I thought were a rather ridiculous waste of money. A few examples are:

Bliss Fat Girl Slim and LoveHandler
Lancome High Resolution Eye Creme
Zirh Aftershave Creme
Ren Leg Gel


But does infusing caffeine into the skin relay any real beauty benefits? A new study by Brazilian researchers, published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, suggest it might actually slim thighs.

(Continued below the fold….)

99 women were asked to used a 7% caffeine creme twice a day for 30 days, and thigh and hip measurements were then compared to their baseline measurements. More than 80 percent of the the participants had a statistically significant reduction in the circumference of their upper and lower thighs and 68 percent also had slimmer hip measurements. Apparently, smoking, exercise, and alcohol consumption were not related to the results.

The treatment did not, however, have any effect on the cellulite itself, as evidenced by imaging changes in the cellulite (functional capillary density, diameter of the dermic papilla,and capillary diameter.) No significant changes were seen. As the U of M doesn’t have access to the paper, I can’t expound more on the methods or results (and thats saying something, as UM usually has *everything.*)

So why might caffeine slim thighs without affecting cellulite? Cellulite is caused by the accumulation of fat cells deposited in pockets just below the surface of the skin, and is no different than any other type of fat. It gives the appearance of being stubborn to get rid of due to its proximity to the skin’s surface–its more visible than other types of fat. According to Linda Wells, editor-in-chief of Allure Magazine, “caffeine is in almost every cellulite-reducing product that shows any benefit, because it helps blood flow to the skin and works like a diuretic” to remove accumulated fluid in that area. This creates the perception that the area has “slimmed,” but where the fluid goes, who can say, and the effect will likely last only as long as the continued use of the caffeine. So while the caffeinated creme may improve firmness through dehydration, the underlying issue of cellulite deposition remains unaffected.

The authors state as much though:

“This is no cure for cellulite”, said lead researcher Omar Lupi of the Federal University of then State of Rio de Janeiro. “But it can help women who want to look thinner. Exercise is still the best way to go.”

I think I’ll save my money for the gym.

Hat tip Charlie for the press release.

Blackwell Publishing Ltd. (2007, December 7). Caffeine Cream Tones Thighs. ScienceDaily.

Lupi et al. 2007. Evaluation of the effects of caffeine in the microcirculation and edema on thighs and buttocks using the orthogonal polarization spectral imaging and clinical parameters. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2007 Jun ;6 (2):102-7.


  1. #1 Bryce M
    December 7, 2007

    When I hear a product has “a proprietary delivery enhancer that helps penetration” I feel dirty.

  2. #2 -Q
    December 7, 2007

    A quote from a person I met at the gym sums it up best.

    There’s nothing like a game of racquet ball where your best friend hits you in the back of the head. Twice. But that’s still nothing that a cup of coffee and some advil can’t fix.

  3. #3 Anon
    December 7, 2007

    Yesterday’s lecture was on anorexia (mostly exercise anorexia, not anorexia nervosa). It was introduced by talking about two former students whom I cared deeply about.

    This sort of thing is not something I am terribly receptive to. Beautiful women who think themselves hideous because they have cellulite… it bothers me. “There is no cure for cellulite”… um… so fucking what?!? There is no cure for being tall or short, either, or blue-eyed or brown-eyed or green-eyed. Yes, in all instances, you can mask it… so long as you recognize that you are some sort of hideous freak who needs to wear a mask.

    Shelley… you are beautiful. Are you 100% happy with your body? (rhetorical–please do not answer). Among my students, in 20 years, I have met 5 women who would not change something about themselves. Among thousands. Five. Five! And studies like this seem to reinforce the idea that these minor differences are not differences, but flaws. More than imperfections… nearly handicaps. Damn near mutations.

    Sorry… this is not an abstract issue for me.

  4. #4 Shelley Batts
    December 7, 2007

    Anon: your response baffles me. My post is about potentially misleading science and nebulous results as an interpretation of the data. Im questioning the nature of the press release, not approving of it. In fact, one of the first things i said about this product is that it was a “waste of money.” I’m not quite sure where you draw your conclusions from– perhaps because i said i like Sephora and working out? I live in Michigan so being in a gym is warmer than walking outside, and makeup is fun. How does that suggest I am unhappy with my body?

  5. #5 Anon
    December 8, 2007

    Please, Shelley, accept my apologies for poor wording. I do not intend to suggest anything at all about you–I do not know you. My students, in the past, have been dissatisfied with their bodies–virtually independently of what their actual weight or shape has been. And that is my point. They find themselves lacking… but why? Differences were seen as inadequacies; one minor aspect of their lives was given power over all others. I asked the rhetorical question to you that I have asked of many others. I do not at all claim that your answer is dependent on theirs, or vice versa.

    And it is entirely my fault that I went overboard with my example. As I said, it is not an abstract issue for me. I am biased… and I apologize that my bias seemed (or was) aimed at you this time. I won’t back down about the issue, but I absolutely am not attacking you, and apologize unreservedly if I gave that appearance.


  6. #6 haydin
    December 8, 2007

    I find it interesting that the research was done on female subjects only. Are males less likely to get cellulite? If not, then it seems that Science is allowing itself to be swayed by social trends (ie, that women should care more about their bodies than men).

  7. #7 Josie
    December 8, 2007

    Women are much more likely to get cellulite at normal weights, usually men, if they get any are obese.

  8. #8 Jon H
    December 9, 2007

    I suppose this is useful information for women who know they will want to look extra-good almost-nekkid for some upcoming event . (For example, on a honeymoon trip to Hawaii?)

    More useful would be a way to concoct an appropriate caffeinated substance at home cheaply and easily to avoid the expensive products. Instant coffee in olive oil?

  9. #9 Blas
    December 10, 2007

    “caffeine is in almost every cellulite-reducing product that shows any benefit, because it helps blood flow to the skin and works like a diuretic”

    Isnt that caffeine *constrict* blood vessels?. I would think caffeine helps because it increases fatty acid metabolism. Anyone can clarify this?.

  10. #10 Marc
    December 16, 2007

    There’s a suntan lotion — Maui Babe — which uses caffeine in its formula. My old company did some work with their web site. Not certain about its slimming effects, but it does have an impressive array of celebrity endorsement, if such things impress one (I’d expect not,actually).

  11. #11 El Bilson
    March 1, 2010

    I’m a Sephora junkie too 🙂

    Haven’t had much luck with cellulite creams – exercise is what keeps the cellulite at bay for me.

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