La Bella Dona Skin Care recently started offering a treatment in which spa-goers are wrapped from head to toe in all-natural, organic green coffee.
"It targets cellulite," says Beverly McLane, master esthetician at the Forest Hill Avenue day spa. The coffee wrap is marketed as a slimming and toning wrap that stimulates the body's ability to break down fat, smoothes skin texture and visibly reduces spongy, dimply spots. "People are calling left and right about it," McLane says of the $125, hour-long treatment. "After party season, people really need it."
In recent years, caffeine's appeal has extended beyond cafés to spas and salons. The stimulant is in face creams, body lotions, body washes and other products with the theory being that applying caffeine topically will drive cellular metabolism and tighten the skin.
At least 132 cosmetic skin care products containing caffeine were released in the United States last year, compared with 30 in 2005, according to the Mintel Global New Products Database, a marketing research company that tracks trends in skin care products. Globally, at least 778 new products containing caffeine hit the market in 2011.
But despite the products' popularity, scientific proof of their effectiveness is lacking, dermatologists say.
"Caffeine doesn't do anything, actually," says Dr. Zoe Draelos, consulting professor of dermatology at Duke University and spokesperson for the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery. Numerous scientific studies have proven that caffeine molecules are too big to penetrate skin cells, Draelos says.
"I am happy to say that those products have no sound scientific evidence to back those claims," agrees Dr. Ian Maher of the VCU Department of Dermatology.
Some research has suggested that applying caffeine to the skin might be helpful in protecting against skin cancer, though experts say more study is needed.
Still, skepticism about the benefits of caffeine in skin care products doesn't seem to be hurting sales. Bombshell Brazilian Waxing and Skincare Studio in Carytown sells about 20 caffeinated eye creams every few months, says owner Melissa Black. "Caffeine in eye creams is quite popular because it revs up the circulation under the eye, because the eye has the thinnest skin," she says, adding, "People like it. I mean, they're buying it."