Health & Family

Caffeine in night cream may have kept her awake

Q: As an active, fit woman in my 50s, I found it increasingly hard to sleep at night. I would go to bed exhausted and finally fall asleep, only to awaken one hour later, unable to get back to sleep. I was taking an OTC sleep aid and melatonin, to no avail.

When shopping for cosmetics at a department store, I told the salesperson about my sleep dilemma, and how it almost seemed like my nighttime ritual could be the problem. She told me it most likely was!

She is a retired chemist from Eli Lilly. She showed me the very small print indicating that caffeine is added to moisturizers and eye creams to reduce wrinkles. I was shocked.

Now I read the fine print and only buy products without caffeine. My night’s sleep is much improved.

A. We were surprised to learn that moisturizers, eye creams and many other cosmetics may contain caffeine. There is no question that caffeine is absorbed through the skin, but we don’t know how much caffeine beauty products contain. Manufacturers are not required to provide that information.

It is not clear whether facial creams and body lotions would supply enough caffeine to cause wakefulness. You might be especially sensitive to the stimulating effect of this compound.

We appreciate you alerting our readers to check their nighttime lotions. Caffeine is sometimes added to eye creams to reduce puffiness, but the appearance of your eyes at night may be less important than being able to get a good night’s sleep.

Helping vaginal dryness

Q: I was diagnosed with uterine and ovarian cancer last year. After a complete hysterectomy and months of chemo, I talked to my GYN/oncologist about vaginal dryness.

He prescribed Premarin cream. He said it’s very low-dose estrogen and not absorbed into the bloodstream, unlike estrogen pills that are not advised for someone like me who has had a hormonal cancer. He told me that the risk of developing breast cancer from this cream is incredibly small. He’s the head of the department and a GYN/oncologist for more than 25 years, so he should know.

A. The makers of Premarin Vaginal Cream specifically warn that it should not be used if you have had breast or uterine cancer, a stroke or heart attack, blood clots or liver problems. During a current TV commercial for Premarin Vaginal Cream, the voice-over says,“Estrogens may increase your chances of getting cancer of the uterus, strokes, blood clots or dementia.” This message suggests that estrogen is absorbed from the vagina.

Bitters aid digestion

Q: A friend told me that Swedish bitters were used historically for digestion. For the past couple of months, I’ve been using the bitters to relieve my indigestion.

Do you know about Swedish bitters? Is there any research on this product?

A. Swedish bitters is a traditional herbal preparation that has been used to treat digestive distress for centuries. There is some research supporting its effectiveness (Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics, October 2002). Bartenders also use bitters to impart a distinctive flavor to certain mixed drinks.

Reach Joe and Terry Graedon at