Does Coffee Cause Acne? Caffeine to Wake Up or Wear Out Skin
“Do you like drinking coffee?”
As Lorelai Gilmore once said, “Only with my oxygen.”
Coffee is love, coffee is life. I dare say that coffee is America’s national beverage. We try different coffee bean varieties, obsess over coffee-flavored anything, and some even make the effort to use special machines to brew our coffee.
When you meet someone you say, “Let’s grab a cup of coffee,” and don’t get me started on the number of college students that pack coffee shops during midterms and finals. Where would America be without its cup of joe? Probably far less productive.
I think all of us can relate to feeling a bit cranky without our fix of caffeine. But where would our skin be without our daily delight? Probably with less acne.
Wait. So does coffee cause acne? Well, I can’t just spoil the answer now! A yes or no answer is useless unless we understand the reasoning behind it.
Benefits of Caffeine
Now, before I completely stomp on your coffee parade, let me tell you why you don’t have to give up on caffeine.
It gives us energy
Hey, some of us need coffee to even function (*cowers in the corner of the room and protects my cup of coffee like Gollum*). Caffeine is a natural stimulant that hinders adenosine, the neurotransmitter that makes us feel tired. After sipping that liquid ambrosia, people often report increased energy levels and greater productivity. Exercise might even come a little easier after being caffeinated.
It boosts our metabolism
According to Healthline, drinking about two cups of brewed coffee (300 mg caffeine) can make you burn up to 79 calories per day. The caffeine from your daily cup of joe may even increase fat burning up to 13%.
Coffee (or any type of caffeine in general) is a great source of antioxidants which balance the free radicals in your body. Having too many free radicals may lead to cell damage, diseases, and other health complications.
Harmful effects of Caffeine
Here’s the kicker. Too much coffee can cause acne.
Now, I know there are many sources out there that only largely praise the effects of caffeine. There are even articles that claim coffee “wakes up the skin.”
You: But Jessica, you said the antioxidants! THE ANTIOXIDANTS! The health gurus always say antioxidants are good for the skin.
Science is just like that sometimes. Here’s why coffee causes acne.
1. Raises stress levels
Caffeine can raise your cortisol levels, which are hormones associated with stress. And it surely doesn’t help that we often like to devour coffee when we’re stressed. High cortisol levels disrupt sebum production, leading to more clogged pores and acne.
2. Affects your sleep
Again, acne is a hormone game. A common side effect of chugging caffeine is restlessness. There’s nothing worse than trying and failing to fall asleep. Sleep deprivation can make our frenemy cortisol act up again, throwing our oils off of balance. Beauty sleep is a real thing! (Something I’m still working on myself)
If you skimp on sleep, your body can’t repair itself effectively during the nighttime. By affecting your circadian rhythm, coffee can indirectly cause acne and other health problems.
3. Worsens anxiety
Given the first two side effects, this one isn’t surprising. Caffeine increases our adrenaline levels, which makes us feel alert. But crashing down from the high is less pleasant.
Mental health is extremely important. We live in a fast-paced world with stressors everywhere. And that’s not even taking COVID into account. How can we expect our skin to be healthy if we don’t feel good inside and out?
What is a Safe Amount to Have Each Day?
Fear not, my parents will not be wrestling the coffee mug from my cold dead hands. It’s quite okay to consume caffeine in moderation. Like you could also seriously die from kale if you ate an absurd amount, so the serving size is key.
Most sources recommend 400 mg of caffeine (approximately four cups of coffee) to be the maximum amount per day. If you already drink less than four cups, you can test to see if cutting back your coffee intake has any effect on acne.
Tips to Reduce Coffee-Related Breakouts
- Cut the Milk and Sugar
Besides the caffeine itself, milk and sugar can also contribute to those stubborn red bumps. Anecdotally, there have been plenty of people clamoring that their skin has improved after cutting out dairy.
Scientifically, research shows that those who drink more milk are more likely to suffer from acne than those who don’t drink milk or drink a lower amount. There’s something about the hormones and sugars in cows milk that irritates your skin.
Regarding sugar, which some claim is addictive as crack, it also exacerbates your acne. Sugar causes your insulin levels to spike, leading to inflammation and increased oil production. Not only will sugar worsen skin complexion, it can also cause you to look older!
Now, I’m not saying you have to cut milk and sugar out completely. I mean, kudos to those of you who can drink coffee in its raw glory. (*shudders and sips sugary concoction in solidarity*) But if you don’t want your cup of coffee to cause acne, you can try using non dairy milks and natural sweeteners.
- Opt for Decaf
Coffee causes acne due to its caffeine. However, tea may not be for everyone. Switching to decaf is great for those who want to cut back on caffeine but love the taste of their morning brew. Here are some options to try out.
What about Coffee Beauty Products?
Not only is coffee popular to consume, but it is also populating beauty products. I’ve seen everything from coffee scrubs to coffee under eye creams. Good news: your coffee scrub probably won’t cause acne. (Though you should always test products on your skin to see if you have any reactions.)
But opinions on coffee’s effectiveness are a mixed bag. Coffee scrubs claim they can smooth out cellulite, but the researchers are skeptical. And for under eye creams? Effective if your dark circles are caused by puffiness, and unhelpful if they have a different cause.
Written by Jessica Lu