Does coffee cause acne?

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I get asked this question a lot, because everyone loves their coffee.  And with over 1.4 billion cups of coffee being poured around the world each day, there is a lot of coffee drinking going on out there.  So if you are suffering with acne, is your cuppa Joe helping or hurting?

The answer, unfortunately, is not a simple yes or no.  Sometimes coffee can actually help acne, and sometimes coffee can really aggravate acne.  It depends on your unique physiology.  So how do you know which camp you fall into?  Read on.

First, the great news about coffee.  Over 22 different research studies have found that drinking coffee on a regular basis can actually help balance insulin and blood sugar levels.  That is an amazing thing for acne, because insulin dysregulation is often the root cause of acne.  Coffee is also a rich source of anti-oxidants, something that people with acne really need.  Sounds good so far, right?

And then there is the bad news.  For certain individuals, coffee can amplify the stress response, which means that the HPA axis in the body is triggered.  This releases a hormone called ACTH from the pituitary gland, which causes cortisol release from the adrenal glands.  For some acne-prone individuals this will also increase the release of an androgenic hormone, called DHEAs from the adrenal glands.  The DHEAs will then go on to convert to DHT, which directly causes acne.  If this happens to you, then you cannot drink coffee if you want to clear your skin.

So how do you know if coffee is triggering your acne?  Often a simple blood test will reveal whether or not your DHEAs levels are high – in which case you know coffee is probably not helping your skin.  Other signs include anxiety, insomnia and a feeling of being overwhelmed.

If, on the other hand, you have normal DHEAs readings on your blood test, you sleep great and have no trouble relaxing, coffee is probably a great addition to your life.  If you drink it the right way, that is…

Which brings me to my next point.  If you can drink coffee without aggravating your acne (read above), you must drink coffee the right way.  Following are my three coffee-drinking guidelines for acne sufferers:

  1. Don’t drink coffee on an empty stomach.  This will trigger insulin and cortisol spikes, which can lead to inflammation and further hormonal dysregulation.  Instead, drink your morning coffee with a protein-rich breakfast or snack.
  2. Don’t put cow dairy into your coffee.  I have never met an acne patient who can successfully consume dairy.  Instead, opt for dairy-free milks, such as almond or coconut milk.  You can now find delicious coconut creamers especially for coffee (make sure it is unsweetened).
  3. No sugar.  Instead, sweeten your coffee with a few drops of stevia or xylitol.  This will help avoid insulin and blood sugar dysregulation.

And what about those that cannot drink coffee?  This is the camp that I fall into, and I happily gave up coffee years ago when I was suffering from insomnia.  My skin improved immediately, as did my sleep.  Now I am a chronic herbal tea drinker (see my post on the best herbal teas for acne).  I also love a cup of warm water with 1/2 squeezed lemon.  But for those that still want a quasi-coffee hit, there are some amazing coffee alternatives out there.

The amazing news about many coffee alternatives is that they actually help clear acne.  Composed primarily of roasted chicory and dandelion root, these herbs help to detoxify the liver and heal the gut.  You can either make your own dandelion/chicory coffee, or you can purchase some great prepared brands.  I always make sure to choose a gluten-free brand.  To find out my favourite brands, check out the video below!

Hot beverages are an important part of our lives, and I really hope that this post helps you find a beverage that warms, soothes, and helps clear your skin!

xo, Dr. Stacey

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