Does coffee cause acne?

Does coffee cause acne

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Does coffee cause acne? 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.  

More than half the country is addicted to coffee, and the reason behind it is that we have developed a heavy reliance on caffeine. We rely on coffee to keep us awake during work and classes. We often say that we cannot start our day without having a coffee cup in the morning, but we do not do much to understand how it is affecting our bodies?

Is your cuppa Joe helping or hurting? “Does coffee cause acne?”

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.

Benefits of drinking coffee

No evidence is found that suggests that coffee causes acne. However, it can make your acne condition worse. It all depends on what you like to put in your coffee and how much you drink it. So it would be wrong to label coffee as an entirely unacceptable drink for your body.

If you drink coffee regularly, then you probably know that it increases focus and enhances mood. It is also argued that coffee reduces the risk of Type 2 Diabetes, preventing age-related cognitive decline, increasing athletic performance, and much more.

Another great news about coffee. Over 22 different research studies have found that drinking coffee regularly 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 antioxidants, something that people with acne really need.  

These benefits are all good, but it is essential to understand that there is a dark side to coffee as well, especially for people suffering from acne. So, can coffee cause acne? Or make it worse?

After a thorough review of the evidence, it is clear that coffee can trigger acne. Continue reading to learn more.

The relationship between different components found in coffee and acne

Many argue that there is a direct connection between what you consume and acne. Many acne sufferers have highlighted coffee as a trigger. To shed light on such claims, I have analyzed different components of coffee and how each one of them can trigger or worsen acne.

  • Caffeine

Coffee includes a lot of caffeine. It is caffeine that makes you feel awake and alert. However, it can also boost the stress response in the body. 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. Under normal circumstances, your body produces these hormones only to react to stressors like things that make us concerned, problematic events, etc. And as soon as we are not stressed anymore, our body returns back to its usual relaxed state, where such stress hormones vanish. 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, if you wanted to ask, “Does drinking black coffee cause acne?” My answer would be a resounding ‘maybe.’

  • Milk

If you love to drink a latte every morning, then it is probably best for you to know that there is evidence that links milk to acne. In a popular study that looked at the relationship between acne and milk, it was found that participants with a high level of milk consumption had acne more often than those with a low level of milk consumption.

Many researchers argue that the hormones that are found in milk may trigger acne. So, if your morning coffee includes milk in it, I would recommend you to switch to an alternative for the sake of your skin.

  • Sugar

How much sugar do you like to add to your coffee? If you love to order the trending coffees at your favorite cafes, then you have absolutely no idea how much sugar is going in your body. Such coffees have around 50 grams of sugar, which is double your maximum daily recommended consumption.

You can find plenty of studies highlighting the connection between sugar intake and acne. Consuming a lot of sugary foods can increase the quantity of insulin released by your body. This is followed by an increase in inflammation in your body. More inflammation means more opportunities for your skin to produce oil, which can ultimately worsen your existing acne condition.

So, if you cannot take on the bitterness of your black coffee, then I would suggest you avoid drinking one rather than loading it with sugar.

Other reasons why coffee is bad for your skin

1) Coffee negatively affects your gut health. 

Coffee is criticized for messing up the gut flora. Due to high acidity, your stomach’s good bacteria are killed, which leaves more room for the bad bacteria to thrive. This condition is called dysbiosis, where the ability of your body to absorb nutrients from food is negatively affected.

Your body and skin require nutrients to stay healthy and functional, and this is why a good gut flora is necessary. On the contrary, a bad gut flora will result in deficiencies, leaky gut, food malabsorption, digestive problems, and issues with your skin such as acne.

2) Coffee negatively affects your body’s ability to absorb minerals and vitamins.

Coffee is also criticized for preventing your body from absorbing the necessary minerals such as zinc and iron. Studies have proved that consuming coffee with a meal or soon after can prevent your body from absorbing iron.

Cutting daily caffeine intake has proven to help the body absorb more minerals from the food that is being consumed. This will ultimately be beneficial for your skin as many of these minerals and vitamins are essential to maintain healthy skin.

3)Coffee increases your desire to eat sugary foods.

Sugar in coffee is responsible for the spike and crash in your overall sugar levels, because of which you will crave more sugar. Apart from this, consuming coffee also boosts your body’s stress hormones, and your body’s natural reaction to stress is to eat salty carbs or sugary foods. Sugar is an inflammatory food, and it is found to be one of the leading causes of acne.

4) Coffee contains Mycotoxins

One of the most disturbing facts about coffee is that it contains mycotoxins, which are formed from molds. These molds grow on the coffee crops that are grown in hot and humid climates and at lower altitudes. Such types of coffees are generally cheaper to produce and market. If you buy relatively cheaper coffee, then you are probably putting a high dose of mycotoxins in your body. Mycotoxins are harmful to your skin and your overall health.

Causes of acne and its treatment

Acne develops when the skin starts producing too much oil. This surplus oil causes a group of skin cells to get trapped inside a pore. And when the bacteria from your skin combines with the dead skin cells and oil, it can transform into a red, inflamed bump, which is referred to as an acne pimple.

The causes of acne may differ from person to person, but one thing is clear – acne needs to be solved by balancing the body from the inside out. Acne is a symptom that there is an imbalance in the body – and usually, the imbalance involves insulin dysregulation, poor detoxification, poor gut health, poor stress management – all of which can lead to inflammation and hormone imbalances in the body, which in turn can manifest in acne in susceptible individuals.

Embarking on a clear skin journey is the only way to solve acne permanently, and my 7-Week Clear Skin Program will help guide you as you heal and balance your body from within to solve your acne permanently. I have helped thousands of women from around the world heal their acne for good – and I can’t wait to help you on your clear skin journey.

Should you quit coffee?

Everyone reacts to caffeine and coffee differently. If you are looking for a more concrete answer, then I would recommend you to conduct a personal experiment by cutting coffee for a week or two in order to observe if your acne condition improves. Then, you should gradually reintroduce caffeine and observe if your acne comes back again. If your daily caffeine intake is triggering your acne, then you should immediately quit coffee.

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 you have no trouble relaxing, coffee is probably a great addition to your life.  

Drinking coffee without worsening your acne

I have said it before, and I will say it again; coffee is not terrible, and it does not cause acne. However, it can worsen your acne condition, depending on what you are putting in your coffee. 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:

  • 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.
  • 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 milk, such as almond or coconut milk. You can now find delicious coconut creamers, especially for coffee (make sure it is unsweetened).
  • No sugar. If you cannot take on the bitterness of your black coffee, then it is probably best for you to avoid drinking one rather than loading your cup with sugar. If you want to enjoy coffee without worsening your acne, then you can start by adding little to no sugar to your cup. You can also try sweetening your coffee with a few drops of stevia or xylitol. This will help avoid insulin and blood sugar dysregulation.
  • Consuming less caffeine: As mentioned before that caffeine can boost your body’s stress response, which is ultimately terrible for your skin. This is why it is recommended to drink less coffee or shift to decaffeinated coffee.
  • Timing matters: It is not recommended to drink coffee or any other caffeinated beverage in the evening or before bed. Make sure that you get sufficient sleep.

Switch to tea instead

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 favorite brands, check out the video below!

If you cannot even think about giving up on your favorite morning brew because you operate on caffeine, try switching to tea instead. Tea leaves generally have more caffeine than coffee. However, the brewing process is able to extract more caffeine from the coffee beans. As a result, a cup of tea will have far less caffeine than a cup of coffee. Depending on the way you make your tea, they might contain additional benefits that can actually make your skin glow.

Bottom line

Although coffee contains antioxidants that are generally considered good for your skin and overall health, drinking too much coffee filled with sugar and milk might make your acne worse. If you are prone to acne, it is best to cut down on your daily caffeine, dairy, and sugar intake. Drop coffee from your diet and switch it with a healthier choice like green tea. If your acne condition worsens despite cutting down on coffee, then you should consult a dermatologist before things get out of control.

I really hope that this post helps you find a beverage that warms, soothes, and helps clear your skin. Love your skin, not caffeine!

xo, Dr. Stacey


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