It can’t be true! Really? Does coffee cause acne?
I mean, who doesn’t love the delicious smell of coffee wafting past as they walk down the street?
I’m sure there is someone but they will surely be in the minority.
Many times I have caught myself pulled into another coffee shop after being lured in by the succulent smell of freshly roasted beans.
Quick to get my fill of the energy boosting goodness, I never really considered whether it was causing me any problems.
Especially not with my skin and never in relation to acne.
So then, is it true? Can coffee cause acne?
Horrible Spots! – What is acne?
Spots and acne are not exactly the same thing even though they seem very similar.
We can have spots without having what many would consider to be acne.
We can get the odd spot here and there for a variety of reasons and most of the time these occurrences clear up rather quickly and do not require extensive treatment.
What we consider to be acne on the other hand, can cause us problems for years of our lives and tends to be a prolonged, chronic problem that can give us serious issues.
Where do spots come from?
At the root of any spot is excess oil that has built up around the hair follicle. This then traps dead skin cells and bacteria and in turn it becomes inflamed.
The odd spot here and there can be caused by trapped sweat and oil.
A few spots can appear after not cleaning properly one evening.
Maybe after a night out on the town we forget to wash our face when we fall asleep head first into our pillow.
Acne, on the other hand, is almost always a case of a hormonal imbalance.
When our hormones are out of balance our skin can produce too much oil. Our skin cells can begin to shed more quickly and the skin can become more red and inflamed.
All of this combined leads to a rapid spread of the dreaded acne.
This imbalance of hormones can cause us a terrible life of upset.
So then where does coffee fit into all of this?
How does coffee cause acne?
Does coffee cause acne?
The coffee bean on its own has been shown to contribute to acne to some degree.
We say this because not all things are created equal when we are looking at tackling acne.
Stress has been shown to aggravate spot breakouts when experienced for considerable lengths of time.1,2
“Changes in acne severity correlate highly with increasing stress, suggesting that emotional stress from external sources may have a significant influence on acne”
– The Response of Skin Disease to Stress2
Coffee & Caffeine
Coffee contains caffeine and caffeine, among other things, is a stimulant that has a potent effect on our hormones.
Two of these hormones are nor-epinephrine and epinephrine (adrenaline) which are also the hormones released when we are in fight or flight mode.
This is not great news when for us when we are trying to fight this problem and it is one of the ways that coffee can cause acne.
Stress is a contributing factor to acne and when we have caffeine in our system our levels of stress hormones are greatly increased.
Even though we can feel great and perked up after drinking our cup of java, this is accompanied by a heightened state of alertness that is due to our body being in a stressed state.
If you are a chronic coffee drinker and often drink a lot of coffee, then it might mean that for you, coffee contributes to the severity of your acne.
Coffee & Vitamins
Its important to note that many acne sufferers have been shown to be deficient in essential vitamins.
Coffee has been shown to negatively affect our bodies ability to absorb certain nutrients.
However, many of us do not drink lots of coffee or caffeine all day.
One or two cups every now and then might not be enough to cause any skin disruptions at all and may still be of some benefit (see some benefits of caffeine below).
In fact when want to know the truth about coffee causing acne, we see that the bean itself is not the main protagonist and there usually lies a greater cause.
For many of us, it is often something we have not yet considered. You see, most of us do not drink our coffee black.
Sure, some of us do enjoy a straight espresso. Nothing added to it at all. However for the majority of coffee drinkers, we add considerably more.
The two main additions being milk and sugar.
The main reason that coffee causes acne
The biggest factors that makes coffee cause acne is the added ingredients. These are, notably, milk and sugar.
We all know of the slightly sickly, triple-chocolate cream, mocha-frappe topped with honeycomb sprinkles and marshmallows. The tasty toppings and gooey syrups seem to be never ending and there is a new option every week.
Now we might not all love such sweet tipples of coffee however if we drink coffee regularly throughout the day then these little amounts of milk and sugar can add up.
Do you take milk?
In many studies over the last 20 years, the one common denominator in peoples diets, in relation to acne, has been the presence of dairy.3. Unfortunately the consumption of milk, and more accurately dairy, has been shown to be significantly correlated with the prevalence of acne.
Of course this may be news to you and we are most certain that for many of us our morning coffee is not the only time that we consume some form of dairy. Cheese, cream, milk, yogurt and endless other foods contain dairy in considerable amounts.
Unfortunately this can cause a problem for many acne sufferers and needs to be considered when you want to know if your coffee causes acne. Luckily this can be an easy switch to make as most places now offer many great alternatives to cows milk such as almond, oat and even rice milk.
Making these swaps will allow you to enjoy the beverage without the antagonizing effects that normal milk can have.
Sugar with that?
Sugar is another culprit which can contribute to acne in the body as it has one of the most potent effects on the hormone insulin.
If the insulin pathways become damaged or do not work correctly then we can have all sorts of problems that can aggravate this condition.
I think many of us have experienced a period of indulging in sweets and junk food only to wake up one day to a face decorated with grizzly new spots.
Our skin is a detoxifying organ and when we sweat we release toxins along with oils. When these build up it can cause spots. The final way that coffee can cause acne is through its effects on nutrient absorption.
It has been shown that caffeine can negatively affect the levels of essential vitamins in the body.4,5
“Because caffeine can negatively affect our absorption of nutrients, it’s important to pay attention to the amount we consume”
– Effects of caffeine on health and nutrition
Now why is this a problem for acne?
Remember we said that acne is nearly always viewed as a hormonal problem.
Hormones are chemical messengers that tell different areas of our body when and how to function.
Prolonged periods of low vitamin and mineral levels can lead to a deficiency in one or more essential nutrients.
This will mean that our body will not possess enough foundational building blocks for the many functions of the body and the hormones that signal them.
Of course this may sound extreme to many of us. It is important however that we remember that not all nutrient deficiencies will be overtly obvious.
Very often we can continue to live for a considerable amount of time with a nutrient deficiency. The body adapts and “learns” to make do.
What happens is that our internal systems lose efficiency and certain things stop working correctly. Over time this can cause serious problems.
What comes first, deficiencies or acne?
It is true that people that suffer with acne have been shown to be deficient in vitamin A, D and vitamin E.6,7
“This study has shown clearly that vitamin D deficiency is more frequent in patients with acne” –
– Vitamin D Levels in Patients with and without Acne6
“We conclude that low vitamin A and E plasma levels have an important role in the pathogenesis of acne and in the aggravation of this condition”
– Does the plasma level of vitamins A and E affect acne condition?
Well what we do know is that both of those vitamins are essential for our body to be healthy as a whole and without them we will not thrive.
Coffee can disrupt our ability to assimilate certain nutrients and many people with acne have a deficiency in two or more critical vitamins.
This is another reason for those of us with acne to consider limiting our coffee intake considerably.
Coffee for acne? – What are the benefits of coffee?
Now coffee is not all bad. Notably, it contains polyphenols, which can have some advantageous health effects.
That means it may have a some benefit on our health when we consume it moderately.
A number of studies have shown that those that consume coffee on a regular basis may maintain their mental acuity for longer, delaying cognitive decline.
Diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease have been shown to be slower to take hold in those that drink coffee.8
The caffeine in coffee can also have a suppressing effect on our appetite.
This means that for those of us that are trying to lose weight, we may benefit from doing so with coffee, especially if we struggle with our appetite.
Caffeine alters our hunger hormones. This means that when we are aiming to lose some fat by restricting our diet, we can feel less hungry and less likely to eat.
Despite this, there are many other things that we can do that would provide these benefits. Things that do not come with the same downsides as caffeine.
Consistently consuming lots of caffeine every day for weeks and months at a time can take a toll on the body.
Most importantly, it means we are keeping our body in a heightened state of stress, even if we don’t recognize it.
Caffeine has a half life of around 6-12 hours. The half-life is the time its takes for half of the substance to be cleared from the body.
This means that if we drink a coffee at 12pm, almost half of the caffeine can still be in our system 12 hours later. This is when we are trying to get a good nights sleep.
Bad sleep = Bad skin
Its been shown that those who consume lots of caffeine also sleep less well than those without.
When the quality of our sleep decreases, our bodies ability to heal and re-balance during our resting state also decreases, leading to a viscous cycle.9
We consume caffeine to give us energy, only to sleep poorly the same night. Subsequently, we then wake up feeling tired and drink some more caffeine for energy.
This is not good news for anyone and especially not for acne sufferers.
We recommend that you only consume small amounts of caffeine and maybe not every day to allow the body to re-balance.
Caffeine can be a great aid in times of need for example staying awake all night during an emergency or getting us through a long day. However for everyday health and healing, caffeine can cause problems.
The affect caffeine has on our hormones, and its interaction with our rates of absorption of nutrients, are a testament to this and show how coffee can cause acne.
Not all is lost however as we live in an exciting time with thousands of other fantastic choices.
If it’s the smell and taste of coffee that you love the most then there are some great alternatives. Our favorite is chicory.
It can easily satisfy the cravings, its tastes great and even smells like coffee. All without contributing to acne.
Healing Acne – What to do with coffee?
If you are suffering from acne then it is important to know that coffee can cause it.
To clarify, it might not be a direct cause in and of itself, however as mentioned in this article, indirectly, coffee can cause acne in different ways.
Firstly, coffee significantly alters the stress hormones in the body.
Stress has been shown to aggravate acne.
Next, the things we add to our coffee have been shown to cause acne in significant studies over the last two decades.
Dairy has been the key ingredient for many people to remove from their diet. After this change they have seen the biggest improvements in their acne and the largest reduction of its presence.
Sugar and added sweeteners in the form of simple sugars, such as syrup and honey, have also been associated with acne growth.
Finally, coffee has been shown to interfere with vitamin absorption. Studies have shown that acne sufferers are most often deficient in vitamin A, D and vitamin E.
The best course of action when considering if our coffee can cause acne, is to limit its intake. Also, we should be mindful of the other additions to our coffee that have been shown to cause acne to a greater degree.
Over to you – Our coffee loving friends!
Nearly all of us love the coffee bean and it has been a great friend to us. It is not the enemy.
It does however come with some drawbacks and if we are aware of them then we can limit their effects.
For those of you tackling acne, its important to know that coffee can play a role in poor skin health and the proliferation of this disease. So make your choices wisely!
It is also important to note that there can be many causes of acne. If you are battling this problem then check out our complete guide to healing this annoying affliction!
The world is a fascinating place and there are literally hundreds of thousands of different drinks we can make.
There are many delicious and mouth watering ingredients that we can use to make drinks that are fantastic alternatives to coffee.