Originally the favorite foul-tasting beverage of ancient Ethiopian herders, coffee has become a global hallmark of culture today. And not just office culture or workplace culture - coffee has successfully infiltrated every aspect of modern life.
Regardless of whether we have acne or not, flawless skin - or not, most of us drink coffee all the time. We do it when we wake up, enacting that feel-good morning ritual. We drink coffee on our way to school or during school breaks. We drink coffee in offices, in front of vending machines, out on the street, in cars, in coffee shops, and even in religious temples and institutions of power. In fact, you're likely having coffee while reading this too.
Coffee is literally everywhere. But is coffee bad for your skin?
Coffee has become as popular as air and water. Most people can't go a day without their morning beverage. It's no secret that caffeine makes us more alert. A good cup of coffee wakes us up and helps us prepare for the day.
But does drinking coffee affect my skin and cause acne?
If you're a coffee lover, you won't like the answer. In short, 'yes.' Coffee can have a negative effect when it comes to acne vulgaris. This is true even if you're using amazing skincare products (Like Misumi's Complete Clear 3-Step System).
But, as with anything else, things are not quite so simple.
Read on to learn more about the effects of habitual caffeine consumption on the skin and take it from there.
Practically everyone can recite the benefits of coffee in their sleep - and they're honestly not that many. Coffee has antioxidant properties and is loaded with caffeine. Caffeine consumption can help you focus, lift your mood (or make you more jittery), and stimulate the stress hormone cortisol, which helps you wake up.
Aside from some studies where coffee is also shown to prevent certain types of diabetes, that's pretty much it as far as health benefits go.
And when it comes to skin health and the effects this morning drink has on acne, things aren't looking so great. Sometimes, you might be left wondering whether that giant cup of coffee was behind your unexpected acne invasion.
The link between coffee and acne vulgaris isn't a positive one. To be honest, we're having second thoughts about this beverage now. While we absolutely love the dark, warm, homely beverage that comes only second to humanity's best friend (dogs), it might not be the most productive relationship. One or two cups may be okay, but if you're constantly chugging the stuff, you will see some negative effects.
Coffee has several acne-provoking effects - some of them fairly direct, while others less so. So without further ado, here are the most common ways drinking coffee causes acne.
Coffee is bad enough on its own when it comes to acne, but we've found ways to make it even worse for our skin by combining it with sugar, chocolate and milk - which is probably the worst thing any person struggling with acne can do.
This is because dairy milk plays a huge role in contributing to acne breakouts. It contains lactose and various enzymes that are known to complicate skin problems and make acne worse. Even using skim milk doesn't mean you're safe, as cow's milk, in general, can negatively affect skin health. If you suffer from severe acne, chances are you know this already and have actively cut dairy from your diet.
Sugar is also a frequent suspect in inflammatory effects on the body, with its ability to drown your body in insulin and burden the immune system. The body deals with this 'sugar overflow' by transforming sugar into skin oil (sebum), which then clogs your pores and hair follicles. Sebum overproduction is one of the root causes of acne inflammation, and stuffing on sugar is the necessary precondition.
However, you don't have to include cow's milk and sugar in your coffee. In fact, there is a range of dairy-free milk you can try, including coconut milk, almond milk, and more. These flavored milk can also help satisfy your sweet tooth, so you'll end up adding less sugar.
Your caffeine intake boosts cortisol production and stress hormones and actually pushes your body to crave more carbs rich in calories. These are - you guessed it - sugars.
The metabolic cycle of this is pretty straightforward: coffee causes hyperadrenalism, and then your glands drown your body with stress-response hormones (which we experience as sharpened focus and responsiveness).
And what happens when the body is under stress? It needs to eat - the more, the better - and fast. So we might suddenly feel the urge to stuff an extra donut into our mouth, which increases our sugar levels, creating even more sebum… which creates more acne.
Coffee can trigger a heightened stress response, which helps the production of acne. As we already mentioned above, coffee stimulates the activity of the adrenal gland, making it pump excessive amounts of hormones called cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. When your stress levels are raised, your sebaceous glands will produce more oils, resulting in oily skin and clogged pores.
In normal, coffee-less situations, our bodies produce these hormones in reaction to everyday stressors: unpleasant arguments, aggressive people, traffic jams - you name it. But when the event passes, so does our hormonal activity. The body returns to normal, becoming more relaxed, entering what scientists call the parasympathetic state of the nervous system. This mode also helps prevent acne.
But what happens when you're chugging coffee after coffee after coffee? If you have four or five cups of coffee, you never actually achieve relaxation. Instead, your body is kept in stress-response mode, which in turn increases cortisol levels. This produces sugars, which, as we mentioned above, become transformed into acne-producing sebum. All of this makes the rise of so-called hormonal acne more likely.
According to this study, the average American drinks 3 cups of coffee a day.
The more coffee you drink, the more resistant you become to insulin - the hormone managing excess sugar levels in your body. Insulin helps the body break down carbs to make them digestible, but drinking coffee makes your body resistant to insulin. This results in, again, the excess of carbs (sugars) in your blood, which, as we said, eventually transform into sebum and other body fats and oils.
Some studies have shown a whopping 40% of insulin resistance in men who ate a meal rich in carbs (pasta, potatoes, donuts, pizza) just before chugging a cup of coffee. This means that coffee actually sabotaged their body's sugar-management system and allowed vast amounts of sugar to float freely in their body. We don't need to repeat where all that extra sugar goes, right?
What's worse, the remaining ineffective insulin also stimulates the production of excess skin oil and skin cells, contributing to acne inflammation around the body. In short, drinking lots of coffee and gorging on fast food is a fast track to a close encounter with acne vulgaris.
It’s called dysbiosis, and it’s not good. Due to coffee’s acidic value, it changes the pH values of your stomach, making it more difficult for your gut's good bacteria to thrive. With the good bacteria gone, the bad bacteria take over and, well… Your health suffers.
One of the effects of dysbiosis is the lessened ability to absorb important nutrients from food and produce Vitamin B. Not only that, but drink too much coffee, and you risk ending up with one or more digestive issues, such as leaky gut syndrome, nutrient deficiencies, food malabsorption, and so on.
It doesn't take much to see that a poorly functioning or damaged digestive system also affects your skin. If you want to protect yourself from acne, eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, keep a healthy gut and your skin will follow.
Besides messing with your gut's flora, coffee makes it more difficult for iron, zinc, and selenium to reach your body. These minerals play significant roles in our metabolism, regulating a wealth of immune, physical and psychological processes. One study has shown that coffee lessens the body's ability to absorb iron by a staggering 72%, barring the passage of all that precious iron to our precious red blood cells.
Other minerals, such as selenium and zinc (which are super important for your skin) are also diminished by coffee intake. So in short, the less coffee we drink, the more nutritious everything we consume is.
Or, as the scientific term goes, mycotoxins. Naturally, since coffee beans come from a plant, its processing cycle involves picking and drying, which encourages the growth of molds and harmful fungus over the crops.
What makes matters worse is that these molds thrive in hot, humid climates in low-lying geographical areas, which is where most of the world's coffee is made. This means that avoiding mold in coffee grounds is practically inevitable.
But why is mold so bad? Well, the most common mycotoxin types found in coffee are called ochratoxin A and Fusarium, and they're a burden to your immune system. Besides trying to turn your body into a moldy palace of goo (skin and pimples included), mycotoxins also dysregulate your sexual hormones, and last but not least - they're cancerous. So, much as we would wish it to be otherwise, coffee is definitely not good for your skin.
When it comes to having young looking, healthy skin, the negative effects of coffee outweigh the positive ones. The social custom of drinking coffee with plenty of sugar and milk only makes it worse for your body and skin, turning that much-needed mental focus into excess sugars, fat, and sebum.
Not to mention that most coffee contains some variety of mold, which can create a whole set of other problems for your health in addition to harming your skin. All of these factors and more dovetail together to create an environment that encourages acne inflammations.
If you need an alternative to energize you, water or herbal teas are much better and healthier choices than coffee. Green tea is especially good for you.
There's really no other way to say it: if you're struggling with acne or want beautiful skin, consider breaking up with coffee or seeing it less. It's a toxic relationship that's not good for you.
It's not just coffee that may worsen acne. Dairy products and sugar can too. To avoid an acne breakout, coffee drinkers can always swap their usual dairy milk for a plant or nut-based milk, such as almond milk or cashew milk.
They can also try drinking black coffee.
Regular tea filled with milk and sugar may contribute to acne breakouts or make existing acne worse. If you're worried about making your acne worse, skip the sugar in your morning cup of tea, and swap to a plant-based milk.
Alternatively, try herbal tea or green tea. These natural teas can actually help reduce acne.
Unfortunately, you're not safe from the decaf version of coffee. It can still disturb your gut flora, aggravate skin problems, and lead to breakouts. If you add milk and sugar to your decaf drink, this brings a whole host of other issues into play as well.