Coffee is one of the most popular beverages in the United States. In fact, the average person in our country consumes nearly 2 cups of coffee a day.
Similarly, around 50 million people in the United States suffer from acne each year. This makes it the most widespread skin condition in the country.
If you belong to both groups of Americans, chances are you’ve wondered if there’s a relation between the two.
As an adult coffee lover who’s still dealing with acne, I’ve thought a lot about the possibility of a link between my favorite cappuccino and my stubborn nemesis. It took some extensive research, but thankfully, I’ve reached a conclusion.
In today’s article, I’ll be answering the question “can coffee cause acne” and discussing the science behind it as well as sharing tips on how to have healthier skin without ditching your mug.
Can Coffee Cause Acne?
If you want to get straight to the point, the bottom line answer is no and yes.
No: coffee can’t cause your skin to develop acne.
Yes: coffee can make your already existing acne worse.
Allow me to explain.
The reason why coffee can’t cause your skin to develop acne is because of the nature of acne as a skin condition.
Acne happens when a pore on the skin is clogged by excess oils (from the skin’s sebaceous glands) and dead skin cells. When bacteria gets mixed with this build-up, inflammation occurs and acne is developed.
Developing acne has nothing to do with eating greasy foods or wearing makeup. It also doesn’t mean you have poor hygiene.
The main cause of acne is the hormones within our bodies. More specifically, the increase of sex hormones (androgens) in both males and females during puberty and throughout life.
Such hormonal changes cause the sebaceous glands to become bigger, thus producing more oil. More oil means higher chances of clogged pores, and consequently, acne.
So as you can see by now, coffee itself can’t and doesn’t cause acne. That said, coffee can worsen your already existing acne.
I don’t mean drinking a cup of coffee every couple of days either, what I’m talking about is people drinking multiple cups of coffee or coffee-based drinks every day.
Coffee contains caffeine and other ingredients that can cause you to break out. Your acne can get even worse due to the additives people usually put in their coffee such as milk, cream, and sugar.
The way that coffee and its additives can exacerbate your acne is similar to how stress, certain drugs (containing testosterone and corticosteroids), or some foods rich in carbohydrates (such as bread and potato chips) can worsen your acne.
How Can Coffee Worsen Acne?
As I mentioned above, coffee contains caffeine among other ingredients that can make your acne worse. Also, things you add to your coffee such as sugar, milk, and cream can worsen your acne. Here’s how:
Caffeine can cause stress
Coffee is one of the most well-known sources of caffeine. According to the FDA (The Food and Drug Administration), an 8-ounce cup of coffee has between 80 and 100 milligrams of caffeine.
While caffeine is responsible for the dose of alertness you get after sipping on some coffee, it can also make your body stressed. Stress itself isn’t a cause of acne, but the hormones that the body releases in response to stress can really do a number on your acne.
The primary stress hormone is cortisol, which was found to worsen the severity of acne. This hormone can also promote sebaceous glands to produce more oil, possibly resulting in breakouts.
Oh and let’s not forget, caffeine can also have a negative impact on your sleep. The body reacts with a stress response to the lack of sleep, producing more cortisol that can affect your acne.
Can Coffee Cause Hormonal Acne?
Caffeine can affect estrogen levels. Caffeine can also affect the levels of estrogen in females.
Estrogen has been linked to positive effects on acting through several mechanisms including:
- The ability of estrogen to decrease the production of sebum when taken in enough doses.
- The direct opposing effect of estrogen on testosterone.
- The ability of estrogen to hinder the secretion of testosterone.
Estrogen increases SHBG (sex hormone-binding globulin) thanks to its production in the liver.
As you can conclude, estrogen adversely affects testosterone. Since testosterone and its conversions are the main androgens that trigger acne, estrogen can affect acne.
This 2012 study shows that caffeine can decrease estrogen levels in some females, although it varies from one person to another.
Caffeine can cause insulin spikes
Caffeine can lead to the elevation of insulin levels, which can trigger the worsening of acne. In this 2015 study, people with insulin resistance who had higher blood glucose levels were found to develop worse acne symptoms.
Sugar increases insulin levels
The amount of sugar you add to your coffee can also be a hidden factor in your suffering from acne. Just think about the type of coffee-based beverages you usually drink and the sugar that’s been added to those.
The thing about coffee is that it tends to be bitter, and often than not, people tend to counter this taste with a lot of sugar — whether they realize it or not.
For example, if you take your regular coffee with 2 teaspoons of sugar, that’s equal to 8.4 grams of sugar. Depending on the number of coffee cups you drink per day, you may find that you put a huge dent in the recommended daily sugar intake, or even exceed it, as follows:
- For females, the maximum recommended amount of sugar consumption per day is 25 grams or 6 teaspoons.
- For males, the maximum recommended amount of sugar consumption per day is 37.5 grams or 9 teaspoons.
The hormones in milk or cream can be linked to more acne
You may be one of the millions of people who enjoy adding milk or cream to coffee, whether it’s a latte, a cappuccino, or a café au lait. Unfortunately, there’s been a relationship established between milk and acne that may have you lay off the milk a bit.
One study that included 57 participants showed that people who had more acne than the rest also consumed more milk.
Interestingly, another 2008 study found that people who consumed skimmed and non-fat milk suffered from worse acne than those who drank low-fat or whole-fat milk.
How to Achieve Healthier Skin while Drinking Coffee
If you’re looking to drink coffee without aggravating your acne, try the following tips to maintain the health of your skin while enjoying your morning coffee:
Stay away from the excessive use of refined sugar either by cutting back on sugar w not adding it to your coffee altogether. Instead, you can sweeten your coffee using sweeteners or honey.
If you typically add low-fat or skimmed milk to your coffee, you may want to use full-fat milk or a dairy creamer. Also, you can try switching to a non-dairy type of milk such as coconut milk or almond milk.
Incorporate half-caffeine or decaffeinated coffee into your routine instead of the usual high dose of caffeine.
Don’t drink coffee late in the evening or before bed.
Avoid munching on donuts or pastries every time a cup of coffee is involved.
Drink plenty of water throughout the day to counteract the dehydrating effect of coffee.
While every person may react differently to coffee, the effects of this beloved beverage on acne are limited to worsening the condition rather than causing it. You can reduce such effects by following healthier coffee drinking habits.