Does Coffee Cause Acne?

By | January 1, 2016

Coffee and acne are a weird combo at first look. But surprisingly enough they do share some things in common. Coffee is everywhere. Worldwide, people consume more than 2.25 billion cups every single day. Acne is common as well, affecting an estimated 650 million people globally.  Due to the prevalence of the disease, and the depression and low self-esteem that often accompany severe cases of acne, researchers have spent time and effort attempting to determine what causes acne, and to identify steps to mitigate its effects. One area they have looked closely at is diet, and how what people eat and drink affects the skin. It was only natural that researchers would eventually zero in on that ubiquitous cup of coffee in everyone’s routine and pose the question “does coffee actually cause acne?” The answer is not as necessarily cut and dry as people would like, but the research conducted so far is worth a close look. After all, if you are predisposed to suffer from acne, forewarned is forearmed. But before looking at the link between coffee and acne, it is important to understand exactly what acne is. 

Acne Vulgaris, or Simple Acne

The Merck Manuals define acne vulgaris, or simple acne, as “the formation of comedones, papules, pustules, nodules, and/or cysts as a result of obstruction and inflammation of pilosebaceous units (hair follicles and their accompanying sebaceous gland). Acne develops on the face and upper trunk.” Basically, pores become clogged with dead skin and oil, and cause irritation in the form of blackheads, whiteheads, pimples, and otherwise unattractive skin.  And how do people come to suffer from acne? There are many varying theories, some backed up by detailed studies. So as one attempts to answer the question “does coffee really cause acne?” it is useful to look at past research into why so many people suffer from the disease.

The Causes of Acne – Non-Dietary Factors

Does Coffee Cause AcneScientists have asked the question, “does coffee actually cause acne”, for years, and have examined a myriad other factors related to the disease. Research into acne and how it affects people is a near-constant endeavor, and for good reason; millions suffer from the ailment, and the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries focus major resources on developing drugs and products intended to mitigate the effects of acne, or cure it altogether. In the United States alone, people spend over $3 billion each year in the fight against acne. However, while much research has been and continues to be conducted, there are nonetheless no “smoking gun” conclusions on the causes of acne.  Past research has suggested that genetics plays a critical role in whether or not people are predisposed to developing the disease; some researchers believe genetic predisposition plays a role in up to 80% of acne cases. Excessive stress is another factor that research suggests contributes to acne development. Smoking is believed to exacerbate the severity of acne, especially as the number of cigarettes smoked each day increases. Hormonal changes, particularly those which occur during puberty, have been linked to acne as well

The Causes of Acne – Dietary Factors

Researchers have also spent a great deal of time looking at diet’s effect on skin health, which may help us answer the question “does coffee cause acne”, one way or another. Research into acne/diet has delivered less than certain and often conflicting results over the years. Several studies have concluded that high glycemic load diets – diets that significantly raise a person’s blood glucose level after consumption – can affect the severity of acne cases to varying degrees.  Some research indicates that dairy milk may cause or exacerbate acne in people that are already predisposed to the disease.  This may be due to the high level of sugar in milk (a high glycemic food), as well as the elevated levels of hormones found in milk. Besides milk, excessive intake of vitamin B12 may also trigger severe acne outbreaks. Finally, eating itself, in excess, may be linked to acne; at least one study found a link between obesity, insulin production in obese individuals, and acne. So, based on all of the research that has been conducted, does any of it help answer the question, “does coffee really cause acne?” Actually, it does, and in some ways that may not immediately come to mind.   

Does Coffee Cause Acne (Finally!)?

So what exactly is a suitable answer to the question “does coffee make you get acne?” The answer, apparently is that drinking coffee may very well cause acne, or at least worsen the disease’s effects. To determine how coffee can cause acne, one must determine three things: first, what is in coffee; then, what do consumers typically put in coffee; and then after those two questions are answered, we must determine how does drinking coffee affect our bodies and minds? 

Caffeine and Acne

Coffee contains significant amounts of caffeine; a cup of coffee may contain up to 200 milligrams of caffeine, nearly half of the recommended daily allowance. Studies have shown that excessive intake of caffeine may increase an individual’s level of stress. Stress, as described earlier, can lead to or exacerbate acne in many individuals. Caffeine is also a diuretic, and drinking excess amounts of coffee can lead to dehydration. Dehydration can put pressure on numerous bodily functions, including those relating to skin, and can worsen acne-related symptoms.  Finally, caffeine consumption can lead to excess production of the hormone androgen. Androgen, a male sex hormone, may lead to overproduction of skin cells and clogged pores, which can ultimately cause acne.  This article will describe some of the psychological effects coffee drinking has later; however, when the question is asked, “does coffee give you acne?” the answer certainly seems to be yes. 

What Do You Put In That Coffee?

Does Coffee Cause Acne breakoutsMost people put something in their coffee. In the United States, over 65% of all coffee drinkers prefer to add creamer, sugar, or something else to their coffee, rather than drinking it black. Thus, when considering the question “does coffee make you get acne?” one must look at the other ingredients that go into that morning cup o’ Joe. Many people add cream or sugar to their coffee, sometimes both. As noted earlier, dairy products are loaded with hormones that can trigger or exacerbate acne breakouts. In particular, some studies suggest that drinking milk can lead to the body producing increased levels of sebum, a substance implicated in the development of acne. Besides creamer, people often put sugar in their coffee. Sugar, an obvious high glycemic substance, can elevate oil production when consumed excessively and cause clogged pores, all of which can cause or worsen an acne outbreak.  So, whenever someone asks, “does coffee give you acne?” just respond back, “it depends, what did you put in your coffee this morning?” Dairy products and sugar are two of the worst foods a person can consume in terms of healthy skin. People who drink significant amounts of coffee with cream and sugar may be putting their healthy skin at risk. 

How Else Does Coffee Affect Skin Health?

Coffee may also indirectly cause or worsen acne breakouts.  As written earlier, high levels of caffeine consumption can significantly elevate an individual’s stress level. A common reaction to stress is to binge eat foods, often sweet foods like chocolate or other snacks. Increased consumption of high glycemic foods are closely linked to acne, as are the excessive production of skin oils from eating too much junk food. Coffee can also affect a body’s ability to absorb nutrients important for healthy skin. As a diuretic, the caffeine in coffee can cause many critical vitamins and minerals important to the skin to be excreted in urine and feces, and thus does those who suffer from acne more harm than good. Caffeine-related stress elevation can also cause dysbiosis, a microbial imbalance in the body, which could negatively impact a person’s ability to ingest critical nutrients that are important for healthy skin. This could lead to an acne outbreak, or worsen outbreaks for those who are already predisposed to them. So again, the answer to the question is a long and complicated one. 

So the Answer to “Does Coffee Cause Acne?” is Yes; Now What?

While this article laid out a compelling case explaining just how does coffee give you acne, it will also note that all is not lost. People who are concerned with the health of their skin but utterly addicted to their two or three cups of coffee each day have options. While none of them may provide the satisfaction one gets from a good cup of coffee, they are legitimate substitutes nonetheless. Let’s explore a few of them here.   

Let’s Go Decaf!

People who are concerned with the health of their skin can look to decaffeinated coffee as a suitable alternative to regular. Lacking caffeine, decaf lacks many of the traits that are problematic to those who are predisposed to acne, or otherwise have sensitive skin. Even more importantly, it is still coffee, and drinking it may not feel like the substitute for a longstanding (and addictive) habit that some of the other options below are. However, decaffeinated coffee can still interfere with nutrient absorption in the same manner regular coffee does, so it is nonetheless an imperfect substitute. So when the question “does coffee cause you to get acne?” is posed to decaf aficionados, a good answer might be “perhaps, but it is not as bad as regular coffee is”. 

Teecino and other Coffee Alternatives

But if the answer to the question “does coffee cause acne” is “yes, even decaf”, then what are the other options? Like coffee, many teas may have positive health attributes but nonetheless can be problematic for healthy skin. Many teas contain as much caffeine as coffee does; some have even higher caffeine content. There are alternatives, however. Teecino is a widely available coffee substitute which is caffeine free and made out of a variety of herbs. While it does not replicate the taste of coffee exactly, it is a good drink of its own accord and has none of the baggage that coffee has when it comes to acne. Similarly, there are numerous caffeine-free teas on the market that taste good and will not lead to skin problems the way that drinking coffee can. 

Bone Broth? Yes, Bone Broth! 

Bone broth, easily made at home or purchased in a local grocery store, is a decidedly counterintuitive coffee substitute. Bone coffee and acnebroth can be delicious on its own, and is easily made into a tasty hot drink with the addition of other spices. The broth is also extremely rich in collagen, an important substance for healthy skin. It may take some time to get used to a cup of bone broth in lieu of a morning cup of coffee, but it can be done. And not only is bone broth a decent coffee substitute, drinking it can lead to even better looking skin. 

How to Step Down from Caffeine? Gradually

While this article answered the question “does coffee cause acne?” and provided several feasible substitutes for the popular drink, foregoing the morning cup of coffee is not an easy thing to do. Humans are creatures of habit to start with, and giving up a daily ritual even for a good reason is not something people are wont to do. Coupled with this, caffeine is also an addictive drug, and sudden withdrawal from it can lead to debilitating side effects like headaches, short temper and increased anxiety. Ironically, quitting coffee cold turkey may actually elevate stress levels, and actually worsen the acne problems a person is trying to address.  For those concerned with withdrawal symptoms, it may be wise to cut coffee consumption gradually over the course of a week, or even two. Over time, substituting some of the alternatives described earlier can assist with ending the coffee habit once and for all. 

Does Coffee Cause Acne? Yes, So What Comes Next?

This article laid out a detailed answer to the question, “does coffee give you acne?” Later, it detailed alternatives to the morning cup o’ Joe and described how to wisely kick the coffee habit. For people who are predisposed to suffer from acne, the evidence laid out herein provides a compelling rationale to limit consumption of coffee, or stop drinking it altogether. This is just one article of course, and anyone predisposed to suffer acne or other skin problems would be wise to research the topic further. In the end, asking questions like “does drinking coffee cause acne” can lead to answers that are surprising, and can help you make informed decisions about healthy skin.