Coffee has links with a number of health problems, including those that affect a person’s skin. As a result, people who have acne may worry that coffee might be making their breakouts worse.
Coffee is a source of antioxidants, which can be beneficial for the skin. Even so, for some people, drinking coffee could make acne or oily skin worse, as may adding sugar or milk to it.
Most people who have acne can still drink coffee in moderation, however, and avoid or limit additives, such as milk and sugar.
Caffeine can interfere with the body’s normal hormone levels and may be a concern for those who drink coffee regularly:
Cortisol can also cause the skin to produce more sebum, or oil, potentially leading to acne.
Chronically high cortisol levels can affect other health problems that may have associations with acne, including:
A lack of quality sleep can cause the body to release more cortisol, which can elevate inflammation. This inflammation can affect the skin, causing more acne breakouts.
To help avoid some potential effects of coffee, people may need to avoid caffeine several hours before bedtime.
Caffeine may also cause insulin levels to spike, and studies suggest this could make acne worse.
One study found that people who had higher insulin levels were more likely to have severe acne.
Caffeine may alter estrogen levels in females of childbearing age, but this varies from person-to-person.
An older study of 250females found that consuming 200 milligrams (mg) of caffeine each day raised estrogen levels in Asian participants but lowered it in white participants.
Many people add milk or cream to coffee. There is some evidence that suggests drinking higher amounts of dairy milk could lead to acne or make existing acne worse.
- One study found that teenagers who consumed more low fat or skimmed milk had significantly more acne than those who consumed whole milk or no milk.
- Another study looking at 57 people with acne found that those who consumed more milk tended to have more acne.
- A study of the link between diet and acne states that drinking milk increases levels of insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1). A further study states that high levels of IGF-1 lead to acne.
People who have acne may also wish to limit or avoid sugar in their morning cup of coffee.
Research has suggested a link between acne and higher glycemic foods, or those that cause blood sugar spikes. These foods are often ones with high sugar content, especially added sugars.
There may be some ways to enjoy coffee without making acne worse, including:
- Consuming less caffeine overall: People can do this by using decaffeinated or half-caffeine coffee or drinking less regular coffee. However, they should be mindful of other beverages, such as tea and energy drinks, that may also contain caffeine. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommend no more than 400 mg of caffeine a day, or 4–5 cups of regular coffee. However, some people are more sensitive to caffeine’s effects and may need to consume much less than this amount.
- Cutting back on sugar: Adding little to no sugar to coffee can achieve this, as can cutting back or eliminating sugary sodas from the diet.
- Reducing low fat or skimmed milk: People can do this by trying a dairy alternative creamer or using whole milk in coffee instead.
An acne pimple develops when the skin produces too much oil. This excess oil causes a clump of skin cells to get stuck inside a pore. Bacteria from the skin combine with the oil and dead skin cells to form a red, inflamed bump.
The causes of acne vary for each person. Research suggests that acne may run in families. But it can also occur at any age whether people have a family history or not.
If a person has acne, they can first try over-the-counter products that contain salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide.
If the skin does not improve within a few weeks or acne is severe, a person should see a dermatologist. Leaving acne untreated can lead to emotional distress and physical scars.
Antioxidants are substances that prevent or slow cellular damage, or oxidation, in the body.
Many plant foods, especially fruits and vegetables, contain antioxidants. Coffee is also a good source of antioxidants.
Some evidence suggests that antioxidants can be helpful to skin and may improve acne.
A small pilot study found that topical antioxidants helped to improve acne when people also used acne medications, such as benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid.
Coffee contains beneficial antioxidants that can be good for skin and overall health. However, drinking too much caffeinated coffee and adding sugar or milk may make acne worse.
People who are prone to acne may wish to cut back on caffeine, dairy, and sugar to see if it helps improve their skin.
If acne continues to get worse or does not improve, people may wish to consult a dermatologist.