7 Ways That Coffee Is Bad For Your Skin And Acne
All around the world, one of the most universally loved and embraced beverages is coffee. To many, it is a staple of everyday life and some just can’t get by without at least one fresh cup of it in the morning to get the day started. In fact, some can’t get through the day without a few, which is why it may come as a disdainful surprise that coffee may be the culprit behind acne for some long-time sufferers.
When the news came out that there were benefits to drinking coffee, the world gladly accepted it, because it meant that everyone could continue their coffee-chugging habits. But despite the few benefits that coffee presents, its cons might outweigh its pros when it comes to digestive and skin health.
First, The Pros Of Drinking Coffee
Even though there are benefits to drinking coffee1, this list is incredibly short in comparison to the cons. Drinking coffee can increase your focus, enhance your mood and stimulate your cortisol levels to wake up. It’s also been popularly touted that coffee can lower the risk of Type 2 Diabetes, prevent age-related cognitive decline and even boost athletic performance.
But, again, these few benefits may not be worth what coffee does to the inside – and outside – of your body.
Con 1: Coffee is Often Paired with Ingredients That Cause Acne, i.e Milk and Sugar
The first con on this list has less to do with coffee itself and more to do with what we put in our coffee. Of course, coffee does have its own acne-causing effects, but we will get to that in the next 6 points.
Most people, when they drink coffee, often add milk and/or sugar to their beverages for added flavor, which is very common. However, milk and sugar are two of the worst things you could consume when struggling with acne. Milk and similar dairy products are known for its ability to cause skin-problems due to the enzymes and lactose that it’s made of. Sugar has also been known for its inflammatory effects, its ability to spike your blood sugar levels inducing insulin overproduction and weakening your immune system.
The problem with overproducing insulin is that it makes your body produce excess sebum, new skin cells and also increases inflammatory responses in the body. This means more stuff to clog your pores and make your skin swollen and red.
Together, and combined with acidic coffee, it is a recipe for terrible skin. Those who consume more than a single cup of coffee in a day are more likely to suffer skin problems as a result.
Con 2: Coffee Makes You Crave Sugary Foods
Aside from the fact that sugar in coffee leads to the spike and crash in sugar levels that make you crave more sugar, coffee itself is made up of a chemical composition that boosts your stress hormones and stimulates your cravings for calorie dense carbs.
That’s because coffee stimulates hyperadrenalism which makes your glands produce excess stress-response hormones, especially when reacting to stressful events and stimulators. A natural reaction to stress is to eat sweet, sugary foods or salty carbs – which are also sugars. Again, sugar is an inflammatory food that causes acne, so the tendency to crave and, subsequently, eat it, only makes acne worse.
Con 3: Coffee Boosts Your Body’s Stress Responses
When you drink coffee, it makes you feel awake. But why is that? As mentioned in Con #2, coffee triggers hyperadrenalism. It boosts your adrenal glands to produce the hormones that your body uses to react to stress. Those hormones are cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine.
Normally, your body produces these hormones in reaction to stressors such as problematic events, aggressive people or things that make us worry, to name a few. Then, when we aren’t stressed anymore, our bodies return to a more relaxed state, known as parasympathetic nervous system mode, where our stress hormones disappear. But in modern society, most people are under some kind of low level stress all the time, which is known as chronic stress.
The problem here is that coffee exaggerates your body’s response to stress2, meaning that your body is producing way more cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine than it should – at least double the normal amount. But these hormones, especially cortisol, trigger acne. To make matters worse, stress hormones also cause your body to produce excess insulin. As mentioned in Con #1, insulin triggers reactions in your body that increases the possibility and severity of acne in your skin.
In other words, being stressed has a bad effect on your skin. Having coffee makes those stress responses at least two times worse than they would be naturally.
Con 4: Coffee Makes You Resistant to Insulin, Impairing Your Glucose Metabolism
Speaking of insulin, drinking coffee also makes you resistant to the hormone3, making it harder for your body to break down carbs to digest them properly. This is because insulin is what your body uses to level the sugar in your body, and carbs are sugars. When you produce too much insulin, your body becomes resistant to it. If your body is resistant to insulin, you can no longer effectively digest sugars, which come in the form of carbs.
Again, insulin makes you produce excess oil, excess skin cells and makes your entire system more inflamed. One study even showed that healthy males who drank coffee had increased their resistance to insulin by 40% after they ate a meal with high glycemic content (a meal high in sugars). This means that they had high blood sugar levels for an extended period of time, which isn’t good for the body. This is just the result of one study done on this subject, and there have been many that prove the same thing.
Now, if you eat a low carb diet, this isn’t a big problem for you. But the average person consumes a fair amount of carbs on a daily basis, including breads, pastas, potatoes and more. For those who eat these foods, coffee triggers insulin-resistance that, in turn, makes acne worse.
Con 5: Coffee Messes Up Your Gut Flora
Due to its high acidity, coffee messes up your gut flora. That means that acid kills off your stomach’s good bacteria, leaving room for the bad bacteria to flourish unchecked. This is a condition known as dysbiosis.
This affects your body’s ability to absorb nutrients from food and produce B vitamins, which ultimately affects your overall health. Your skin and other organs require nutrients to be healthy and function normally, which is what the good gut flora in your body helps you to do. But when your gut flora is messed up, you face the risk of deficiencies, food malabsorption, leaky gut, other digestive issues and problems with your other organs4 as well, including your skin, leading to acne.
Some people try to fix this by increasing their probiotic intake. However, as long as they’re also consuming acidic foods and beverages like coffee, the probiotics don’t have much power to fix the problem. The only way to get real results is to cut things like coffee out of your diet.
Con 6: Coffee Negatively Affects How Your Body Absorbs Minerals and Foods
As mentioned in Con #5, coffee affects your healthy gut flora, making it more difficult for your body to absorb nutrients from food. But coffee in itself also prevents your body from absorbing minerals due to the chemicals that coffee is made up of. Some of these minerals include zinc, iron and selenium.
Studies have even shown that coffee particularly affects the body’s ability to absorb iron5 by up to 72%, which can lead to other problems such as low levels of red blood cells.
Cutting coffee out of your diet will actually help your body to absorb more minerals from the food you consume, and many of these minerals are very important to maintaining clear and healthy skin.
Con 7: Coffee Has Mycotoxins from Mold
Finally, probably one of the most disturbing and little-known facts about coffee is that it contains toxins known as mycotoxins6. These are formed from molds that grow on the coffee crops before and after the harvesting stage. Some of the most common are ochratoxin A and fusarium.
Molds most commonly grow on coffee plants grown at lower altitudes in hot climates that are humid. These types of coffees are, in fact, cheaper to produce and are mass marketed to the public, often sold in places like Starbucks and popular coffee chains and restaurants. This means that if you buy coffee frequently from these types of places, you’re probably getting a fair dose of mycotoxins as well.
Mycotoxins are terrible for acne and for your overall health. They can mess your immune system up and slow it down from responding quickly to bacteria and other invaders. They also mess up your sex hormone levels, mainly estrogen. Furthermore, they are cancerous.
The good news is that not all coffees contain the same high levels of these mycotoxins. Coffees grown at higher altitudes are usually harvested and processed with more care, but as a result, they are also more expensive.
Does Decaf Coffee Have The Same Negative Effects?
Now that we’ve established why coffee is not good for you and your skin, some might be wondering if decaf coffee has the same effect. After all, for those addicted to the sweet aroma of coffee, it would be rather hard to give it up altogether.
Well, on the bright side, decaf coffee does have all the same antioxidant benefits that caffeinated coffee has. However, decaf is still acidic and messes up your gut flora, which can lead to acne. Even worse, decaf tends to have more mycotoxins than regular coffee. This is due to two factors: 1) Decaf is usually made from the lowest grades of coffee. 2) Caffeine limits the amount of mold that grows in coffee. Since decaf doesn’t have caffeine, the mold grows more freely in the coffee while it’s in storage.
If you insist and must have at least your daily dose of decaf, try to buy the fresh-roasted type from a high-quality roaster who uses a Swiss water process to decaffeinate the coffee. Of course, this will be much more expensive than regular decaf, but your health is worth it.
No matter what you choose, caffeinated or decaffeinated coffee, you will still face some of the disadvantages to your skin from the list above.
How To Deal With Coffee Withdrawal
If you’ve been convinced that coffee is not the best thing for your diet and you’re thinking about quitting, that’s great news. But if you’ve been drinking coffee for a long time, you might experience some withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, moodiness, brain fog and a general sluggish feeling as your body adjusts to waking itself up without the aid of caffeine. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to combat these symptoms as your body recovers from your coffee addiction, giving your skin a chance to be at its best.
An effective remedy is to supplement amino acids into your diet, mainly L-tyrosine and L-phenylalanine. These will help you deal with the headaches and moodiness that comes with withdrawal. You should take around 500mg of both with each meal until if your symptoms are severe, or just at breakfast and lunch if they aren’t too persistent. Your withdrawal symptoms will be the worst in the first week or two of quitting coffee.
Drinking Tea Instead Of Coffee
As for tea, some people use it as a supplement for their caffeine intake. Tea has far less caffeine than coffee and isn’t nearly as acidic. As a general rule, the darker the tea, the more caffeine it has and the less beneficial it is to your skin. The lighter teas, like white teas and green teas, have far less caffeine and lots of EGCG, which is an anti-acne compound, so they’re quite good for your skin7.
However, just like coffee, tea can affect your body’s ability to absorb minerals from your food. It’s best to drink it an hour before a meal or a couple of hours after a meal so that it doesn’t affect your body’s digestion.
Herbal tea, on the other hand, has no caffeine and isn’t acidic, making it a great substitute for coffee with a lot of benefits for the body and skin.
Coffee is bad for your skin. It’s also bad for your digestive system, your blood sugar, and your immune system. It’s commonly sold in a low-quality form that’s loaded with bad toxins, and then infused with milk and sugar which are top skin-killers, especially for the acne-prone.
If you’re likely to suffer from acne, you shouldn’t be drinking coffee. Drop it from your diet and substitute with healthier choices like herbal tea or even water, which is really what your body needs the most. But coffee is no friend to your skin.
- Bidel S., Tuomilehto J. The emerging health benefits of coffee with an emphasis on type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. European Endocrinology. 2013;9(2):99-106.
- Lane J.D., Pieper C.F., Phillips-Bute B.G., Bryant .JE., Kuhn C.M. Caffeine affects cardiovascular and neuroendocrine activation at work and home. Psychosomatic Medicine. 2002;64(4):595-603.
- Shi X., Xue W., Liang S., Zhao J., Zhang X. Acute caffeine ingestion reduces insulin sensitivity in healthy subjects: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutrition Journal. 2016;15:103.
- Zhang Y., Li S., Gan R., Zhou T., Xu D., Li H. Impacts of gut bacteria on human health and diseases. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 2015;16(4):7493-7519.
- Morck T.A., Lynch S.R., Cook J.D. Inhibition of food iron absorption by coffee. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1983;37(3):416-420.
- Culliao A.G., Barcelo J.M. Fungal and mycotoxin contamination of coffee beans in Benguet province, Philippines. Food Additives and Contaminants: Part A, Chemistry, Analysis, Control, Exposure and Risk Assessment. 2015;32(2):250-260.
- Kim E., Hwang K., Lee J., Han S.Y. Kim E., Park J., Cho J.Y. Skin protective effect of epigallocatechin gallate. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 2018;19(1):173.
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