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Is Drinking Coffee Good for your Skin?

Written by Phil

A coffee enthusiast and traveler, Phil primarily spends his days thinking and writing about coffee. He also writes for HittingEject.com where he explores ideas of culture, psychology, and travel, and occasionally dabbles in horror.

There is an ongoing debate about the effects of coffee on your skin. As with anything widely consumed and popular, saying something that catches attention will continue to happen, even if it’s unfounded. Some argue coffee’s diuretic effects cause dehydration and lead to skin problems; Others believe that the antioxidants will actually help your skin. So, is drinking coffee good or bad for your skin?

Coffee has many benefits for your skin, including fighting cancer, aging, blotchy complexion, and even rosacea. The best outcomes come from high-quality, organic, black coffee – lacking pesticides, dairy, and sugar.

Before continuing, it is important to note that I am familiar with biological research, but my background is psychology and I am not a doctor. The following is not medical advice.

Caffeine

Positive

One of the ongoing debates within the “coffee good or bad” umbrella is whether it’s the effects of coffee, specifically, or just the effects of caffeine. 

In situations like this, the best approach is to tease apart the effects of overall caffeine consumption and coffee consumption, perhaps using decaf. In fact, there was a metastudy (metastudy = a study of the existing studies, taking a broader perspective) that covered this and found the following:

“…when caffeine intake was separated into coffee and noncoffee sources (tea, soda, chocolate), only coffee itself seemed to be protective. […] the authors evaluated the association of coffee intake with mortality. They found a protective effect of coffee in all-cause and cause-specific mortality… Furthermore, the protective effects they reported were similar for decaffeinated coffee consumption. These findings suggest an intrinsic benefit to the coffee itself.”

The study concluded by saying that it appears to have an “inverse association between caffeine intake and risk of incident rosacea”. Rosacea can range from a slight, but lasting, redness of the skin to unsightly, acne-like bumps. It has many causes, but a common one is in alcoholics.

In other words, drinking caffeine in the form of coffee caused a lower rate of rosacea, which is desirable.

In recent years, you may have come across the term “autophagy” in the health circles, particularly surrounding intermittent fasting. Auto = self; -phagy = consumption; the parts of the word may sound negative, they’re often a positive outcome in practice.

Most of us, most of the time, are keeping our bodies more than fed, which means it never has a reason to break down the excess.

Imagine a factory where materials keep pumping in through the door at a rate faster than the workers can process it. When there’s a broken part, it just gets tossed to the side to be dealt with when there is some free time. However, so long as things keep piling in the door, there is never free time.

Enter autophagy – fasting talks about it a lot because it would be the down period described. There is finally time for the body to inspect that discarded pile and break down the materials for scrap.

This relates to caffeine because it appears to protect the skin from oxidative stress-induced senescence through the activation of autophagy, according to this study.

In plain words: caffeine prevents the aging of the skin by breaking down excess and defunct cells.

I could go on, but I’m sure there are stacks of papers being written on this. 

Negative

It seems that caffeine can raise cortisol levels, also known as the stress hormone. Experts seem to suggest that limiting coffee intake to 400mg per day, and maybe only a couple of cups if concerning your skin’s health.

Nonorganic coffee seems to have a negative effect on gut flora, which has significant effects on psychological health, mood, weight, skin, and many more yet-to-be-understood effects. Add in hormonally treated dairy with sugar, and you’re looking at a good approach to cause some longer-term bad effects.

In short, sugar and dairy and inorganic coffee can lead to negative skin outcomes.

As well, caffeine can have a halflife – the time it takes to get rid of half of the existing caffeine – of between 2-9 hours, meaning some people process it much faster than others. If you’re in the slower half, you may be disrupting your sleep every night by accident, causing worse skin outcomes.

L-theanine

There is some evidence that L-theanine (a semi-common supplement) may help to curb the negative effects of caffeine. It is naturally occurring in tea, which is one explanation for the lack of jittery or crash effects.

One study said:

“The L-theanine and caffeine combination improved both speed and accuracy of performance of the attention-switching task at 60 min, and reduced susceptibility to distracting information in the memory task at both 60 min and 90 min.”

In plain English: the combination seemed to increase performance compared to just caffeine alone when switching between tasks and stopped people from getting distracted by useless information.

TL;DR

Generally, it seems that caffeine doesn’t cause acne, but it can make it worse. Limit your intake to before noon, get enough sleep, and consider decaf if you want the positive benefits without the negative.

Caffeic Acid and Ferulic Acid

As we should all know by now: sunshine ages us. However, according to this study, it seems that the combination of these two acids seems to negate some of the damaging, aging effects of UV radiation. Good to know!

Antioxidants

To risk oversimplifying, oxidants are things that cause oxidative stress in the body, which causes things to age and break down. It’s a similar process to what happens to metal when it oxidizes – it rusts. Antioxidants help to counteract this process.

Coffee happens to be the top source of antioxidants in the North American diet, which means it can help to slow aging, which may include skin and acne.

Eugenol

Found in basil, bay leaves, and coffee, it seems to have positive effects on melanoma tumors. While this is uncommon, it is a good preventative measure. Bottoms up!

Here’s the study; “apoptosis” describes a cell killing itself after nearby cells tell it to do so. This is a natural event that helps the body to clear out broken cells. Cancer, however, often does not listen to this signal and continues to live. Eugenol seems to assist in making those unruly buggers obey.

Gamma-tocopherol

Found in coffee, this antioxidant makes up about 70% of the vitamin E consumed in the American diet, which is important for skin health.

Sugar and Dairy

Dairy

As many people add this to their coffee, I’ll assess it briefly. There is some evidence that suggests higher dairy intake could lead to acne or worsen existing acne.

  • A small study (57 participants) showed that those who consumed more milk had more acne.
  • There are studies that show dairy increases IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor), and that IGF-1 can lead to acne.
  • In another study, girls who drank 2+ servings of nonfat milk daily had a 22% increase in severe acne and a 44% increase in cystic or nodular acne than those who had only one.

The research is not super solid, but it’s clear enough that there is some amount of correlation.

Sugar

Excess sugar is bad for an assortment of reasons, some of which I talk about here.

However, it seems when talking about skin, specifically, it is bad for you and your skin.

Topical

If you’re interested in a brief summary of using caffeine for a mask, check out this article. Or if you want another source, here’s healthline’s article on the same topic.

TL;DR Conclusion

Like most things, it seems to be a mixed bag; though the pros list is much longer than the cons. While abusing coffee by over-indulging or drinking too late, you can affect your sleep and increase your stress hormones, negatively affecting your skin.

For the best outcomes, consider drinking decaf in the afternoon, reducing dairy, sugar, syrups, and nonorganic coffee consumption, and ensuring you get enough water and sleep each night.

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