Is Coffee Causing Your Pimples?

For many people around the world, coffee is not only the thing they look forward to every morning but is something they consider a requirement for getting the day started right. If you’re one of these regular coffee drinkers and are dealing with a sudden onslaught of breakouts, then you may be wondering:

“Can coffee cause pimples?”

To answer that question, let’s first take a look at what ingredients go into this much-loved beverage. 

The Coffee Bean

Most of us know that coffee is made simply from brewing steaming hot water with ground up coffee beans. But what exactly is a coffee bean, and where do they come from? 

First off, coffee beans are not actually beans at all; they are actually the seeds of the coffee plant. These seeds are found at the center of the coffee plant’s fruit—similar to the pit you would find in a cherry. They’ve come to be known as beans simply because they look like a bean. Coffee is grown in several parts of the world, but currently, most coffee beans come from South America.

So why do we love this simple drink made from the seeds of the coffee plant? 

Well, besides the rich and bold flavor, most people reach for a cup of coffee for its caffeine content. 

Caffeine

Caffeine is a naturally occurring stimulant that can be found in not just coffee beans but also tea leaves and chocolate. The amount of caffeine in coffee is typically around 102–200 mg per 8 ounce cup. Although, this amount can vary, depending on the type of coffee bean used and the way the beans have been roasted and prepared. For example, if you look at this chart, you’ll see the variety in caffeine levels among specialty drinks at popular coffee shops and coffee that you buy in a can and brew at home.

Caffeine is sought after due to its effects on alertness. The dose of caffeine from coffee gives us a jolt of energy to wake us up in the morning, keeps focused throughout the day, and prevents us from becoming too drowsy when we have to stay up late. 

But could the effects of caffeine actually bad for you and your skin? 

The Pros and Cons of Caffeine

It is considered safe for the typical adult to consume up to 400 mg of caffeine per day, which is the equivalent to about 2-4 cups of coffee. 

Of course, having too much caffeine is certainly problematic for most people. Having caffeinated drinks or foods too close to bedtime can make it difficult for you to sleep; and for some people, even a little caffeine at any time of day makes them feel jittery and anxious. 

Infographic on caffeine overdose

Coffee lovers will be pleased to hear that research so far shows that caffeine could actually be quite healthy for you when used in moderation. For example, some studies show that it could help stimulate your metabolism, helping you burn more calories. There even seems to be links between drinking coffee and lower risk of certain cancers and other chronic diseases. 

But I know you’re still thinking: 

“What about my skin? Can the caffeine in coffee be the reason for my recent breakout?”

Despite many people having this concern, we don’t have any direct evidence showing caffeine to be a cause of acne. In fact, caffeine may actually be good for your skin! According to this article, one of the potential benefits of drinking caffeinated coffee is a lower risk of skin cancer. 

So is that daily latte or cappuccino in the clear?

Well, not quite. 

The problem may be what you’re adding into your morning cup o’ joe, and not the coffee itself.

If you’re one of the many people who doesn’t drink their coffee black, then you are probably adding cream, milk, sugar or other sweeteners to your coffee each day. Let’s look at the potential of these common coffee add-ins to cause pimples:

Milk and Creamers

There’s nothing quite like a creamy vanilla latte, but if you are using traditional dairy products in your coffee drink of choice, this could be where your acne is coming from. 

Some doctors believe that there may be a relationship between cow milk and acne, although so far, studies do not show a definite connection yet. The theory is that there is something in the milk that comes from cows that is similar to the hormone testosterone. Excess testosterone has the potential to cause an increase in the production of oil in your skin. 

To understand why this extra oil caused by dairy could lead to pimples, let’s look at how and why pimples happen:

How Pimples Form

All of us have tiny hair follicles all over our skin. These small openings are also known as pores. Your skin also has sebaceous glands that produce oil, called sebum. This naturally occurring oil is a good and normal part of healthy skin! However, if you have too much sebum production, this oil can end up blocking your hair follicles (what we commonly refer to as clogged pores). When a larger pore becomes clogged it becomes an open comedone or blackhead. Smaller clogged pores are called closed comedones, or whiteheads. Both types of comedones can become inflamed and swollen, and this inflammation creates what we know as a pimple. Pimples can range from the small red spots we all get from time to time—“common acne”—to more severe and painful cases, such as cystic acne.

So to sum up, an excess of oil in your skin can clog your pores, starting a chain reaction that eventually leads to blackheads, whiteheads, and of course, pimples!

Now, if you don’t already have acne or oily skin, you do not have a reason to be concerned with milk. As we mentioned earlier, it isn’t proven that milk will cause your oil glands to overproduce and cause pimples, and it certainly can’t create a problem where one doesn’t already exist. But some people say that avoiding dairy made a difference in the severity of their acne. If you suspect that this may be the case for you, it doesn’t hurt to take a break from dairy for a while. There are non-dairy creamers you can use if creamy coffee is your preference.

Sugar and Other Sweeteners

White sugar, brown sugar, honey, and other forms of natural and artificial sweeteners can be used to make coffee less bitter. Although sugar in small amounts may not be a problem, sugar can play a role in acne and other skin conditions.

Insulin, Inflammation, and Acne

When you eat and digest any type of sugar, it causes your body’s insulin levels to rise. This rise in insulin, in turn, produces inflammation in your body, including your skin. While this process doesn’t cause acne where it was not already present, inflammation can certainly make any acne you have much worse. Famous dermatologist Dr. Nicholas Perricone describes this inflammation as also contributing to the development of wrinkles and other skin issues. Yikes!

The bottom line is if you’re already prone to pimples and oily skin, be careful to limit your sugar intake. The inflammation sugars create could definitely make any existing acne flare-ups more frequent or more intense.

But—what if it’s not what you’re drinking but why you’re drinking it that could be causing pimples?

If you’ve been hitting the coffee harder than usual lately and you notice coffee binges and breakouts going hand-in-hand, your greater coffee consumption may actually be a symptom of something else— and it could be the true reason for your breakouts.

Here are two things to consider:

Stress 

Stress isn’t a known cause of acne on its own, but being under a lot of stress can definitely contribute to the conditions that cause you to break out more. This is because when we are stressed out, our body releases certain hormones that affect the sebaceous glands we talked about earlier.

And what do stress hormones do to sebaceous glands? 

You guessed it: ramp up oil production and inflammation in your skin.

In addition, stress can make you more likely to want to pick at or scratch your skin. If you’re already broken out and inflamed, this will only cause your blemishes to look worse, and may possibly spread the pimple-causing bacteria around your face.

If you know you know that a hectic period of time is coming up in your life, dermatologists will tell you that prevention is key to avoiding a major breakout. If you know that stress really throws off your skin, consider talking to your doctor about strategies for controlling acne, such as prescriptions or over the counter treatments. At the very least, plan ahead for stressful situations to make sure you maintain your skincare routine, have nutritious food on hand and get plenty of rest. 

Infographic on stress relief strategies

Which brings us to our next point…

Sleep

There is usually a direct relationship between your stress level and the amount of sleep you’re getting. If your schedule is busy and your worries are high, it’s likely that both your quality and quantity of sleep will suffer. But even if you’re just a night owl by nature, not getting enough sleep is a problem for your skin, and can lead to pimples. 

Researchers tell us that while we sleep, our bodies are actively renewing themselves from the inside out. Not sleeping enough affects everything from your body’s natural ability to remove toxins, to your skin’s moisture levels. If your skin becomes dehydrated and imbalanced from lack of sleep, this again can cause your oil glands to overproduce. Skin needs the nourishment we can only get from a good night’s rest.

To ensure you are getting the best sleep possible, make sure you keep your bedroom cool, dark, and comfortable. Most people agree that going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time every morning also helps your body get into a healthy sleep routine.

Also, try not to shock yourself awake each day with a loud and jarring alarm clock. Look for an alarm clock or app that uses gentle nature sounds or your favorite song to wake you up gently. Again, you don’t want to spike your stress hormones and create another potential increase in oil and acne. 

Small Changes Can Make a Big Difference in Your Skin

The good news here is that your daily cup of coffee is not causing your pimples! 

However, you may need to change the way you get your daily dose of caffeine and improve your lifestyle in general in order to heal your breakouts and prevent new ones.

Here are a few things to try:

  • Drink your coffee black. 
  • Switch to a different form of caffeine. If you don’t think you can persuade yourself to like plain black coffee, unsweetened green or black tea are great alternatives.
  • Don’t substitute coffee for other sugary forms of caffeine such as soda or energy drinks. As mentioned before, it’s not the caffeine in these drinks that will contribute to your skin problems, but the high sugar content that may cause inflammation and acne. 
  • Keep an eye out for stress in your life and make sure you’re taking very good care of yourself and your skin, especially when you’re busier than usual.
  • Cut back on sugar and junk food and instead eat a diet with plenty of vegetables. This will not only keep your blood sugar levels steady but provide your skin with lots of antioxidants to fight any possible inflammation that comes its way. 
  • Finally, remember that worrying about pimples or other skin problems too much can only make matters worse. The best thing you can do is take good care of yourself no matter what your life and your skin throw at you.

Now let’s raise a mug to happy, healthy, pimple-free skin!