I hate to ask this as you sip on your morning brew. But it needs to be asked: can caffeine cause acne?

There’s reason to be concerned if you’re the type that can’t get through a day without a cup of coffee or tea. Or even some soda or energy drink. Caffeine is in all those beverages.

And if you’ve been struggling with acne for a while now, knowing if caffeine’s got something to do with it might help win your battle.

What is caffeine?

can caffeine cause acne

Believe it or not, caffeine is a drug. 

It’s classified as a psychoactive drug, according to scientists [1]. In fact, caffeine is the most widely consumed psychostimulant in the world [2]. (p.s. being a psychostimulant means it can alter moods and behavior)

No wonder a large chunk of humanity is hooked on caffeinated drinks!

Caffeine is naturally found in coffee and tea, even chocolate. But it can also be added to soft drinks, energy drinks, and even medication.

Can caffeine cause acne?

The answer is: it’s complicated. Isn’t that how it often is with skin?

That’s because our skin and acne are both complex matters.

With that said, we can still understand caffeine and what it can do to our skin.

Let’s get down to the good, the bad, and the ugly of caffeine.

Caffeine: The Good

can caffeine cause acne

We can’t deny the benefits caffeine provides for our health. Like how [3, 4, 5]:

  • Caffeine can increase alertness and mental energy. A good cup of coffee or tea in the morning helps mentally prepare us for the day. I’ve also been guilty of brewing a cup or two (or three) later in the day to boost my brain power.
  • Caffeine in small doses can reduce headaches. As Dr. Bristol explains, caffeine’s properties can cause blood vessels to narrow, which typically enlarges when headaches start. This restricts blood flow and in turn, helps reduce head pain.
  • Caffeine can reduce risk of several diseases, like heart disease, respiratory disease, stroke, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, colon, uterine and liver cancer, and cirrhosis.

You can even find caffeine in many skin care products. Usually, these products claim that caffeine can help improve the look of cellulite and puffy eyes [6].

But research on caffeine’s effect on skin when applied topically is mixed [6]. So, take those claims with a grain of salt.

Caffeine: The Bad

can caffeine cause acne

Caffeine has its downsides for health, like palpitations and restlessness [7].

But let’s zoom in on caffeine’s specific downsides for our skin [7, 8, 9, 10]:

  • Caffeine is a dehydrator. A dehydrator or diuretic beverage will make us urinate more often. Instead of becoming hydrated, you’ll lose fluids instead. And lack of hydration can show up on the skin. Something you wouldn’t want when dealing with acne. You’ll need happily moisturized skin to help with the healing process of acne.
  • Caffeine can heighten your stress levels. Caffeine has a tendency to increase cortisol, the body’s stress hormone. And that increase spells bad news for acne. The relationship between stress and acne flare-ups tells us as much. Your body produces more androgens as a response to stress. These hormones cause oil glands to produce more oil, which can lead to acne.
  • Caffeine can induce sleeplessness. Meaning, caffeine in your diet can make it harder for you to get a good night’s sleep. A study concluded that chronic poor sleep quality can affect skin health. Skin will show increased signs of aging and decreased ability to keep moisture. And your skin needs all the moisture it can get to help heal acne.

With that, it’s not looking too good for your morning brew. 

But wait, there’s more!

Caffeine: The Ugly

can caffeine cause acne

Be it coffee, tea, soft drinks, or energy drinks—caffeinated beverages will often have dairy and/or sugar.

And those two are troublemakers with acne.

From multiple researches, dairy and sugar have had the strongest connection to triggering acne when consumed [11, 12, 13].

For dairy, evidences point out that it can trigger acne [14]. Dairy products contain a hormone (IGF-1) that clogs pores. To make matters worse, dairy products prompt a large insulin response from your body. High insulin levels mean bad news for acne as it contributes to overproduction of oil. 

For sugar, studies show that a high glycemic-load diet has negative effects on acne [15]. This type of diet involves eating food loaded with sugar. The rise in blood sugar causes more frequent and severe acne. 

Good on you if you can have your coffee and tea without milk or sugar. But for some, that’s a major deal breaker. 

And don’t get me started with soft drinks and energy drinks. These beverages are sugar-loaded. If you can, completely removing these from your diet will be wise.

So, should you say goodbye to your morning brew? 

can caffeine cause acne

For a lot of things in life, the key is moderation. Find a middle ground in your caffeine intake.

  • If your stress levels increase when you brew your tea or coffee too strong, take it down a notch.
  • If you know your tea or coffee is affecting your sleep, reconsider that extra cup you’re planning to take in the afternoon. Maybe opt for a refreshing fruit juice or simple water instead.
  • If you can help it, try to take your tea or coffee with little to no milk and/or sugar. You can slowly take away the milk and sugar until you’re used to a cup of tea or coffee without them.

In doing so, you can enjoy the benefits of caffeine without the troubles it can bring to your skin.

I hope this post helps your coffee- or tea-loving heart rest easy.

I’m curious. How many cups do you drink per day? Let me know in the comments

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