Does Coffee/Caffeine Cause Acne Breakouts? (EFFECTS AND ALTERNATIVES)

Coffee to me is like a warm, cozy, cashmere sweater that wraps me up in the morning and leaves me perked up and ready to take on the day! I LOVE, love, love coffee – the nutty, rich taste; the perk it gives me; the flavorful aroma it fills the room; the fancy/old-fashioned coffee houses with quality, artisan coffees.

I’m especially swoon with the French press method and the robust taste it gives. I take my coffee two ways: black (depending on the brand); black w/ unsweetened almond coconut creamer.

Coffee is high in antioxidants, improves mood, and studies show that it can increase life longevity + alleviate certain diseases if consumed daily. Although, it seems like each year medical research finds some either negative or positive new outcome for coffee & caffeine consumption. Which is it, really? Is it good or bad?

For the sake of this post, I will discuss how coffee effects acne sufferers and some negatives if consumed a little too much everyday (5 cups +, anyone?).

However, in the last few years, I’ve had to really re-evaluate my diet and the nutrients I was feeding my body in order to have the beautiful, crystal clear skin that I’ve been after since I was a child. Why can’t we just have it all?

So, can this little magic potion possibly cause or aggravate the persistent acne on your face or body?

In a short and very unfortunate answer, yes! There are quite a few reasons why this little slice of heaven aggravates the pesky skin condition further and I’m going to clarify the 4 major points on the big why.

  1. Too Acidic

Coffee is highly acidic, which may lead to acid indigestion and cause some individuals to take up some small snack/meal with their beverage to provide relief. Decaf coffee is actually higher in acidity due to the nature of processing/ stripping down the coffee from caffeine.

The issue here is that coffee drinkers that have acne have an unbalanced internal ph level because acidity from coffee and other acidic foods is harder to digest and break down by the liver, leading to breakouts.

When liver is over burdened by all the extra acidity, it has harder time excreting contents to the bile – in turn, becomes inflamed and purges out onto the skin creating acne.

The way to balance the ph to a healthy level is to decrease or cut out acidic foods, especially that cup of java. This also includes those lattes – yes, 1 shot of espresso (less caffeine than small cup of coffee) is still considered acidic.

Among a simple acid indigestion caused by coffee consumption, it can also lead to other serious health issues such as ulcers – those painful things are linked to too much stress and none other than a diet that’s high in acidic foods.

Both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffees have an acid-stimulating effect, and therefore, it is recommended that people with ulcers restrict not only to caffeinated but also decaffeinated coffee intake.

  1. Raises Cortisol

Regular daily habit of coffee consumption raises cortisol levels. Cortisol often goes by the name “stress hormone,” because of its connection to stress response; however, cortisol is much more than just a hormone released during stress, or in this case coffee/caffeine drinking.

Understanding cortisol and its effect on the body will help you balance your hormones and achieve clear skin.

Cortisol is one of the steroid hormones and is made in the adrenal glands. Most cells within the body have cortisol receptors.

This stress hormone contributes to production of sebum to go into overdrive, producing an oily or excessively oily complexion, leading to clogged pores. Oily skin leads to blackheads + whiteheads because the extra sebum traps and obstructs pores, leading to bacteria growth and prevents oxygen from entering pores, which causes the infection to set in.

However, cortisol is an important hormone because it helps to control blood sugar levels, regulate metabolism, help reduce inflammation, and assist with memory formulation. But, it NEEDS balance.

It has a controlling effect on salt and water balance and helps control blood pressure. All of these functions make cortisol a crucial hormone to protect overall health and well-being.

You know that high, jittery feeling you get when you drink a strong cup of coffee? Ya know the one where you feel like you’re about to jump up not caring who’s around? That’s the response that coffee gives off after the stress hormone is elevated from that adrenaline rush. This in turn, raises insulin and makes skin more red and swollen.

In a nutshell, increased level of cortisol freaks out your body, especially if you’re acne prone, making the preexisting condition even worse!

  1. Gut Issues

According to Global Healing Center, coffee’s known to encourage the stomach to release its contents into the small intestine before complete digestion has occurred. Food that doesn’t get fully digested often ends up sitting and rotting in the gut.

This creates a toxic environment ideal for ‘bad’ bacteria to spread in the intestines, damages the intestinal wall, and leads to inflammation and an immune response to enzymes in the coffee.

When inflammation sets in, it doesn’t just affect the internal organs, but the inflammation shows up on the skin through purging it outward – externally onto the skin via acne- face, body.

Leaky gut is a health condition (one of the causes is too much acidity from coffee) when intestinal barrier becomes inflamed or irritated, being susceptible to bacteria, toxins, and heavy metals to permeate the intestinal lining.

One of the side effects to leaky gut is a host of skin issues, including acne, dermatitis, itchy, red skin, and eczema.

  1. Milk + Sugar Combo

Love that cream and sugar in your morning beverage?

Well, the addition of those two, or even one of those ingredients contributes to a heightened inflammation response. I’ve blogged about the dangers of dairy here, especially if one is prone to acneic skin.

Sugar of all varieties (except for stevia), spikes insulin level and thus thrives on inflammation factor, increasing all that acne coming forth. Unfortunately, the cream + sugar in your coffee just adds fuel to the fire.

However, if you absolutely cannot for the life of you, give up that such addicting goodness…I suggest drinking only organic, black coffee (no refined sugar or dairy) for approx. 2 weeks and see if it alleviates your acne condition (no adding any extra stuff to your coffee – don’t cheat!).

If it does, great, then we can safely assume that coffee does not aggravate your acne. Again, minus all that cream and sugar of ALL varieties (honey, non-dairy creamer, maple syrup, etc.).

On the other hand, if you notice that your acne doesn’t get better, then I would suggest to either go cold turkey and quit, or ween off of caffeine in bits, which brings me to my next point.

**Reason why I state to choose ONLY organic is because coffee is one of the leading crops to be sprayed heavily with pesticides, leaving the consumers drinking the residue left over. When the body is already having to deal with acne, one must go as organic as possible, when possible to avoid all the extra toxins.

What about Black, Green & White Teas?

Teas are all the rage nowadays – especially the matcha green tea lattes! Love those- with organic matcha, raw honey, and unsweetened organic almond or coconut milk, all frothed up. Yum!

Back to the topic!

A little background on tea

All caffeinated teas come from the same plant- the camellia sinensis. How the teas differentiate by black, green, oolong, and white varieties are based on how they grow and how they’re prepared.

Harvest time, climate, altitude, plant part and method of drying, all play a crucial role in the final product.

For example, white teas are picked from an early harvest – that’s what gives off the most light and fragrant notes. Black tea is picked at the latest harvest and give off the dark, potent flavor.

Teas are high in antioxidants and contain catechins, which are flavonoids that lower chances of getting certain diseases – in addition, tea can provide a better brain function and boost immunity.

How caffeine in tea possibly contributes to acne…

Reason why I state, possibly in the headline above, is because all teas are much less acidic than coffee and therefore, don’t contribute the same exact response per health issues I spoke earlier on.

Caffeine (in all forms) adds to cortisol hormone that I mentioned earlier – the ‘fight or flight’ response, which is released in reaction to fear or stress by the adrenal glands as part of the fight-or-flight mechanism. And since acne is a stressful condition for most, caffeine is something to steer clear of (stress fuels the cortisol, which leads to body freaking out and purging pimples unto the skin) – at least for a period of time.

Again, just as I stated with coffee, if you cannot give up your fave caffeinated tea, consume only organic variety (to avoid pesticides + herbicides) for 2 weeks and see if you notice more or less acne.

If you notice no change in acne, then give up tea altogether and replace with herbal teas (we want to test if “no caffeine” will improve your acne). Since caffeine is addicting and difficult to forego cold turkey, I recommend limiting your caffeine intake to only 1 cup a day until you can totally eliminate it from your routine.

Personally, I drink organic green teas daily (limit to 1 cup) for health benefits and never had it aggravate my skin. Hence, my love for matcha green tea lattes! However, please understand that everyone responds differently to caffeine and must be aware of possible consequences that lead to acne.

Tea is less acidic than coffee and gentler on the stomach, which is why it is a safer caffeine beverage.

The Alternatives

Okay, so I’m making you give up something that’s so precious to you, but are there similar alternatives to the taste of coffee?

There are many herbal teas that can provide the little perk of alertness but definitely not to the same degree as coffee. I’ll list my top 4 picks.

1.  Teeccino is one of my favorite coffee tea alternative brands that comes in teabags or a loose form to brew in a French press. Teeccino mimics the taste of coffee with different flavors such as your regular French roast and java.

It also comes in exotic flavors such vanilla nut, hazelnut, chocolate, orange, maya chai, almond amaretto, etc. The best part?? It only contains herbal ingredients such as chicory, barley, and carob.

**For those of you that have a gluten allergy (barley contains gluten and is one of the ingredients in all the regular and flavored flavors), they have gluten-free alternatives, made with dandelion leaf.

2.  If you’re looking for something a bit simpler in taste than teeccino without the added ingredients, than I can suggest brewing chicory (French press style)– it has a ‘dirty’ tea taste, so to speak – so, it mimics coffee just a tad and preparing it feels like you’re still making that ex fave drink of yours! Chicory is a root and has health benefits of protecting the liver, which is exactly what acne sufferers need.

3.  Dandelion leaf tea (roasted variety) is another recommendation that has that ‘dirty’ tea taste – it’s different than black tea and can always be found in a tea bag variety. Great detox for the liver, as well.

4.  Raspberry leaf tea is a personal favorite of mine that has a light ‘black tea’ taste, which I love. Tastes nothing like the raspberry fruit, by the way! In addition to being completely void of caffeine, it’s especially great for women’s reproductive system and helps to alleviate painful menstrual cycles.

Coffee in general (whether you have acne or not), stresses out the body, whether drinking straight black or adding cream + sugar. So, my suggestion is to switch to a less acidic alternative such as green or white tea (no sugar or honey!) or give the herbal teas a try instead.

Are you addicted to coffee, just as I was? Did it or still does impact your skin? Share below!

Sources + References (clink link below)

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8 Replies to “Does Coffee/Caffeine Cause Acne Breakouts? (EFFECTS AND ALTERNATIVES)”

  1. It’s hard to live without coffee, but it’s also hard to live WITH acne. I totally see the arguments for laying off the coffee to evaluate whether it’s one of the main causes for my own acne or whether even just reducing my intake would have an effect…I’m gonna give it a shot! Thanks for the insight and info.

    1. Coffee is a bit puzzling…personally, I recently started drinking it on weekends and it doesn’t effect me like it used to. I still limit my intake to 1 cup a day, but I really enjoy it!

      Everyone responds to caffeine differently, and if you have acne, then I would suggest to take a break and see how your skin will respond. Since caffeine effects our cortisol, which in turns hightens our stress response, acne appears more so in some individuals due to this cycle.

  2. Hi

    NOO! I love my coffee – I did not know it can cause acne? The things I learn online I swear no one would believe me lol. Thank you very much as I was looking up the benefits of drinking COFFEE and found you. I like one of the alternatives but don’t honestly think the others would be palateable to me.

    1. Hey! The good news is that coffee doesn’t exactly cause acne, but accelarates it when one is already acne prone. However, every individual is unique; therefore, testing one week w/ coffee and the other without may yield a difference in clarity of skin. Coffee is pretty acidic as is, so its not the best idea to be addicted to it, like most of us! The research is always so skewed on coffee, so its hard to understand which way to go about it in terms of health benefits.

  3. Very interesting! I had never heard of coffee contributing to acne, but the way you explained it makes sense. Coming from someone who’s struggled with controlling acne since puberty, this is a very worthwhile read. Good info – will be sure to pass it along. Thanks!

    1. Thank you, Sarah! Isn’t interesting how so many things can contribute to acne? But it all comes back to one’s lifestyle. Unfortunately, since coffee is so acidic it cab aggravate our skin and cause dryness as well.

  4. I have been drinking coffee for over 30 years. I think I really picked it up during my 25+ years in the military. I had no idea of some of the side effects of coffee. You especially caught my attention with the digestion aspect of it.

    I also did not know it had such an affect on our skin. I definitely have slowed down drinking coffee and I probably will now do even more of that. You have educated me today. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks, Nate! I’ve been a coffee drinker since I was 14 and always suffered with acne until I got clear. I took a 6 month break from caffeine of all forms a few years ago and oh my! My energy levels were through the roof and I never experienced any crashes throughout the day. It was a wonderful feeling – like I was 10 again. So in correlation to all that I wrote in this post, I think caffeine may not be all what its hyped up to be…

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