As one of the most popular drinks in the world, coffee has become a staple of the modern daily routine. Offering a burst of energy and mental focus, coffee is nearly essential, but those suffering from acne may want to reconsider their coffee and caffeine intake. Read on to learn how coffee may cause or worsen your acne.
Read next: How to Get Rid of Acne with Home Remedies
Coffee Increases Cortisol
Cortisol is a hormone produced in the adrenal glands that plays a variety of roles in metabolism and regulating immune response, but its primary role is in the body’s stress response. While cortisol is necessary to your health, too much of it may pose problems to your health and may contribute to acne.1
Research shows that caffeine increases secretion of cortisol. In a double-blind study, a group of 48 men and 48 women were given capsules containing 0 mg, 300 mg, and 600 mg of caffeine in three divided doses for five days. On the sixth day, each subject was given either 250 mg or 0 mg of caffeine at 9:00 am, 1:00 pm, and 6:00 pm. Results of the study showed that those abstaining from caffeine showed increased cortisol levels, while those who had taken 300 mg or 600 mg of caffeine reduced their cortisol levels in the mornings before getting elevated in the afternoon and evening. This study suggests that regular caffeine intake causes a partial tolerance to caffeine’s effect on cortisol secretion, forcing your body to produce even more cortisol to compensate.2 Caffeine has also been shown in numerous studies to contribute to stress-based hypertension (high blood pressure).3
This increased cortisol has an effect on nearly all aspects of health, including your skin. Studies show that increased cortisol production (a result of psychological stress) is linked to a breakdown in skin barrier function. A deterioration in your skin’s natural protective functions may contribute to acne breakouts and other skin problems.4
Coffee Increases Stress
Caffeine’s effects on cortisol invariably results in more stress, a known contributor to acne. Researchers have considered a link between the brain and skin known as the brain-skin connection. This connection suggests a complex link between psychological stress and the onset or aggravation of numerous skin conditions, such as acne, atopic dermatitis, and psoriasis. These result from the potential pro-inflammatory responses caused by stress.5
Stress has also been found to increase the severity of existing acne. In a study, 94 secondary school students (with an average age of 14.9 years) were examined for effects of psychological stress on acne. Researchers evaluated each student during high stress conditions (before mid-year exams) and low stress conditions (summer holidays) based on self-reported stress levels, sebum levels, and acne severity. Self-reported acne prevalence was generally high with 95 percent of male students and 92% of female students reporting cases of mild to moderate acne. While sebum levels did not show significant changes between low and high stress conditions, the population as a whole showed a positive correlation between stress levels and acne formation, particularly in the male students.6 This suggests that stress has a direct effect on acne severity.
Coffee increases inflammatory markers
Coffee consumption shows a complex effect on the inflammatory response according to a meta-study of 15 clinical trials involving coffee and caffeine. The meta-study found that caffeine consumption may increase production of certain pro-inflammatory markers, like interleukin-6, but coffee may present some anti-inflammatory action.7
In a cross-sectional survey of 1,514 men and 1,528 women, researchers evaluated participants based on coffee consumption and inflammatory markers, including C-reactive protein, interleukin-6, and serum amyloid-A. Results of the study found that men and women who consumed at least 200mL of coffee per day had significantly higher inflammatory markers compared to coffee nondrinkers. This suggests an association between moderate to high coffee consumption and increased inflammation.8
Coffee is also naturally acidic as beverages made from roasted beans or grains have a high acidity. That acidity can potentially contribute to inflammation in the gut and throughout the body. This also applies to decaf coffee as well as coffees brewed from grains instead of beans.9
Acne and Inflammation
The link between coffee and inflammation is significant as inflammation plays a primary role in the pathology and formation of acne. Previous research showed that P. acnes colonization of ducts in the sebaceous follicle naturally resulted in an inflammatory response, but more recent research suggests that inflammation occurs in nearly all stages of acne formation, even prior to the introduction of the P. acnes bacteria. This also supports the use of prescription anti-inflammatory drugs when treating acne.10
Limiting Coffee in Your Life
While a single cup of coffee will not make or break your acne, consuming moderate to high amounts of coffee on a daily basis may exacerbate your acne. Thankfully, you can make some simple changes in your lifestyle to limit your coffee intake.
If you need caffeine to get through your day, black and green teas are the healthier options. Green tea is particularly helpful as it is not acidic and contains antioxidants and anti-inflammatory components. This can help to potentially counterbalance the effects of coffee consumption. Teas are also helpful for those unable to completely remove coffee from their routines. For example, if you normally drink three to four cups of coffee, drink one cup in the morning and then switch to green tea in the afternoon. This can help you gradually wean yourself off of coffee while still getting the caffeine you need.9
Schedule Morning Coffees with Breakfast
It’s always better to drink your coffee in the morning, before your natural stress response has had time to ramp up. Furthermore, avoid drinking coffee on an empty stomach. Doing so may trigger the stress response even more intensely, resulting in high cortisol levels in the morning.9
Coffee has the potential to cause and worsen acne because of its effects on stress, cortisol production, and the inflammatory response. Reducing your coffee consumption or switching to tea may help to clear your skin while still giving you the caffeine that you need to get through the day.
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