Does Coffee Cause Acne?


Coffee. For many of us, it’s an indispensable part of our daily routine. But could our favorite caffeinated beverage actually be causing breakouts?

Acne is a common skin condition that affects people of all ages. It shows up as everything from blackheads and whiteheads to inflamed red pimples.

Does Coffee Cause Acne

While acne has many potential causes - like hormones, genetics, and stress - diet is one factor that is often debated. This brings up an important question:

Does coffee cause acne?

In this post, we’ll explore the potential links between coffee and acne. We’ll look at the research, weigh the different sides, and come to a clear conclusion backed by science and facts.

Here’s a quick overview of what we’ll cover:

  • The debate around coffee and acne
  • Does caffeine cause acne? A look at the science
  • Do the ingredients in coffee cause acne?
  • Does drinking coffee make acne worse?
  • Tips for drinking coffee if you have acne-prone skin

By the end of this post, you’ll know how coffee affects acne and have science-based advice for managing your caffeine habits if you’re acne-prone.

The Debate Around Coffee and Acne

If you’ve searched for info around diet and acne, you’ve likely come across mixed opinions about coffee.

Some people claim cutting out coffee cleared up their skin. Others say their daily coffee habit hasn’t made acne worse at all.

So what gives? Is coffee innocent, or is it a pimple culprit?

This debate exists because coffee hasn’t been directly studied in relation to acne very much. But we do know some key pieces of information.

Here’s an overview of the cases for and against coffee when it comes to acne:

The case against coffee:

  • Caffeine causes inflammation, which may worsen acne
  • Coffee can spike blood sugar and insulin levels, which can drive acne
  • Some ingredients like milk and sugar may cause acne

The case for coffee:

  • No large studies directly link coffee to acne
  • For most people, coffee doesn’t seem to affect acne substantially
  • Limiting coffee intake alone rarely clears acne

As you can see, there are fair arguments on both sides. So which one is right?

The best way to determine coffee’s effects on acne is by looking at the specific components in coffee - like caffeine, dairy, and sugar - and how they impact acne.

We’ll start by examining caffeine itself.

Does Caffeine Cause Acne? A Look at The Science

Caffeine is the key active compound in coffee responsible for that energizing, alert effect.

It’s a stimulant that works by blocking adenosine receptors in the brain. Adenosine promotes sleepiness, so blocking it keeps you awake and aware.

But what does caffeine have to do with acne? There are a couple potential links.

Caffeine May Promote Inflammation

Acne forms when pores get clogged by dead skin and oils. This allows skin bacteria like P. acnes to multiply and cause inflammation.

Research shows caffeine may increase inflammation throughout the body.

For example, a 2015 study in the Journal of Physiology found caffeine consumption increased several inflammatory markers like IL-6 and IL-1β in both lean and obese women.

So in theory, caffeine may stoke inflammatory processes involved in acne by raising inflammatory chemicals. However, this hasn’t been proven specifically in human acne research yet.

Caffeine Can Raise Cortisol and Insulin Levels

Caffeine activates the sympathetic nervous system, part of the body’s “fight or flight” stress response. This leads to increased levels of hormones like cortisol and adrenaline.

High cortisol prolongs inflammation and is linked to acne. Some research also associates acne with high insulin levels, which caffeine may raise as well.

However, studies show caffeine only seems to spike cortisol and insulin levels temporarily in people who don’t regularly consume it.

Your body builds up a tolerance to caffeine's effects with habitual intake. So for coffee drinkers, caffeine is less likely to influence acne-related hormones day-to-day.

Overall, caffeine may play a theoretical role in acne by increasing inflammation, cortisol, and insulin. But the current research can’t say conclusively yet whether it has real-world effects on breakouts for most people.

Now let’s look at how other compounds in coffee, like milk and sugar, factor in.

Do The Ingredients in Coffee Cause Acne?

Coffee itself is naturally low on the glycemic index. But what you add to coffee can affect its acne-influencing properties.

Dairy Milk

Most studies don’t find a direct link between dairy and acne.

However, some research indicates dairy may worsen acne symptoms in people with existing breakouts:

  • One 2005 study found acne lesions increased after drinking milk, but not yogurt or cheese. The author hypothesized milk contains components that drive acne.
  • Multiple studies show a higher acne prevalence in populations that consume more milk and ice cream.

There are a couple theories on how dairy milk may promote acne:

Hormones: Dairy milk contains hormones like insulin growth factor 1 (IGF-1), which may increase sebum production and inflammation.

High glycemic index: Unfermented dairy products like milk have a high glycemic index, meaning they cause substantial spikes in blood sugar. This stimulates insulin release, which can worsen acne.

Overall, more research is needed directly examining milk and acne. But based on the current evidence, dairy milk in coffee could theoretically worsen breakouts for some people.


Adding sugar to coffee means extra carbs and calories that can influence blood sugar levels.

Sugary drinks like soda are associated with a higher acne risk in adults. Since refined sugars spike blood sugar quickly, sugar in coffee could have similar effects.

However, the amount of sugar we add to coffee is generally quite small compared to other high-sugar foods and drinks.

While artificial sweeteners like aspartame and saccharin don’t directly spike blood sugar, some early research indicates they may worsen acne as well.

Overall, added sugars in coffee probably only pose a problem if consumed excessively. But limiting sugar is wise if you’re acne-prone.

Does Drinking Coffee Make Acne Worse?

Based on the available research, here’s the bottom line on how coffee affects acne:

For most people, moderate coffee intake alone doesn’t seem to worsen acne substantially.

No large observational studies show coffee drinkers have higher acne rates overall. Many people drink coffee daily for years with no effects on their skin.

However, coffee may worsen breakouts in select individuals, especially if you have underlying factors like:

  • Hormonal imbalance
  • Significant insulin resistance
  • Food intolerances like dairy sensitivity
  • High anxiety levels

Coffee won’t directly give you acne if your skin is generally clear. But if you already struggle with acne, coffee could amplify it.

Drinking coffee in excess may also cause issues.

For example, one small study found people drinking ≥3 cups per day for at least a year had more inflammatory acne lesions than those drinking fewer than 3 cups.

The takeaway? Coffee likely isn’t problematic for acne in small to moderate amounts for most people. But adjust your intake if you suspect it worsens your skin.

Tips for Drinking Coffee If You Have Acne-Prone Skin

If you love coffee but have acne, you don’t necessarily have to quit completely. With the right approach, you can drink coffee while keeping skin issues at bay.

Here are some tips to make coffee more acne-friendly:

Stick to 1-2 small/medium cups per day. Consuming large amounts may be more likely to affect acne hormonally.

Choose filtered coffee. Unfiltered coffee contains cafestol, a compound that may raise cholesterol levels linked to acne.

Limit added milk and sugar. Try using naturally low glycemic sweeteners like cinnamon or unsweetened nut milk instead.

Manage stress levels. Chronic stress can make you more sensitive to coffee’s effects on acne-related hormones.

Pay attention to your skin. Notice if you break out after drinking coffee frequently or exceeding your normal amount.

Avoid drinking coffee on an empty stomach. Eat breakfast first to prevent blood sugar spikes.

Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water to counter diuretic effects that may concentrate acne-causing toxins.

Switch to tea instead. Lower caffeine teas have similar benefits without as much potential to disrupt hormones.

Supplement with antioxidants. Nutrients like vitamin C and zinc can combat some acne-provoking effects of coffee.

The key is being aware of how your body reacts to coffee specifically. Limit or avoid it if you find it triggers breakouts. Otherwise, enjoy coffee in moderation as part of an acne-friendly lifestyle.

The Bottom Line: How Coffee Affects Acne

So does coffee cause acne? After reviewing the science, here’s the bottom line:

Coffee likely only worsens acne in susceptible individuals - but limiting intake and avoiding milk/sugar may help if you’re prone to breakouts.

While coffee hasn’t been directly studied regarding acne much, some mechanisms link it theoretically to increased inflammation and hormonal factors involved in acne.

However, moderate coffee intake doesn’t seem to affect acne for most people. The ingredients like milk and sugar probably play more of a role provoking breakouts than plain black coffee itself.

If you have acne, pay attention to how your skin reacts when you drink coffee. Limit your intake and avoid adding high glycemic dairy or sugar if you suspect coffee worsens your breakouts.

Otherwise, enjoying a cup of joe in moderation is fine for many people with acne. Focus on an overall healthy diet and lifestyle to keep skin clear.

Frequently Asked Questions: Does Coffee Cause Acne?

What is acne?

Acne is a common skin condition characterized by clogged pores (blackheads and whiteheads), inflamed pimples, and deeper lumps (cysts or nodules). It usually occurs on the face, forehead, chest, upper back, and shoulders, but can also develop on other areas of the body. Acne is caused by a combination of factors like excess oil production, dead skin cells, acne-causing bacteria, hormones, and genetics.

How could coffee be linked to acne?

There are a few potential ways coffee may be related to acne breakouts:

  • Caffeine affects hormones like cortisol and insulin that can worsen acne. However, research shows caffeine only temporarily spikes these hormones in people who don't regularly consume it.
  • Ingredients added to coffee like dairy milk and sugar can influence acne. Dairy may contain hormones and raise glycemic load, while sugar causes blood sugar spikes.
  • Coffee could potentially aggravate inflammation, which plays a role in acne. But more research is needed on whether caffeine actually increases inflammatory markers enough to affect acne.

Does drinking coffee cause acne breakouts?

For most people, moderate daily coffee consumption does not seem to cause acne or make it worse. Large observational studies show coffee drinkers don't have higher acne rates overall. However, coffee may exacerbate acne in individuals who are already prone to breakouts for reasons like hormones, genetics, dietary sensitivities, and high stress.

How much coffee can you drink if you have acne?

1-2 cups of coffee per day is unlikely to affect acne for most people. However, limiting coffee intake to 1 cup or less per day may be beneficial if you find coffee makes your acne worse. Avoiding excessive amounts of 3+ cups daily may help as well.

Should you avoid coffee if you have acne-prone skin?

You don't necessarily have to cut out coffee altogether if you're acne-prone. But pay attention to your skin's response. Limit coffee intake and avoid adding dairy milk or sugar if you find it tends to worsen your acne. Switching to tea instead can provide a lower-caffeine alternative as well.

Do ingredients added to coffee worsen acne?

Added dairy milk and sugar may exacerbate acne more than black coffee itself, research indicates. Dairy milk contains hormones and raises glycemic load, while added sugar causes blood sugar spikes. Limiting added milk and sugar may make coffee less likely to aggravate acne.

What’s the best way to drink coffee if you have acne?

Tips for making coffee more acne-friendly include: choosing filtered coffee, limiting milk/sugar, avoiding drinking it on an empty stomach, staying hydrated, supplementing with antioxidants like vitamin C, managing stress, and switching to lower-caffeine tea instead.

Should you give up coffee if you have severe acne?

Eliminating coffee may help resolve severe, chronic acne in some cases where coffee seems to be a trigger. Work with a dermatologist and try avoiding coffee for 6-8 weeks to see if skin improves. Reintroduce later in moderation to determine if it worsens acne.

Can coffee benefit your skin?

Some research indicates coffee contains antioxidants that may help protect skin against sun damage. However, more studies are needed on coffee's topical skin benefits. Drinking coffee likely only benefits skin if you don't experience any acne-worsening effects from ingesting it.

What’s the verdict on coffee and acne?

Overall, moderate coffee drinking does not appear to cause acne or substantially worsen it for most people. But individuals prone to breakouts may want to limit intake and avoid adding high-glycemic ingredients to prevent exacerbating acne. Pay attention to your own skin's response to determine coffee's effects on your acne.

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