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Does Coffee Cause, Worsen or Affect Acne?

woman holding a white cup

It seems like everyone thinks they’re a doctor these days. The internet makes it so easy to access information but also common for people to spread misinformation. It’s harder than ever to separate fact from fiction and nearly impossible to tell what’s true and what’s not.

If you drink coffee and have acne, we’re willing to bet that someone at some point in your life has told you that coffee causes acne. They probably meant well, but the truth is there is no evidence that coffee causes acne. You might think that’s the end of the story, but coffee could make acne worse if you already have it, especially if you drink it with milk and sugar. In this article, we’re going to dispel the myth that coffee causes acne and explain what to do if you have acne and are concerned about making it worse.

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An Indirect Link Between Caffeine & Acne

You probably know that coffee contains caffeine since—let’s be honest—that’s at least half the reason why you drink it every morning. Caffeine is safe in small amounts, up to about 400 milligrams per day for the average healthy adult. Consuming more than that can have side effects, including sleeplessness, anxiety, and irritability, and this is where the link to acne comes in.

Acne isn’t caused by stress, but people with acne could experience worsening acne when they’re under a lot of stress or when caffeine artificially induces a stress response. What’s more, drinking too much coffee can lead to insomnia, and a lack of sleep causes stress, creating a runaway train of anxiety and sleeplessness that could make acne worse.

woman hands holding a cup of coffee
Image Credit: Brittney Burnett, Unsplash

What You Take In Your Coffee May Affect Your Acne

Milk

If you drink black coffee, you only need to moderate your caffeine intake to keep acne at bay, but you could inadvertently make your acne worse if you take milk and sugar in your coffee.

There is a large body of evidence that suggests that drinking milk makes acne worse. One particular study examined 47,355 women looking for a link between milk consumption and acne. The results were clear and showed a statistically significant link between drinking milk and acne severity. The women who drank the most milk were more likely to have acne than the women who drank less milk.

Unlike caffeine, milk directly causes acne, so you should avoid milk in your coffee if you have acne since drinking even small amounts of milk in your coffee each day could be contributing to the problem.

woman drinking coffee
Image Credit: Ketut Subiyanto, Pexels

Sugar

We’re sorry to have to be the bearers of more bad news, but sugar consumption is also strongly linked with acne. Adding small amounts of sugar will have small effects, but the real trouble starts with overly sugary drinks from coffee chains. Some Starbucks specialty flavored lattes, for example, have as much sugar as an average can of soda. A high volume of sugar in your diet will cause insulin spikes which subsequently cause acne outbreaks.

One study showed how insulin spikes trigger certain hormones to be released, which then can cause acne to develop. If you want to be safe, using a teaspoon or two of sugar in your coffee is probably safe, but ditch the sugary lattes.

black coffee with white and brown sugar

Healthier Alternatives To Curb Acne Breakouts

If you’re prone to acne and want to make dietary changes to help quell the outbreaks, cutting milk and sugar out of your coffee could go a long way to helping rid you of your pesky pimples. One idea is to swap dairy milk for a non-dairy alternative like almond milk or oat milk. Only dairy milk has a link with acne, so using a non-dairy substitute allows you to circumvent the problem.

Sugar can also contribute to acne, so stick with low-sugar drinks when you’re ordering at your local coffee shop. Taking a teaspoon of sugar in your coffee is unlikely to have a large effect, but if you want to be on the safe side, you should avoid sugar as much as possible.

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Conclusion

Coffee itself doesn’t cause acne directly, but excessive caffeine consumption can increase stress levels, leading to acne outbreaks. Milk and sugar have a more direct impact since both are well-known drivers of acne formation.

Limiting your caffeine consumption, choosing a non-dairy milk alternative, and reducing how much sugar you use are all good ways to make sure coffee isn’t fueling your acne. If you make these changes and still experience significant breakouts, the root cause is probably something other than coffee.


Featured Image Credit: Pixabay, Pexels

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Kate MacDonnell

Kate is a lifelong coffee enthusiast and homebrewer who enjoys writing for coffee websites and sampling every kind of coffee known to man. She’s tried unusual coffees from all over the world and owns an unhealthy amount of coffee gear.

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