The Truth About Coffee And Acne

does coffee really cause acne?

Coffee. We love it: the smell, the ritual, the first sip of coffee in the morning. Our society seems to be fueled by coffee. It has been praised at having a wide range of health benefits including reducing the risk of various chronic diseases, reducing inflammation and supporting gut health [1]. But is your regular morning coffee causing your acne?

There is yet to be a clear-cut answer to that question. But what we do know is that the way you drink it, when you drink it, how much you consume and how your body processes caffeine all contribute to coffee causing acne. Every person’s tolerance to coffee is different.

Why Coffee can Cause Acne

1. Caffeine Causes Stress

Caffeine causes the release of the stress hormone, cortisol, which triggers an increase in the amount of waxy oil (known as sebum) being produced on the skin. This increased sebum mixes with skin cells, traps bacteria and clogs the pore causing inflammation and acne [2].

This gets even worse if you drink coffee when your already stressed (I mean who doesn’t want/need that caffeine hit when your extra busy and stressed). One study showed that a person who was stressed and consumed caffeine had a cortisol increase of 211% compared to stress without caffeine. That means WAY more cortisol in your body causing even more havoc on your skin [3]. 

Caffeine can also affects estrogen metabolism – another hormone responsible for acne [4]. 

2. The Add Ins

Adding things like animal milk, sugar and syrups to your morning coffee is more likely to be the culprit of acne than the coffee itself. Milk and sugar both trigger the release of insulin growth factor (IGF-1). This hormone stimulates the production of male hormones (such as testosterone), increases skin cells, produces even more sebum and skin inflammation. All of which trigger acne [5]. Dairy and sugar are not friends with your skin if you’re acne prone.

3. Disrupts Your Sleep

Maybe you’re one of the 90% of people that consume caffeine in the afternoon. If so, it may not be the best thing for your sleep. Because studies show that a moderate intake of caffeine, even as long as 6 hours before bed, can result in sleep disturbances [6].

Poor sleep, increases cortisol (which we know is negative for our skin) and prevents our bodies from repairing and rejuvenating our cells – which is especially important if you have acne. Even if you don’t usually have acne-prone skin, a lack of sleep can cause what is known as ‘occasional acne’ [7]. Beauty sleep really is a thing!

4. Dehydrates the Body

In order to have healthy, glowing skin hydration is key – and that’s not going to happen just by using a hydrating moisturiser. Keeping hydrated with water means the body is able to flush out toxins, carry nutrients and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles on the skin. We’re talking consuming at least 2L of water a day. And as coffee is a natural diuretic – meaning that it increases the production of urine – you’ll have to drink even more to resupply yourself with the water you lose.

5. Increases Blood Glucose

Do you reach for a cup of coffee first thing in the morning to wake you up? Studies show that consuming a strong black coffee before breakfast increases the blood sugar response from your breakfast by around 50% [8]. A higher increase in blood sugar spikes insulin and the release of IGF-1 which causes acne.

6. Coffee has mould and pesticides

Coffee is one of the most chemically sprayed crops in the world with pesticides and insecticides. Studies have shown that pesticide residue still can exist in commercial coffee even once processed.[9]

In isolation the residue might not be a lot, but if you have cystic, chronic acne you already have a bucket-load of inflammation and a very overburdened liver. Add in these pesticides and mould toxins and your body can start to push out these excess toxins through your largest elimination organ – your skin.

7. How you Process caffeine

Ever get super jittery or anxious after 1 cup of coffee whereas your friend can drink 8 cups a day and feels fine? It has to do with your genetics. Caffeine is processed by an enzyme in the liver. However a large percentage of the population are slow at processing caffeine. If you’re one of these lucky people (like me!), it means that caffeine stays longer in your system which means your sleep is affected, your cortisol stays elevated longer and it also increases your risk for heart disease than our faster caffeine processors [10]. Higher amount of cortisol for longer + affected sleep = not great for your skin.

This is why even though I LOVE coffee, I don’t tolerate it well – it makes me jittery, causes little pimples and I literally cannot sleep even if I have it at 8am. I’m a decaf, oat milk girl.

8. Over-burdening your liver

Caffeine gets processed and cleared through the liver. Caffeine is prioritised just like alcohol (like a move to the front of the line situation), which interferes with your normal liver detoxification [11].

So when your liver is already overworked with environmental and internal toxins, gut issues, or excess hormones, it can cause the excess toxins to be pushed out through our skin causing acne.

How to make an acne-friendly coffee

  • Avoid regular animal milk and added sugar– even though those pumpkin-spiced lattes with cream look amazing, maybe try an almond milk latte instead (or any other plant-based milk).
  • Eat firstdon’t drink coffee on an empty stomach first thing in the morning, wait until you’ve had breakfast (or at least an hour after waking). In the morning your cortisol is already high, and when you have caffeine first thing it increases this cortisol level. When you have caffeine with or after food, it slows the time in which caffeine enters the blood stream and reduces the peak caffeine concentration [12].
  • Hydrate! – hydrating before having coffee reduces the cortisol spike.
  • Reduce your coffee to just 1 cup a day – if you’re a multiple a day person try to wean down the amount of coffee you consume (that doesn’t mean a quadruple shot)
  • Buy organic coffee beans where able – this reduces the prevalence of mould and pesticides.
  • Make a caffeine swap – if it’s caffeine your after: swap coffee for tea, matcha, decaf (swiss-water processed) or coffee brands that include things like adaptogenic mushrooms which will stabilise the high cortisol spike. Also beneficial to do this in the second part of your cycle if you normally can handle coffee well.

But what if coffee’s still causing acne?

If you have persistent, cystic acne, it’s a sign that your body is inflamed. Caffeine and coffee can trigger more inflammation and add to an already full bucket of inflammation. Try removing coffee for a month and see how your skin and body feels. Yes I get it, no one likes to hear they can’t drink coffee. So here are some great alternatives to fill the void in your morning ritual or give you the caffeine hit you need for that long meeting at work:

  • Hot Cacaocacao has a tiny amount of caffeine and other stimulating compounds. So you still get that increased energy and focus that we want without the rise and crash rollercoaster coffee has. Note cacao is different from a commercial sugar laden hot chocolate like cadburys.
  • Tea and Matcha – both black, white and green teas have a lower percentage of caffeine compared to coffee. Green tea and matcha in particular, have phytonutrients that bind to the caffeine meaning it is gives a slower released energy boost. It has also been shown to block cortisol producing enzymes and could potentially cause a reduction in stress [13,14].
  • Dandy chai – has a similar coffee-like taste, with no caffeine and added liver detoxifying benefits.
  • Switch to DecafLove the taste of coffee? Decaf only has around 3% of caffeine still present after the decaffeination process [15]. Tip: chose the brands that use the swiss-water method instead of the chemical decaffeination process to prevent added chemicals to your coffee.

Let me know your experience in the comments below. Have you found stopping or reducing coffee helped with your acne? What are your favourite coffee alternatives?

All my love, and then some

Monique xx


  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28826374/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5722010
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2195579/
  4. https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/nih-study-shows-caffeine-consumption-linked-estrogen-changes
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5318522/
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3805807/
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6489559/
  8. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/10/201002091053.htm.
  9. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpubh.2022.1004570/full. I
  10. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16522833/
  11.  https://drhyman.com/blog/2016/07/14/is-coffee-good-or-bad-for-you/
  12.  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22964452/
  13. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24404164/
  14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6213777/
  15. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17132260/

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