People love coffee. A whole lot of people love a whole lot of coffee, in fact, making it the single most popular beverage on the planet, with some 2.2 billion people enjoying a cup or three on any given day.
Humans have loved their coffee for a very long time – and we’ve been interested in the effects of coffee on our health just as long.
After coffee migrated across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe, one enthusiastic London pamphlet from the mid-1600s touting coffee’s benefits claimed it could cure tuberculosis, dropsy (aka edema), gout, and scurvy, and that it was especially good for children and older people.
However, while our enthusiasm for coffee hasn’t waned over the years, more science has come to light regarding some of the other effects of coffee on our health, including the side effects of coffee on skin.
Here we’ll take a closer look at the question of is coffee bad for skin, and more specifically, caffeine effects on skin.
But first, let’s take a closer look at what coffee actually is, what it contains, and what it does for us.
Coffee on skin: Caffeine and so much more
The first thing to understand when you want to look more closely at the question of is drinking coffee bad for your skin is what’s actually in your morning cuppa joe.
We can naturally slip into thinking of coffee as being just a delicious delivery system for caffeine, simply a means for giving us that extra kick we need to get started in the morning or to get through the slow times.
But the fact of the matter is there’s a lot more going on in there than just being a tasty liquid version of petrol station “speed” tablets.
Coffee is actually thought to be the single biggest source of antioxidants in the Western diet for most people. These vital substances are naturally occurring in fruits and vegetables, and they’re found in vitamins E and C.
Side effects of coffee on skin: Antioxidants
According to the free radical theory of aging, antioxidants fight the effects of oxidation on the cells in your body by attacking free radicals we accumulate from our diet and environment, and helping to prevent the damage they cause.
That all sounds quite abstract and sciencey until you realize that free radicals are thought to be at least partially to blame for a host of health issues, including inflammation, diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
So next time someone criticizes your coffee-drinking activities, just look at them completely deadpan and say, “So I guess you’d rather I die of cancer then?”
That one always works.
Coffee, skin and anti-aging
So that’s all well and good, but when it comes to the specifics of the effects of coffee on skin, and how antioxidants may play a role, we have to look even closer.
For starters, we know that skin wrinkles, fine lines, brown spots and even skin cancer have a causal component of the skin being under attack from free radicals.
We also know that eating a diet rich in whole foods like fruits and vegetables that contain an abundance of antioxidants help to keep free radicals in check, as does taking supplements that contain antioxidants.
So while there aren’t a ton of studies out there showing a direct link between side effects of coffee on skin and anti-aging benefits, the link to coffee as an important source of antioxidants is absolutely proven.
Caffeine effects on skin: Dehydration
Another common objection to coffee drinking as a threat to your skin health is the claim that it dehydrates you, and thus causes skin damage.
There is some truth in this supposition, at least in theory. The caffeine contained in coffee is in fact a diuretic, meaning it’s a substance that increases the flow of urine.
As anyone who has ever regretted that third cup of coffee before boarding the metro in the morning knows, coffee can definitely make you pee more.
So, people suggest, since coffee makes you urinate more, thus causing the body to shed water, thus causing you to get dehydrated, it follows that coffee causes your skin to age prematurely.
But let’s take a step back: did you start to notice all the extra levels and jumps along the way that we had to take to get to the point where “coffee is going to dry out your skin and make you look like an alligator briefcase before your 30th birthday?”
Side effects of coffee on skin: The Science
The fact of the matter is, the bulk of the evidence points to caffeine being a very mild diuretic at most, meaning that blaming coffee for your wrinkles isn’t really supported by the science.
For instance, the University of Connecticut did a meta-study of 10 previous studies that purported to show how dehydrating caffeine is.
They found that 12 of the 15 comparisons contained within those studies showed no difference in urination between subjects who drank caffeine-laced water or plain water.
Another study showed that there was no difference in hydration between people who drank caffeinated beverages and those who just drank water.
So, again, while it may be true that caffeine is a mild diuretic, to leap to the conclusion that coffee is definitely going to age your skin seems pretty far-fetched. Maybe hydrate a little more when you drink coffee? Crazy idea, sure, but…
Side effects of coffee on skin: Acne
One common concern among coffee-drinkers is the possibility that coffee can cause acne break-outs, or that it might make your acne worse. There is a grain of truth in this one also, according to science, but only a grain.
For starters, there is no evidence that caffeine is a direct cause of acne.
However, acne is strongly correlated with stress. While the actual causes of acne aren’t fully understood, it’s widely believed that stress aggravates acne break-outs.
This is because when you experience stress, your body releases the hormone cortisol, which can also trigger your body to release insulin.
This in turn causes inflammation along with causing your body to overproduce oil, both of which make you more susceptible to acne.
And, yes, multiple studies have shown that caffeine does cause the body to release cortisol and thus mimics the body’s response to stress, which can aggravate acne.
However, the good news for coffee addicts is that when you drink coffee daily, studies have also shown that your body adapts and reduces the amount of cortisol it releases.
Another twist in the coffee/acne connection that often slips through the cracks is that many people don’t consider what they’re putting in their coffee.
If you drink massive, sugary, caramel/hazelnut/chocolate beverages with whipped cream on top, it’s hardly fair to blame the poor, lonely shot of espresso hiding underneath it all for your acne.
And it’s not just sugar.
Science has established a link between casein and whey – a pair of proteins found in milk – to skin inflammation and acne.
So the bottom line is if you are susceptible to acne, maybe cut out the dairy and sugar and learn to love your coffee black.
Is coffee good for your skin?
So we’ve looked at some of the ways coffee and caffeine have been (mostly unfairly) blamed for skin problems. Is it possible that coffee is actually good for your skin?
Maybe so – here are a few of the good side effects of coffee on skin:
Cellulite reduction – Either topically applied or as a beverage, coffee is thought to help reduce cellulite by dilating blood vessels beneath the skin.
Anti-aging – Coffee directly applied to the skin can help reduce the appearance of sun spots, redness and wrinkles. One study showed drinking coffee reduced photoaging effects of UV exposure.
Vitamin B3 – Coffee contains Vitamin B3, aka niacin, which is a well-known counter to melanoma and other skin cancers.
Topical skin treatments – Coffee is believed to be a help in combating dark circles under the eyes due to dilating blood vessels, and the antibiotic and anti-inflammatory effects of coffee are said to help reduce acne and help wounds heal faster when applied topically. Another topical use is that it can help ease sunburn.
Is coffee good for your skin? Ask the people who love these products – including us!
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This article contains general nutritional tips and advice. However, no diet or exercise program should be started without consulting your physician or other industry professional first. For more information read our full disclaimer here.