I love coffee -- the taste, the smell, the creative buzz it gives me. I love cuddling up to a hot coffee on a cold morning, or drinking it iced in the summer. Unfortunately, my body doesn't seem to lust for coffee as much as my brain does. Coffee seriously worsens my acne.
Coffee, like gluten and alcohol, is one of those things that health professionals flip flop on. Some say it's good, some say it's bad, some say it's best in moderation –- no one can really agree here. I'm not going to argue that coffee doesn't have health benefits, or say it's terrible for you.
Coffee contains those antioxidants everyone is always talking about, as well as lignans, and a slew of other good-for-yous. Studies have shown coffee can be beneficial for your heart and brain function, but more interestingly, coffee is apparently good for battling depression. So while I won't say coffee is universally bad, what I will say is that for those of us who struggle with acne, coffee will add insult to injury.
I've been battling hormonal acne since I went off the pill four years ago, and it has been super hellish. For a year or two, a very specific regimen of vitamins seemed to help, and then all of a sudden, they didn't. While I would like to be able to cure my acne with topical treatments, I know that my skin is a sign of a larger problem -- my hormones are screwy, and the evidence is all over my face.
I've seen a ton of different doctors—from straight-laced Western med types to homeopaths and naturalists. One thing most of them agree on is that my beloved morning cup (or four) is screwing with my hormones, and therefore, my face.
But before I go into why coffee can mess with your skin, let me address the first question I had when my doc sacrilegiously suggested I forgo my beloved morning latte:
Is it just caffeine, or coffee specifically, that provokes acne? Unlike other, gentler forms of caffeine, coffee is acidic, which heightens the majority of the issues I list below. Most teas are void of high acidity, and ideally teas with lower doses of caffeine are fine, like green and white teas.
So here is the low-down on coffee, and why it can clog up your face:
Coffee stresses out your body. High doses of acidic caffeine activates your sympathetic nervous system -- or stress hormones -- according to nutritionist Paula Simpson. It triggers that fight-or-flight response, firing up your adrenal glands, thus pumping out excess stress hormones, called catecholamines. This is bad news for your skin, especially if you're acne-prone. The stress hormones that prep you for fight-or-flight (like cortisol) also trigger acne by causing your skin's oil production to go into hyperdrive, producing more sebum (oil) which makes you shiny and further clogs your pores. Yum. Additionally, coffee heightens your body’s inflammation levels, which makes existing acne more red and swollen.
Coffee messes with your blood sugar levels. “Elevated stress hormones offset insulin sensitivity and balance,” explained Simpson. According to Simpson, excess insulin can cause excess sebum production, interrupt skin cell renewal cycles and trigger inflammation in the body. All three factors can increase acne.
Coffee messes with your gut. Coffee can cause this nasty thing called “leaky gut syndrome,” a terrible-sounding condition that occurs when the junctions in your intestinal lining weaken and break, disrupting important nutrient absorption. Coffee is one of these disruptors. What happens here is that the high acidity in coffee annihilates your happy tummy flora and allows bad bacteria to fester. This inflames your gut, which not only leads to gut leakage but also causes inflammation, which heightens the blotchy, red look of any pre-existing acne.
So it has been about six months since my doc told me to ditch coffee. At first I balked, then I whimpered, and then I started weaning.
I went from three or four cups a day to one. Then I switched from one cup to multiple cups of green tea. By the time I had whittled my habit down to two cups of green tea, my skin was looking better. I had fewer breakouts and what breakouts I did have were much, much less angry-looking.
After about three months, my skin looked pretty good. Then I went to visit my coffee-peddling parents for three weeks. Every morning I would sip on some green tea while the smell of sexy, sexy french vanilla drifted out of the dastardly French press. Within three days, I had folded. By the time my three-week journey was over, I was back to three cups a day. And my skin looked like hell.
And so, with a heavy, coffee-loving heart, I am back to weaning myself off the good stuff. Hopefully it will help regulate my hormones and clear up my skin.
Does coffee mess with your skin?