Does coffee cause acne? Your daily java could be triggering skin problems

If you’re a daily caffeine drinker, you may be wondering: does coffee cause acne?

close-up shot of espresso dripping into a cup next to a close-up shot of a girl with acne touching her face on a grid design colorful background
(Image credit: Future/Getty)

There’s a lot to love about coffee. It can be served hot or cold, with or without sweetener or cream, and best of all, it gives you energy. But there’s a rumor going around that this tasty beverage can lead to breakouts. So what’s the deal—does coffee cause acne?

If you’re having issues with acne, there are many changes you can make to your routine. Switching to the best foundation for acne-prone skin might help, or you could talk to your dermatologist about medical treatments. You might even benefit from making changes to your diet or sleep schedule. It can be hard to tell what’s causing your acne. Is it possible that it’s coffee? Skincare experts weigh in.

Does coffee cause acne?

For some people, there’s nothing more satisfying than that morning cup of joe. You may think it’s a guilty pleasure, but when consumed in a healthy way, it’s not nearly as bad as you may have heard.

“Coffee is one of the most popular beverages in the world. Many health professionals believe it’s also one of the healthiest,” says Dr. Ailynne Marie Vergara-Wijangco, owner of VW Dermatology Clinic (opens in new tab). “For some people, it’s the single largest source of antioxidants in their diet, outranking both fruits and vegetables combined.”

In its purest form, coffee can be a healthy, natural drink with lots of nutritional value. That extra whip mocha frappuccino is a different story, but a trusty cup of black coffee is full of vitamins, magnesium potassium, antioxidants, and more. 

But can it still cause skin problems? Experts say coffee itself isn’t the culprit.

“There is no research to suggest that coffee worsens acne,” says Elle MacLeman, skincare biochemist for The Derm Review (opens in new tab). “In fact, coffee contains a number of antioxidants which may be beneficial to your skin’s health."

Alternative causes of acne that might be the problem

"There may be a few reasons why cutting out your daily (or tri-daily) cuppa may help reduce the severity of your acne," adds Elle.

Experts say the reasons your acne might be correlated with coffee consumption are:

Stress

“Stress is known to have a detrimental effect on your skin’s health, particularly acne-prone skin,” says Elle. “Caffeine is a stimulant and may contribute to your body’s stress response, especially if you are using it to get through a big project at work.”

When you’re stressed out, adding stimulants like caffeine to your diet will only worsen the problem. Consider something more relaxing, like chamomile tea.

Lack of sleep

Coffee gives you energy, which is great in the morning. But drink it too late in the day, and you could have trouble sleeping.

“Alongside water, sleep is one of the most important factors that contributes to skin health, and drinking coffee will affect your ability to sleep deeply,” says Hollie Simpson, founder of Our Skin Academy.

If you find yourself reaching for a cup of coffee in the afternoon, consider an alternative. “Drink plenty of mineral water and herbal teas, and watch your skin and sleep improve,” Hollie recommends.

Additions to coffee

While the coffee itself probably isn’t the cause of your acne, the things you put in it—milk and sugar, specifically—just might be.

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (opens in new tab) estimates that 68% of the world’s population is lactose intolerant. If you’re part of this group and you consume dairy anyway, “you're likely to see some level of inflammation in your body or face, which can exacerbate acne,” explains Hollie. “One of the ways we treat conditions like inflamed acne is by identifying the triggers. Try cutting lactose out of your diet and see if your skin changes for the better.”

Sugar can be just as—if not more—harmful to your skin. “Sugar is in essence a stimulant when taken in its refined form,” says Hollie. “When you eat or drink large amounts of refined sugar in one sitting, your body will release a large spike of adrenaline, which directly stimulates the sebaceous glands within the skin. When these glands are stimulated, they will release more oil, which contributes to the development of acne.”

Sugar can also worsen inflamed acne. “Sugar is to inflammation what petrol is to fire,” Hollie adds.

Can’t give up coffee? Make these changes instead

Coffee is an important part of many people’s lives. It’s not only delicious, but it’s stimulating, making it a staple of many morning routines. If you suspect that the way you consume coffee is impacting your skin, but can’t abandon coffee altogether, there are plenty of other changes you can make.

Ditch the sugar

“Avoid loading your coffee with added sugar,” recommends Dr. Vergara-Wijangco. “Instead, you can flavor your coffee by adding a dash of cinnamon or cocoa.” 

You can even experiment with flavored beans to give your coffee a lighter, sweeter taste. Hazelnut- and vanilla-flavored coffee beans are popular and delicious ways to add some flavor to your morning drink.

Switch to a dairy alternative

If dairy is the problem, you could switch to a non-dairy alternative, like almond milk or oat milk. There are even non-dairy creamers in plenty of tasty flavors.

Set a coffee curfew

“Also, consider abstaining from coffee in the late afternoon and evening, as it may impair the quality of your sleep,” Dr. Vergara-Wijangco adds. Stick to one or two cups of coffee in the morning.

If you have a craving in the afternoon or you absolutely need a boost, consider something with a little less caffeine than coffee, like black or green tea. You could even try to wean yourself off caffeine by gradually mixing in decaf coffee with the regular.

Regardless of what you decide, you can take solace in knowing that coffee alone is very unlikely to be the root of your acne problem. By making these subtle changes to your coffee-drinking habits, you can enjoy your favorite beverage in a much healthier way.

My Imperfect Life thanks Dr. Ailynne Marie Vergara-Wijangco of VW Dermatology Clinic, Elle MacLeman of The Derm Review, and Hollie Simpson of Our Skin Academy for their time and expertise.

The My Imperfect Life team is all about helping you navigate your world. We bring you the latest on fashion, beauty, travel and wellness so you can live life on your terms.