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True or false: Does caffeine cause acne? One of the most debated questions of all time revolves around a daily cup of coffee. People either need their caffeine fix right when they wake up or precisely at 3 p.m. to get through the workday. Perhaps it's the act of making the coffee itself that is so therapeutic and relaxing. Another debate is what coffee actually does to your body once consumed. Sure, there are plenty of benefits to quitting caffeine, and while some credit quitting with clearer skin, there's more to it.
At its basic core, when ingested, caffeine can mess with your hormone, cortisol, the very same hormone that's released when you're stressed. And as you might know, a stressed body means stressed skin. We consulted with nutrition experts to learn more about caffeine's effect on acne.
What Caffeine Does to the Body
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As the top commonly consumed dietary ingredient in the world, caffeine is a natural stimulant found in coffee beans, cacao beans, and tea leaves. Once consumed, caffeine is quickly absorbed from the gut into the bloodstream, and from there, it travels to the liver and is broken down into compounds that can affect the function of various organs.
Stimulating the brain and central nervous system, caffeine enhances mental alertness and concentration, and reduces fatigue, but it also has side effects. Since it's a natural food, issues with caffeine can occur when done in excess, especially for women and children, and it can result in too many calories or sugar, in the case of caffeine-sweetened beverages. Some of the side effects might include energy spikes, blood sugar cravings, crazy mood swings, and… acne.
But it's not all bad. "Natural caffeine found in coffee, chocolate, and tea contain a variety of compounds that act as antioxidants making them excellent sources," says NYC-based registered dietitian Ruthie Mosseri says. "Antioxidants prevent aging of our cells, inflammation, and oxidative damage. These foods can protect our nerves, improve cognitive function and support heart health. As a result, they can be beneficial for your skin as well since they improve blood circulation."
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"It's important to keep in mind that caffeine is a diuretic, so make sure you are staying hydrated with water (crucial for skin health)! And keep in mind that drinks like coffee on an empty stomach can do more harm than good, so be sure to have your cup of coffee after a meal or with a booster in it like collagen or creamer," says Mosseri. "My recommendation for clients regarding caffeine depends on their ability to process it. If they're not depending on the caffeine for energy then caffeinated drinks can be enjoyed freely. Once they are energy-dependent on caffeine we want to take a step back and support their body first as there may be something deeper going on that requires taking a look at."
The Caffeine-Acne Connection
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"While I've yet to see evidence that caffeine directly triggers acne. It can certainly stimulate the nervous system! For some people who have trouble metabolizing caffeine, it could cause an exaggerated fight or flight nervous system response which can absolutely affect the skin, including increasing the chance of acne formation," shares Sophia Ruiz, aka The Skin Sage. Some of Ruiz's clients are perfectly fine with caffeine, although she's admitted that when others remove caffeinated drinks, their skin clears up, which can be the caffeinated drinks or the dairy that often accompanies them.
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"In general, I think it's always important to have your caffeinated drinks alongside a meal, mainly because the stimulation of the nervous system can increase the demand for fuel. If we don't have any fuel there, our body has to go into a further stressed state to be able to create the fuel that it's missing!" Ruiz says.
Some Better Caffeine Options
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Test your caffeine limits and replace one cup of coffee with matcha that has half the amount of caffeine, or green tea, which has a fourth of the amount. They both can give you a boost of energy without raising cortisol levels too high. Plus, you can never not benefit from extra antioxidants. Ruiz also shares that matcha and green tea seem to be better sources of caffeine, because of the L-theanine content, which supports calmness.
Or try something like Truvani, a plant-based protein and collagen mixture that gives you that focus fuel without the heavy crash. The satiating, muscle-supporting protein, contains organic coffee powder, coffee berry extract, and hand-picked adaptogens that will supercharge your day with 12g of protein and 87 mg of caffeine per serving (it's equal to a cup of coffee).
What About Caffeine in Skincare Products?
Not surprisingly, caffeine is also used in skincare products for its ability to reduce puffiness and increase circulation, plus it can come without any negative side effects that you might get when ingesting caffeine.
Is your favorite thing about coffee the delicious fragrance? Try this scrub from Drunk Elephant, which is every bit tantalizing with the rich aroma of coffee beans, brown sugar, and almond milk. Moisturizing and packed with antioxidants, the scrub exfoliates dead skin cells and buffs dry spots, leaving skin the softest it's ever been. Just try not to be tempted to taste it—you have been warned!
The key to clear skin is exfoliating, and this product from Youth to the People is a super-charged, microdermabrasion treatment that leaves skin incredibly radiant and smooth. Containing highly caffeinated extracts from yerba mate and guayusa, as well as physical exfoliants from papaya and pineapple, that break down the dead skin cells, smooth texture, and keep the skin acne-free.
Give your skin a refreshing boost of hydration and glow with the help of the Ready Selfie Go Fresh Face Instant Mask from the French non-toxic skincare line, 27 Rosiers. Natural ingredients like aloe vera, ashwagandha, calendula, and chamomile regenerates and revives tired, stressed and dull skin within minutes. No need to wait till it cakes up and dries, the formula stays silky and after 15 minutes, wash to reveal your brightest skin yet.
Perhaps you view green tea as a calming, refreshing part of your morning. The Blemish breakout and skin calming gel has all the right ingredients to get your morning going. Green tea extract and anti-inflammatory aloe protect the skin, reduce breakouts, and can minimize excess sebum production.
For pesky zits that pop up for no apparent reason, this toner is reliable to keep pores healthy and clear and prevent new breakouts. Refreshing tea tree and peppermint oil cleanses pores and invigorates the skin.
Need a moisturizer that packs as much punch as a morning cup? This one from Happy Dance does exactly that. A combination of avocado oil, bisabolol, and ginger contains antioxidant properties to even tone, reduce redness, and improve moisture barrier function.