Is coffee good for your skin, or is it not? One minute you’re hearing that the dehydrating effects of caffeine will cause fine lines and wrinkles, and the next minute someone’s telling you how a little dehydration is just the ticket for smooth skin. So, which is it?
Unfortunately, there are several confusing and downright contradictory assertions about your skin’s relationship to caffeine. It can be difficult to know who to believe and whether you should grab that morning cup of coffee or forget about it.
In this article we’re going to try and unravel some of the claims out there about coffee and your skin.
Known effects of caffeine on the skin
First off, let’s tackle some of the positive and negative effects caffeine has on the skin. As our previous example indicates, sometimes a single effect can be both positive and negative, depending on how you look at it.
As such, you might want to take some of the following with a grain of salt. How caffeine affects your skin depends on a wide variety of factors, including your skin type, genetics, activity level, and diet.
1. Coffee causes dehydration.
Caffeine, the most active ingredient in coffee and, let’s face it, the reason why many of us reach for that cup of joe each morning, is a diuretic. In other words, it makes you pee. This is why caffeine dehydrates you.
Nobody disputes that dehydration leads to dry skin. It’s a fact. Typically, this is considered a bad thing. Severely dry skin can become itchy and flaky. Moderately dry skin looks worn and sometimes patchy, while prolonged dehydration can jump start a proliferation of lines and wrinkles. Beauty products like moisturizer are popular for a reason — moisture makes for smooth and clear skin.
Of course, you also have the school of thought that claims caffeine dehydrates fat cells and leads to smoother skin. This is just one of the many reasons why people use facial products containing caffeine.
If true, however, it’s almost certainly for topically applied caffeinated products and not imbibed caffeine. Of course, these skincare products may already have moisturizing agents in them that are skewing the results.
2. Coffee constricts facial blood vessels.
Caffeine’s behavior is a little weird when it comes to circulation. The drug is said to increase blood flow to certain parts of the body, namely the brain, by dilating the blood vessels.
On the other hand, it constricts other blood vessels, decreasing blood flow to certain parts of the body, one of which is the face. As the blood vessels in the face constrict, circulation decreases. This too is seen as simultaneously good and bad.
Critics of the coffee craze say that decreased circulation to the face prevents nutrients from getting to your skin. Some of these nutrients play major roles in collagen production, that stuff that makes your face young, elastic, and wrinkle-free.
Others claim that decreased circulation can reduce redness in the face, meaning that some caffeine in your diet (or in a facial cream) could benefit you if redness is something you struggle with.
3. In some cases, coffee acts as an anti-inflammatory.
While debatable, many people tout the anti-inflammatory effects of caffeine, suggesting that caffeine in facial products helps reduce inflammation in the face, get rid of redness, and smoothen out under-eye bags. Others, however, suggest that caffeine may very well increase inflammation.
According to a 2016 study published in Molecular Nutrition and Food Research, coffee and caffeine demonstrate both anti-inflammatory and inflammatory effects. These researchers argued that the effects were specific to individuals.
Some suggest that coffee’s anti-inflammatory properties have nothing to do with caffeine. Coffee, like tea, contains tannins, also known as polyphenols, which are said to have anti-inflammatory properties. We will explore the complex matter of tannins in more depth below.
4. Coffee is an antioxidant.
You probably hear this word a lot. Antioxidants seem to be everywhere these days, from pomegranates to pecans, but what exactly are they?
Oxidation is a chemical reaction that sometimes produces free radicals. These free radicals are atoms that can damage your cells. In short they can cause cancer. Antioxidants prevent oxidation, reducing the number of free radicals in your body. Yes, you heard that right. Coffee can help you prevent cancer.
In fact, coffee’s relationship to cancer has been closely studied. One 2012 study published in Cancer Research found that women who drank more than three cups of coffee per day were 21% less likely to develop Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC), the most common form of skin cancer, than women who only drank one cup a month. In men, the difference was only 10%, but significant nonetheless.
Whether this was due to coffee’s antioxidant properties protecting skin cells or some other cancer fighting quality is unclear.
Does coffee cause acne?
A popular but ultimately unfounded theory about coffee is that it leads to a buildup of toxins in the system. Drinking coffee overworks the liver and, as a result, these toxins get trapped. Eventually, they expel from the body in the form of acne.
If this sounds like pseudoscience, that’s probably because it is. The long term of effects of coffee on the liver are still under scrutiny. However, the current scientific consensus is that a cup of coffee or tea in the morning may actually be good for the liver.
What’s more, the idea that coffee could cause acne runs contrary to the fact that coffee will dry out your skin, making it an ideal choice for those with oily, acne prone faces.
So is coffee bad for the skin in any way?
When you drink your morning coffee, it may not be just the coffee that’s acting on your skin. Many people enjoy their pick me up with milk, creamer, or sugar. These have their own effects on the skin — and they’re not ones you’re going to like.
- Milk — Let’s start with the basics. Yes, milk does a body good. However, dairy can also trigger bouts of acne in those predisposed to it. Dairy can also act as a diuretic, especially if you have even the slightest intolerance to lactose. In other words, it will compound with the coffee for that extra dehydrated look.
- Sugar — Here we have another acne trigger, but that’s not all. Sugar causes glycation – when sugars bond with protein and fat. This leads to inflammation and premature aging of the skin. It’s also been associated with uneven skin tone, reduced collagen production, and liver spots (aka age spots). This process is more common in older people.
- Creamer — If you think you can avoid the downsides of milk and sugar by opting for creamer, think again. Now you’re just pulling double duty. Creamer is simply dairy and sugar rolled into one convenient skin aging package.
A question of tannins
Tannins can be a boon to your health or something best avoided, depending on who you ask. Some view it as an essential part of a healthy diet while others see it as basically a toxin. The only thing health nuts agree on is that tannins are everywhere.
Tannins are natural plant compounds called polyphenols. They exist to protect plant cells from damage. Typically, they reside in the roots, stems, seeds, leaves, and buds of plants. Therefore, any food related to these plant parts is likely to contain a significant amount of tannins.
Tannins are also common in fruit, particularly in unripe fruit or fruit peels. However, some fruits maintain their tannin concentration even as they ripen, like grapes and pomegranates.
You’ve probably heard the term “tannin” in reference to wine. Being that it is made from grapes, wine has a high concentration of tannins. Tea is also tannin heavy from the leaves used to brew it. Finally, and most to the point, coffee beans contain tannins.
Tannin fans will remind you that they are powerful antioxidants. They’ve also been associated with lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol. Finally, tannins are said to stimulate the immune system. It’s partially due to the health benefits attributed to tannins that small amounts of coffee, tea, and red wine are considered healthy choices.
Naysayers will argue that tannins have little to no nutritional value, while certain studies have suggested tannins lead to a low growth rate along with reduced energy and a smaller appetite in animals. Tannins have also been linked to esophageal cancer. However, a 1998 paper published in Critical Reviews in Food, Science, and Nutrition notes that many of these negative effects could well have been due to confounding factors.
So how do tannins affect your complexion? Well, tannins are said to be anti-inflammatory (as mentioned above), meaning they could help reduce puffiness, redness, and those dark circles under your eyes. However, they’re also said to have dehydrating effects. The consensus? Focus on what your face needs the most.
Changing your coffee habits
There are coffee effects that can be good or bad, along with coffee accessories that come with their own consequences. Then there are tannins, but until science comes to a greater consensus on the subject, who honestly knows what’s going on there? So how in the world are you supposed to make the best choice for your skin with so many factors and conflicting views to decipher?
Focus on your personal needs. Not every skincare strategy is right for everyone. Compare the effects described above with your actual skin concerns. If you’re prone to acne, redness, or puffiness, a little caffeine may just help. On the other hand, if you struggle with dry skin, it’s probably not for you.
If you’re a big coffee drinker and you want to minimize the negative effects that your favorite drink could have on your skin, try cutting back to only two cups a day, and if you can stomach it, drink those cups black. On the hand, if you can’t stand the thought of black coffee, simply try to cut back on the amount of fixings that you use.
Finally, make sure you drink enough water to offset the dehydrating effects of caffeine. Your skin will thank you for it.
Try wearing it instead
If you’re not a coffee fan but intrigued by the benefits of caffeine, consider using a facial cream that incorporates coffee or caffeine. There are numerous lotions, creams, and face masks on the market with a caffeine content. These products will give you many of the healthy skin benefits with less dehydration and wakefulness.
Whatever you choose, pay attention to how caffeine affects you. Different people have different levels of sensitivity to the drug. And remember – everything in moderation.