Our thoughts toward the magical brown elixir known as coffee usually veer along the lines of “godsend” and “life necessity.” When it comes to coffee and our skin, however, things get a little murkier. Some say that coffee can exacerbate acne and dryness, while others say it doesn’t affect your skin at all. Our editor went coffee free for three weeks to see if her skin would change… and was left with inconclusive results (though she did see a marked improvement in dry patches). Thus, in honor of National Coffee Day (as if we needed another reason to reach for our good ol’ cup o’ joe), we did what we always do in times like these: turn to science.
Ahead, you’ll find out the truth about coffee and your skin, based on some pretty eye-opening scientific studies.
Keep scrolling to get schooled!
No matter what you say about how coffee affects the way your skin looks, you should know that it can affect what’s going on beneath the surface too. According to this recent study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, drinking lots of coffee is linked to a reduced rate of developing cancerous melanoma. In the 10-and-a-half-year study, researchers analyzed the food habits of nearly 450,000 people—and what they found was surprising. Those with a coffee intake of more than four cups per day had a 20% lower risk of malignant melanoma compared to non–coffee drinkers (it should be noted that this applied to regular coffee, not decaf).
Now, this doesn’t mean you need to up your coffee intake and start guzzling four cups a day—the study’s authors do caution their results are preliminary, after all. The more you know, though.
By now, you might expect a breakout when things are particularly stressful at work. That’s because the same stress hormones (e.g., cortisol) that get released can also trigger acne—they make your body pump out insulin, which can cause your skin to produce excess oil, over-produce new skin cells, and increase your body’s inflammation levels. In one study, researchers found that those who drank a cup of coffee before going through a stressful event saw a 211% increase in cortisol levels, versus those who didn’t drink coffee.
In other words, coffee can heighten your stress levels, which in turn can cause your body to over-produce insulin: bad news if you’re already struggling with acne.
You’ve heard it before: Coffee has caffeine, which is a diuretic and therefore dehydrating. But is it really? Many recent studies have found that caffeine is a very mild diuretic at most; a review of 10 studies at the University of Connecticut found that 12 out of 15 cases showed that people went to the bathroom the same amount, regardless of whether or not the water they drank had caffeine in it. This study even claimed that there was no difference between males who consumed coffee versus water.
It’s all still up for debate, but there’s an easy solution for those worried their coffee habit is dehydrating their skin—just drink more water.
The studies don’t lie—dairy can cause acne flare-ups. Milk contains an abundance of growth hormones that can cause inflammation in your body and eventually lead to acne. Sugar, on the other hand, can cause insulin spikes (which we mentioned earlier) and make your skin produce excess sebum—aka a breeding ground for acne-causing bacteria. So, if you already struggle with acne, you may want to take your coffee black.
A surprising study from 2005 claimed that coffee was the number one source of antioxidants in the U.S. diet. Now, this doesn’t mean it has more antioxidants than fruits and veggies—just that we consume more of it. We all know that eating a diet rich in antioxidants can help improve your skin health, but research into the actual process of how antioxidants are absorbed and utilized in the body is still ongoing. We do know this: Antioxidants fight free radicals, and free radicals cause aging. Thus, antioxidants should help fight aging—though you might just be better off applying topically (we suggest this DIY coffee mask).
Our current favorite coffee-infused product? Svelta’s Coffee Body Scrub ($48), which leaves you with smooth, Gisele Bündchen–like gams.