Myth Buster: Is Caffeine Bad for Your Skin?

Whether it’s a strong black coffee to start the day, a latte with friends or a cool, crisp glass of Diet Coke, lots of us are caffeine fans in one form or another. 

We’re all familiar with the immediate physical effects – in fact, the extra energy and little lift is the reason many of us seek out caffeine. But can your daily caffeine buzz affect your skin? Today we’re breaking down the science to find out.

How does caffeine affect your skin?

There are a few ways caffeine might affect your skin, but it will vary from person to person. Caffeine is a mild diuretic, which means it speeds up the removal of water from the body – this process can cause dehydration, and if you’re dehydrated your skin might look more tired and dry. However, recent research has shown that moderate daily coffee consumption won’t dehydrate you – so, as long as you’re being sensible about your intake, your skin probably won’t be affected.

Caffeine also contains antioxidants. Antioxidants can be positive for skin health by neutralising free radicals, which increase signs of ageing such as wrinkles and fine lines. So, could coffee have anti-ageing properties? Well, unfortunately there’s limited research on how antioxidants from coffee impact our skin when consumed, so it’s unlikely that your morning americano will turn back the clock. 

Depending on your coffee order, you may also be consuming milk and sugar as you fuel your caffeine habit. The exact relationship between dairy, sugar and skin has long been debated, but acne is a complex condition so it’s hard say they are the root cause.

“A number of studies have shown an association between sugar consumption and dairy, in particular semi-skimmed milk and acne,” Dr Malvina Cunningham, Consultant Dermatologist at Skin + Me explains, “These studies also vary greatly in quality, and they don’t take other dietary factors into account, such as a lower glycaemic index, or calorie intake in individuals who consume less dairy as part of their natural daily diet.”

There are so many other factors at play it’s hard to know for sure – as Dr Malvina says, “Currently there is no specific diet advice for patients with acne as the evidence is not conclusive”. However, some people report a decrease in their spots when their dairy or sugar intake is reduced. 

Can caffeine make acne worse?

Have you ever noticed your skin breaking out when you’re stressed? It’s down to our old enemy cortisol. This stress hormone causes the body to create extra insulin which in turn causes skin to produce more oil and speeds up skin cell turnover, all of which can often end up in breakouts

Caffeine itself may not directly cause breakouts, but drinking large amounts of coffee has been linked to prolonged elevated cortisol levels. If you’d like more information on recommended coffee intake, you can check the NHS website for further guidance. 

And, if you’re already pretty stressed, it’s probably best to cut back on the coffee or caffeinated drinks. High stress levels over a long period of time can impact almost every area of your health – not just your skin.

Is caffeine in skincare good for you?

We’ve talked about drinking caffeine, but what about applying it to your skin? Caffeine is an ingredient commonly used in eye creams, and is said to provide a boost to your under-eyes. Dr Jason Thomson, Head of Medical at Skin + Me, tells us, “skincare with caffeine can help reduce the swelling, particularly around the eye area”. It de-puffs the eye area, constricting blood vessels and helping with dark circles under the eyes. However, these results are temporary, and will vary from person to person, so you might not see radical differences. 

Caffeine is also often used in body scrubs to help temporarily reduce the appearance of cellulite. Again, these results won’t last, and you won’t necessarily see a huge difference, so make sure to adjust your expectations. These exfoliative scrubs can also be quite harsh, so you should avoid using them on your face in case of irritation.

Final thoughts

We’d say it’s good news! If you do need a quick pick-me-up it’s perfectly fine to sip the occasional energy drink or order a mid-morning coffee from your favourite barista. Make ours a grande.

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