Everyone loves a cup of coffee to start their day. It’s nothing to be ashamed of – in fact, studies show that caffeine consumption in moderation is a good thing, promoting feelings of well-being, alertness and sociability. However, four or more cups of either tea or coffee per day lead to symptoms such as jitteriness, migraines, nervousness and sleep cycle interference.
More importantly, excessive caffeine consumption can affect your skin. Did you know that cutting down on your caffeine consumption can significantly improve certain forms of acne? Caffeinated drinks like coffee and tea cause your body to produce cortisol, the stress hormone, which leads to increased acne outbreaks even if you drink your caffeinated beverage without sugar or milk.
Caffeination: Friend or Foe?
While caffeine doesn’t directly cause acne, it does everything to make it worse. Caffeine causes your body to produce extra quantities of cortisol, the stress hormone, which in turn stimulates your sebaceous glands. These glands begin to overproduce sebum oil, the excessive quantities of which clog pores, trapping germs and bacteria in the process.
Your body sends white blood cells rushing to the area to fight perceived infection threats. This is called inflammation, which results in pimples. One study showed that a stressed person who consumed caffeine had a cortisol increase of 211%! Not only is the stress produced from excess caffeination bad for your mental health, but it can also send your sebum production through the roof, burying your pores in unneeded oils.
Bad News for Morning Joe
Unfortunately for all you coffee fiends out there, your favorite brew may be one of the worst offenders in terms of caffeine-related acne outbreaks. There are a few reasons coffee tends to trigger acne outbreaks far more than other caffeinated beverages like tea:
- Tea has more antioxidants, which fight acne outbreaks.
- Coffee has more caffeine, making it more likely to increase cortisol production.
- Tea contains a compound called L-Theanine, which promotes a healthier stress response.
On the other hand, coffee typically does more harm than good for acne-prone people. Coffee contributes to dysbiosis, a condition in which the growth of harmful bacteria in your gut microbiome outpaces the growth of good bacteria. This occurs because coffee happens to be highly acidic, which disrupts normal gut flora when you drink a lot of it. The resulting dysbiosis leads to poor absorption of nutrients like zinc, selenium and iron, all needed to fight acne. One study found drinking coffee an hour before or after meals inhibited absorption by 72%! An unhealthy gut can also increase stress because 95% of serotonin is produced in the stomach.
Taking Some Tea
Tea tends to be a much healthier alternative to coffee when it comes to skincare. This is because all types of tea share the same plant and are differentiated only by different harvesting and preparation techniques. Generally speaking, tea’s relationship to acne remains the same regardless of the specific type of tea.
As mentioned earlier, tea is high in antioxidants, which help skin cells repair themselves if oxidation occurs. Oxidation happens when sebum oil on the skin goes bad, which happens for various reasons, including exposure to sunlight, hormones and environmental factors like smoking tobacco. Antioxidants help prevent oxidized sebum oil from clogging your pores, minimizing the infections that form acne outbreaks. Tea also lowers your insulin levels after meals, fighting back hormonal acne. Studies also indicate it might reduce dysbiosis by improving absorption of certain nutrients, such as zinc.
A Hidden Source of Fluoride?
That being said, tea contains caffeine, too, meaning that it’s important to choose a variety carefully and consume it in moderation. Caffeine in any quantity increases your cortisol production, which clogs your pores with sebum oil. But tea also has its own unique acne-related weakness, especially for people with thyroid-driven acne. People with thyroid problems experience hypothyroidism, a condition where the thyroid fails to produce sufficient quantities of the thyroid hormone. People with thyroid issues try to avoid fluoride consumption as it exacerbates this problem to the point that those with high sensitivities have issues even with tap water.
What does this have to do with a warm cup of Earl Grey? It turns out that acne outbreaks are a leading symptom of hypothyroidism, and tea contains some fluoride. Though the fluoride deposits in tea are not particularly concentrated, those with thyroid issues need to be aware that tea could be contributing to their breakouts for this reason. Fortunately, the detrimental effects of fluoride in tea can be mitigated by consuming iodine, which is found in seafood, egg yolks or supplements.
Stick to the Golden Mean
Balancing caffeine consumption and acne problems is all about quantity. As the old saying goes, the dose makes the poison. Unless you suffer from extreme sensitivities, experts generally agree that a little caffeine is rarely an issue. By limiting your coffee or tea consumption to 2-3 cups per day, you’ll avoid the worst acne-related side effects of caffeine consumption. As with so many things in life, moderation is the key to balancing caffeine and acne.