77% of students reportedly consumed coffee, with the male rate being 66.67% and the female rate being 81%. Sixty-one percent of students consumed caffeinated tea, 43.8 percent consumed caffeinated soft drinks, and 31.9 percent consumed caffeinated energy drinks.
There’s widespread worry about the apparent health problems of coffee whether it be withdrawal symptoms, disrupted heartbeat, acne, or kidney damage. In this article here we thus discussed at length whether coffee is safe for acne (hint: it is).
However, coffee is not the only source of caffeine. The average cup of coffee contains 90mg or so, but varieties of tea contain between 6-110mg, energy drinks contain 50-500mg per bottle – even dark chocolate contains small amounts.
Increasing numbers of workers are taking pure caffeine pills, to get the focus and stimulation while bypassing food. Maybe you’re doing the same.
Today’s acne article will be very simple then. We will determine once and for all whether caffeine is safe for acne patients and what your guidelines are for drinking it.
Caffeine spikes your stress hormones
Stress is easily one of the top 5 factors behind acne. The single most important stress hormone is cortisol, which is secreted by your adrenal glands in response to any mental anxiety. Cortisol can cause a leaky gut in the long term, it can slow the healing of existing acne, and can possibly make your skin oily by increasing insulin.
Why does this matter? One of caffeine’s main effects, the increase in physical energy, comes from a large cortisol spike. Caffeine directly stimulates your adrenal glands to release cortisol into the bloodstream and once there, it pulls glucose from your energy stores and spikes your blood sugar.
- This study found that after consumption of 500mg of pre-workout caffeine, blood cortisol spiked by 52%.
- This study found that caffeine spikes cortisol in both men and women. “Repeated caffeine doses increased cortisol levels across the test day without regard to the sex of the subject or type of stressor employed”.
Increasing cortisol is one of caffeine’s notorious effects. It does that in both chronically stressed patients and relaxed patients…
…but in the case of caffeine, that’s not a problem for acne patients, depending on your circumstances.
It is vital to avoid caffeine totally if you’re chronically stressed out and anxious. In that case, your cortisol will be elevated all day long and you need any help you can get keeping it down. One study also found that patients with higher blood pressure had a bigger cortisol reactions from caffeine.
However, cortisol is a necessary hormone since you need it for energy regulation and blood pressure control. You’ll never have none and nor would you want to. The real problem for acne is when cortisol is chronically elevated. Low levels are safe for acne patients.
For that reason, drinking up to three cups of coffee per day will not crank up your stress hormones long enough for them to cause acne.
Additionally, by drinking your coffee in the morning you can time the spike perfectly to minimise the harm. All humans have a daily cortisol cycle; levels are lowest at night to allow neurotransmitters to induce sleep, and they’re highest in the morning to pull glucose from your energy stores after 8 hours of fasting. Cortisol peaks between 8am and 9am on average.
Therefore if you drink your coffee just afterwards, between 9:30am and 11:30pm, you will 1) allow your acne to benefit from low cortisol in the evening still, and 2) avoiding coinciding the caffeine with the natural peak, to avoid a truly massive, acne-causing spike.
Furthermore, one study found that consuming caffeine in coffee on a regular basis gradually blunted the cortisol spike. It grew milder and milder after days of consistent coffee consumption. It wasn’t eliminated totally, but that’s a good reason to keep your caffeine intake regular as well as at moderate levels.
You can further make your caffeine acne proof by eating foods which inhibit cortisol like pomegranates, bananas, or garlic. Or you can simply relax, stop worrying about your acne, or use body hacks to lower anxiety like simply standing up straight.
Conclusion – caffeine spikes your stress hormones, but the damage can be minimised.
Caffeine messes with your sleep patterns
The reason cortisol is lower in the evening is because of its effects on the brain. It inhibits the happiness neurotransmitter called serotonin, which is a key ingredient of the sleepiness hormone melatonin.
Likewise, caffeine itself directly inhibits a neurotransmitter called adenosine. Adenosine reduces mental alertness, focus and energy in the brain, so blocking adenosine is how caffeine achieves the opposite. Adenosine is the most important neurotransmitter for sleep alongside melatonin. In healthy humans, adenosine levels accumulate over the course of your waking hours, eventually to levels where the fatigue it causes cannot be resisted.
Caffeine, however, blocks your brain’s adenosine receptor sites. It does this well, because according to studies caffeine passes through your brain-blood barrier as though it doesn’t exist.
Both of those reasons explain why caffeine keeps you up all night and both explain why caffeine can cause acne. Sleeping well is critical for acne free skin. In my eBook Annihilate Your Acne we discussed how sleep deprivation is a nightmare for acne; just one insufficient night affects your insulin metabolism, your production of pro acne inflammatory cytokines, and your cortisol.
Sleeping poorly can cause a downward spiral where the cortisol spike prevents you from sleeping well the next night, and the next night, again and again, giving your skin acne, acne and more acne…
…but this problem falls into the same category as the stress spike. It’s dead easy to avoid. You simply have to drink your caffeine in the morning. If you love coffee, drink it before lunch. If you’re a fitness nut, drink your energy drink and hit the gym in the morning. That’s also the optimal acne strategy for blunting the cortisol spike.
Caffeine has a half-life of 6-8 hours in the brain depending on your genetics. Caffeine lasts for 60 hours in the body in total, but if you leave a good 8 hours before your sleep, the residual blood levels will be safe. Then you can use some additional sleep promoting weapons like darkening your room, eating carbs before bed, exercising more, or eating sleep inducing foods.
Ask yourself: is your acne monstrously bad? Is your skin grey and lifeless? Are you suffering from sleep deprivation?
Finally, do you stay up at night by filling yourself with copious amounts of stimulants?
If so, switching your caffeine to earlier in the day is an excellent acne strategy to follow.
Does caffeine cause acne via insulin resistance?
Insulin resistance is when either 1) your insulin molecules don’t function as well, or 2) your insulin receptor sites are less receptive. Both situations cause your body to produce more insulin to compensate and that’s bad news for acne, because insulin stimulates your sebaceous gland receptors and makes them produce more oil. More insulin equals more blocked pores, more p.acnes bacteria, and more acne.
Caffeine has the power to lower insulin sensitivity. It’s often feared by diabetics for that very reason.
- One randomized double blind study fed 12 volunteers either caffeine or a placebo. Their level of insulin sensitivity was determined before and after and so were their plasma insulin levels. In the caffeine receiving patients, insulin sensitivity fell by 15%. It was supposedly as a result of elevated epinephrine, a neurotransmitter that blocks insulin receptors, which increased five-fold.
- This study fed 16 patients aged 18 to 22 years 200mg of caffeine twice a day for 7 days and analysed the effects on insulin. The scientists found that daily caffeine intake reduced insulin sensitivity, the effect persisted for at least a week and was evident for up to 12 hours after administration.
It’s clear that caffeine impairs insulin resistance in the short term and the effects persist into the long term. But once you understand the mechanisms involved it turns out to not be sinister at all.
One way in which caffeine fuels you up so much is by increasing adrenaline. This increases lipolysis, the liberation of free fatty acids from body fat. They enter your bloodstream and provide you with a burst of physical energy.
It’s this excess of fatty acids that’s behind much of the insulin resistance from caffeine. However, it’s a good thing for your health. Why? Making insulin less effective allows you to use the free fatty acids floating around your bloodstream through exercise, walking, or other physical exertion. If they’re not used they get recycled back into your body fat, to the use of nobody.
Regular consumption was clearly demonstrated to be safe in a study from 2006. First of all, you have to understand that type 2 diabetes is basically an extreme form of insulin resistance. If a food lowers the risk of type 2 diabetes then consequently it is also good for your insulin sensitivity.
The study analysed 88,259 adult women aged between 28 and 48, none of whom had diabetes when the study began. Firstly, they concluded that total coffee consumption was associated with a lower type 2 diabetes risk, both caffeinated and decaffeinated. Secondly they concluded that total caffeine consumption was associated with lower type 2 diabetes risk.
Of course, caffeine consumption could have correlated extremely tightly to overall coffee consumption. What the researchers did next then, was to process that data and analyse the effects of total caffeine intake independent of coffee consumption. The benefit of caffeine on type 2 diabetes then disappeared, but importantly, no negative effect appeared either. The effect of caffeine was neutral.
Moreover, there was no difference whatsoever between caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee. You’d expect caffeinated coffee to be poorer for type 2 diabetes if caffeine was indeed an insulin-disrupting monstrosity, but it didn’t happen.
That’s clear evidence that caffeine is safe for acne. Tea, another beverage with caffeine, also had no link to type 2 diabetes both in low amounts and at intakes of 4 or more cups per day.
Caffeine causes temporary damage to insulin sensitivity, but the damage is not long-term. It may persist for a few days when you take high doses (400mg was used in the study above, equivalent to five cups of coffee daily), but it’s not systematic destruction of the sort that high carbohydrate diets can cause. It doesn’t persist long enough to cause acne.
What you have to do is thus simple: yet again you must keep your caffeine intake fairly low. Two cups of coffee a day will provide 160mg on average and that’s absolutely safe. That’s the ideal total for cortisol and sleep as well.
You can also end the temporary insulin resistance by exercising. If you’ve drunk coffee and got a burst of energy, use it! Go for a run around the block or drink coffee before your daily walk. If you use up the fatty acids roaming around your bloodstream, you take away a main reason why insulin sensitivity is impaired.
Better yet, you can use all sorts of other acne clearing tactics to make your insulin sensitivity so great elsewhere that caffeine scarcely disrupts it. You can keep your carbohydrate intake restrained, eat more antioxidants to protect your insulin molecules, and take vitamin D (excellent for acne in other ways) to boost the receptor function.
Conclusion: caffeine causes temporary insulin resistance, but that’ll only cause acne when seriously abused.
Are humans not designed to eat caffeine?
The final big issue is the role of genetics. If you perform a basic google search and type “coffee and acne” or “does coffee cause acne”, the testimonials are divided into two groups: 1) acne patients who swear that every caffeinated beverage breaks them out like clockwork, and 2) people who simply laugh and claim that they can consume endless amounts of coffee, energy drinks, or even concentrated caffeine pills without the slightest pimple or cystic acne.
What explains this phenomenon?
The obvious conclusion is genetics and judging by all the studies I’ve read I believe they’re almost certainly involved.
To start with, your race, your sex, your and plain old genetic variance can all affect caffeine’s half-life in the body. 95% of the caffeine in your body gets broken down by your liver, but to do this efficiently, your liver relies on a gene called CYP1A2. Moreover, many other genes support the activity of CYP1A2.
Hence, while the average half-life of caffeine in the human body is 5.7 hours according to one study, many people have half-lives as high as 10 hours. The cortisol spike lasts for longer, sleep disruption is especially more likely, and insulin sensitivity stays impaired for longer.
Lack of CYP1A2 or lack of the genes it needs to functions can even cause allergy like-symptoms to caffeine. Signs of a caffeine allergy include anxiety, dizziness, fatigue, and chest pain…
…and according to this highly informative website, the number one symptom of a caffeine allergy is skin problems. Acne, rashes, severe itching, eczema, and hives are all documented to happen.
This study shows the genetic influence well:
- Scientists wanted to understand the effect of genes on caffeine tolerance, acute symptoms, consumption and withdrawal effects. Hence, they interviewed 1934 individual female twins about their experiences with caffeine. The sample included both members of 486 monozygotic (identical) and 335 dizygotic (non-identical) pairs. They found that resemblance between the twins was substantially greater in the identical pairs. Their caffeine tolerance, withdrawal symptoms and acute symptoms were very similar. Between 35% and 77% of reactions were estimated to be genetic in nature. The scientists concluded that “individual differences in caffeine use, intoxication, tolerance, and withdrawal are substantially influenced by genetic factors.”
What does this mean? It means that if YOU notice that you get acne from caffeine, regardless of whether you’re stressed or sleep deprived or whether your coffee had sugar in it, you may well have a caffeine sensitivity.
A genetic inability to process caffeine efficiently can cause acne, and worsen the other problems of caffeine. Such an allergy is uncommon but not rare.
The effect on acne depends on the source
Here’s a rule for you: caffeine is not caffeine is not caffeine. A cup of coffee and a monster energy drink are wildly different in their effects on acne. The studies above mostly used caffeine as an isolated component, but in nature it doesn’t work that way.
For example, this study found that administering caffeine alone to humans blocked their vitamin D receptors. That would be dire news for an acne patient. But this study found that among 330 Saudi adolescents, those who drank 11 cups of coffee per day had the highest vitamin D activity.
The reality is that every commonly consumed plant food, whether it be a melon or dark chocolate, contains endless natural compounds with endless indirect effects on acne. It’s impossible to deduce the overall effect on acne from one isolated compound.
Therefore, some caffeine rich foods are excellent for clearing acne whereas others are dreadful:
Tea – all types of tea contain a range of antioxidants, but one that’s especially famous is epigallocatechin 3-gallate (EGCG). This study analysed the connection between EGCG and acne specifically, and observed substantially lower inflammation levels after treatment. EGCG has the power to down-regulate NFKappa-B, a master molecule that controls the release of many pro acne inflammatory cytokines. Green tea and white tea contain the most EGCG and luckily, they contain the least caffeine per cup:
Black Tea: 23 – 110 mg
Oolong Tea: 12 – 55 mg
Green Tea: 8 – 36 mg
White Tea: 6 – 25 mg
Tea consumption has also been linked to improved heart health in many studies. That’s in spite of caffeine’s supposed link to cardiovascular disease.
Coffee – coffee is actually the number one source of antioxidants for the average American. One well-produced cup scores approximately 16,000 on the ORAC scale (pomegranate=10500, blueberries=4669, broccoli=1510). You’ve got acne nutrients like vitamin E, acne minerals, acne antioxidants. Medicinal compounds detected in coffee include lignans, quinides, antioxidants, dipertenes like kahweol and cafestol…
One of them, chlorogenic acid, was found to improve insulin sensitivity and thus acne in this study. The studies discussed earlier found that regular coffee consumption slashes the risk of diabetes. Coffee isn’t perfect (you can read about that in this article) but it’s a good food for acne overall.
Caffeine pills – basically pure caffeine, assuming there are no inflammatory additives which contribute to acne. Treat these things with the exact strategies we’ve discussed so far. Be warned though – the doses are very large. A typical pill contains 200mg. That’s easily enough to cause acne if you’re sensitive. They also lack any extra antioxidants as the caffeine is not derived from whole foods.
Energy drinks – avoid. New “monster” energy drinks often contain 500mg of caffeine per bottle. That’s equivalent to 6-7 cups of coffee.
Last year a study on energy drinks was conducted by researchers from the John Hopkins University, who have been studying them for decades. Many teenagers were interviewed. Nearly 20% of energy drink users interviewed said that they experienced heart palpitations when drinking these products and nearly 30% said that they have “weekly jolt and crash episodes”.
That’s not all; energy drinks are also full of sugar, containing up to 30 grams per bottle. Often that sugar is high fructose corn syrup, which contains a horrific pesticide called glyphosate that’s a nightmare for acne and contains more fructose than refined sugar. Even if you need tons of caffeine for exercise, you’d be better off drinking tons of coffee because you’ll thus drink tons of antioxidants as well.
Consider this: yoghurt, an acne-friendly food that’s full of useful bacteria, quickly turns to inflammatory junk when you pour in added sugar. Likewise, a troublesome ingredient like caffeine can be neutered when a food has plenty of acne antioxidants.
You always have to apply the caffeine strategies outlined above. However, if you need stimulation or energy then top quality tea and coffee are the best choices.
Conclusion – your acne-friendly caffeine strategy
Caffeine is nowhere near the devil that alternative medicine activists might have you believe. Yes it causes heart palpitations and tremors, but it’s also been demonstrated to have a neuroprotective effect on the brain.
As for acne, you can easily avoid caffeine’s largely indirect problems by firstly, keeping your intake low. Two or three cups a day, depending on how you react, will be safe for acne. Secondly, consuming coffee before lunch or at least eight hours before bed will benefit both stress hormones and your sleep quality. Thirdly, get it from tea and coffee in order to help your acne in other ways.
There are three circumstances in which I’d recommend you avoid caffeine entirely for your acne. Number one, you should eliminate it entirely if from your experiences you believe you have poor caffeine genetics. You should never underestimate the havoc food allergies can wreck on your acne.
Number two, you should lower your caffeine intake to no more than 100mg a day if you’re chronically sleep deprived. The half-life is 8 hours but 30-40 mg could still remain in your bloodstream by the evening.
Finally, you should avoid caffeine as much as you can to prevent acne if you’re chronically stressed and anxious. If you can’t beat high cortisol for any reason, then this is an easy way to avoid massive acne causing spikes.
Don’t fear caffeine. Energy drinks are a joke, but coffee and tea are bursting with healthy compounds for your acne, like polyphenols, flavonoids, chlorogenic acid, lignans, and dipertenes. It’s well worth becoming a master caffeine-hacker just to enjoy them.
Thanks for reading!