Whether you’ve heard good or bad things about it, we’ve all heard about caffeine and its supposed mental and physical effects. We all know caffeine as the essential part of our tea or coffee that gives us a kickstart in the mornings. We also know that it can be really addictive. But what else do we really know about caffeine? And did you know it can even have an effect on your skin?

We’re going to discuss what exactly caffeine is, the correlation between it and acne, and how you can take action to prevent its negative side effects.

What is caffeine?

Caffeine is a natural stimulant often found in tea, coffee and cacao plants. You can also find caffeine in manufactured products like soft drinks, energy drinks and chocolate.

It’s a highly acidic chemical substance that triggers different reactions within our body. In our body, the chemical adenosine binds to adenosine receptors to slow down nerve cell activity and induce drowsiness, causing us to relax or go to sleep. As caffeine has a similar cell structure to adenosine, it can also bind to the receptors.

When caffeine binds to these receptors, it blocks them and causes the opposite reaction - forcing the nerve cells to carry on working and preventing us from getting tired. This is what causes our brain to become super alert.

As our brain can’t relax, it releases stress hormones, increases adrenaline and dopamine levels. This is what makes us feel, temporarily, good.

The benefits of caffeine

The most obvious benefit of caffeine is the instant stimulation and rush of short-term adrenaline that you might feel. It may also help to boost your mood and brain function as an effect of this.

Some studies have shown that consuming caffeine can reduce the risk of depression, brain diseases and type 2 diabetes.

As for your skin, caffeine is an excellent source of antioxidants and has been known to be anti-inflammatory. This means that it can work to fight the damaging molecules that cause premature aging and acne.

How too much can affect your skin

For avid coffee drinkers, this all sounds too good to be true, and, unfortunately, it is. They say everything in moderation, and caffeine is the same.

Ingesting too much caffeine can increase your stress levels, which is one of the key causes of acne. In addition to stress, caffeine consumption can take a toll on your sleep. Less sleep or a lower quality of sleep means that you’re not letting your body shut down properly to heal and restore itself, which can cause or worsen acne.

Excess caffeine can also cause higher insulin production in your body. This excess insulin triggers the production of oil, which can lead to clogged pores and more acne. Insulin can also make any existing acne more inflamed and red.

And it’s not only too much caffeine that can cause you to break out, it’s the type of caffeine you’re consuming too. For example, not all coffee beans are created equal. Poor quality coffee can cause an imbalance to your gut flora. It can slow down digestion and alter the bacterial environment in your gut. If your gut flora becomes inflamed, it may also cause your skin to become inflamed. Organic coffee appears to be the best type of coffee for your gut and hasn’t been associated with gut flora disruption, so if you can, always opt for an organic blend.

While caffeine blocks our adenosine receptors to keep us from feeling drowsy, it also interferes with our body’s ability to absorb certain nutrients from food. Having too much caffeine can cause deficiencies from minerals like iron, zinc and selenium, which can aggravate acne.

Another side effect of caffeine is that it can boost our hormones and make us crave sugary, salty and high-carb treats. And it’s these junk foods that can make us break out. They contain ingredients that are some of the top acne triggers - sugar, dairy, gluten and oil.

What else is in your morning brew that’s causing you to break out?

You might think that switching to decaf will solve all of your acne problems, but that might not necessarily be the case. The way you take your coffee or tea could also contain stressors to your acne.

Dairy could also cause acne. As cow’s milk is filled with hormones, these are thought to play a role in triggering acne. While it hasn’t been definitively proven, studies have shown that a higher consumption of milk is linked to an increase in acne.

As mentioned before, sugar is also a big culprit in causing breakouts. Many iced coffee and tea drinks contain lots of sugar or refined sweeteners that we don’t even think about. Too much of it in our diet triggers an increased production of insulin, which in turn can cause acne.

What to do about it?

So, if you’re a coffee addict or a tea lover, what can you do? Well, the answer is subjective as we all react in different ways to caffeine. Some people might not be as susceptible to the effects of caffeine as others, and some people might be completely immune.

And it’s not to say that you shouldn’t consume caffeine at all, because as we’ve highlighted above, there are some benefits to the stimulant. It all comes back to moderation.

There is no clear limit as to how much caffeine is recommended, as again, it’s subject to each individual’s tolerance. Some sources suggest 400mg a day, which is equal to around three to four cups of tea or coffee, while other sources claim that one to two cups a day is best.

Aside from cutting back on the quantity that you consume, avoid adding refined sugars to your drink to help prevent acne. This also means not reaching for the sweet pastries and chocolates that often accompany tea or coffee.

Opt for plant-based milks where you can, and if you’re feeling up for it, why not make the switch to decaf?

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