Is Drinking Coffee Bad for Your Skin?

Portrait of a model with a shaved head and clear skin
Photograph by Richard Burbridge

I stopped drinking coffee in my early twenties. I know what java junkies out there might be thinking: why on earth would I do such a thing? At the time, an exceptionally talented nutritionist felt the cortisol fluctuations from caffeine consumption were doing more harm than good on my body (and mood). But during the pandemic, I’ve taken to having a cup each morning again—and it has been an exceptional crutch in getting me through the day. I’ve come to savor it as an early morning ritual and moment of peace.

That said, I can be a tad vain. If anything affects my skin detrimentally, the brakes come to a screeching halt. I noticed in the last year that the days I drank coffee consecutively, my skin looked different—drier, more sallow, and just overall blah. Could there be some kind of association? I didn’t necessarily want to stop drinking coffee, so I asked dermatologists and aestheticians how it could affect the skin. The professionals I consulted provided a range of answers, all of which took many factors into consideration: what type of coffee you are drinking? What are you intending to mix your cup of coffee with? How many cups do you drink a day? To address all your caffeine-related skin concerns, we’ve assembled their assessments, here.

Dr. Jessica Wu, Dermatologist

Dr. Jessica Wu, the in-demand Los Angeles-based dermatologist and author of the book “Feed Your Face” says coffee’s antioxidant factors are far better utilized as a topical alternative. “Coffee contains caffeine, which has a diuretic (water losing) effect, so drinking coffee (even decaf) can make you and your skin dehydrated and saggy,” she says. “Drinking coffee has also been shown to reduce skin circulation by constriction blood vessels. Therefore, I advise my patients to drink one cup of water for every cup of coffee or other caffeinated drink. However, coffee contains many other compounds, not just caffeine, including antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds like idebenone (found in coffee berries, the fruit that coffee beans come from). I think there’s more potential benefit from using topical compounds derived from coffee rather than drinking coffee.”

Mila Moursi, Facialist

Moursi, a renowned West Coast facialist who works with the likes of Charlize Theron and Jennifer Aniston, recognizes that coffee may not sit well with everyone, but for those who don’t tend to experience negative side effects, there are ultimately many pros to moderate coffee consumption. “There are negatives and positives about coffee, but I think the positives overweigh the negatives,” she says. “If a person is sensitive to caffeine and tends to become overstimulated, you may want to avoid coffee. But there are plenty of good things about coffee. Coffee contains essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals, and is very high in antioxidants. It’s a stimulant that can enhance brain functions, improve moods, and boost metabolism. A coffee enema is also worth considering.”

Jillian Wright, Aesthetician

While coffee beans provide certain antioxidant benefits, New York skin guru Jillian Wright remains cautious about the possible toxins that can remain in your system. Coffee, she says, can affect not only your complexion but your cortisol levels, too. “A cup of coffee in the morning can have its benefits, especially if the coffee is fair trade and organic,” she says. “Coffee is rich in polyphenols. But Caffeine is a vasoconstrictor, which means that not enough blood or oxygen is circulating through the body and the toxins get stuck. This can lead to a sallow, grey, crepe-like texture on your skin. You put yourself at a higher risk of unnecessary wrinkles and fine lines when you consume too much caffeine. Another downside to drinking too much coffee is acne. If you are stressed, it can spike cortisol levels and if toxins get stuck in your body, your liver cannot detoxify properly. You end up producing more oil in the skin which can lead to unnecessary breakouts.”

Ada Ooi, Skin and Wellness Expert

“There’s always the discussion of cellulite and its relation to coffee,” the London skin savant says. “Firstly, cellulite can be caused by enlargement of fat cells from weight gain and affect the connective tissue under the skin, creating a dimpling effect. This effect also slows down blood circulation and metabolic rate, creating further water retention and swelling. Women are more prone to cellulite because estrogen encourages the storage of fat in women’s hips and thighs, making them even ‘stickier’ to be removed. Coffee stimulates adrenal functions, urging the body to wake up, move, and workout within, which can contribute to quicker drainage of liquid because of its diuretic effect. But you need a lot of coffee to be able to create an extreme workout inside your body to move the stagnant fat cells and create a reverse effect against the cellulite. This excessive use of energy can deplete our organ systems, affecting the normal bodily function, creating stagnation in blood circulation, drainage, and transportation of nutrients. In terms of the skin, all this can cause imbalances in the body and hormonal regulation, which then show through the skin through a dull complexion, dryness (which can lead to lines and wrinkles), or excessive sebum secretion, which may cause acne on the face, back or chest.”

Angela Caglia, Facialist

Veteran Los Angeles-based aesthetician Angela Caglia says coffee can take a real toll on your skin, in terms of age acceleration and overall appearance. “Coffee can and will affect your skin, especially those who drink more than two cups a day,” Caglia adds. “It can raise cortisol levels which is a stress hormone. This hormone accelerates the aging process. What you put in your cup of coffee matters, too. Most people add dairy or sugar which can spike insulin and trigger acne and change your hormone levels. Drinking too much coffee can also affect your sleep, and can make you on edge, which means you won’t be as relaxed, happy and smiling which always makes one appear more vibrant and beautiful. I recommend alternatives to coffee if possible. I’ve been loving Mud Water. It keeps me even-keeled and less jumpy and it tastes just as good, if not better.”

Mimi Luzon, Facialist

The stressed-out feeling that coffee often induces is an important factor to consider, says Luzon, the Tel-Aviv based facialist beloved by Irina Shayk, Adriana Lima, and Bella Hadid. “Drinking copious amounts of coffee can definitely influence your skin’s appearance. It’s worth noting that coffee can raise your stress levels and we know that stress has a huge impact on our skin—and can exacerbate existing acne. On the other hand, coffee is full of antioxidants which can have a positive effect on our complexion, but I would prefer to use products containing caffeine topically.”

Dr. Harold Lancer, Dermatologist

Dr. Lancer, the Beverly Hills dermatologist on speed dial for A-listers on both coasts, recommends kicking a coffee habit. “While coffee itself does not cause acne, the overconsumption of caffeine can be associated with stress leading to acne. Like anything else, intake is just as important when it comes to coffee—less is more. Drink your coffee black; adding milk, creamer, or syrup can have a negative effect on your hormones, which can lead to acne. Ensure the coffee beans you are drinking are of high-quality. Drinking poor quality coffee beans and then mixing in dairy products can interrupt your gut flora (digestion of food), which can lead to inflammation of the skin. It’s best to eliminate coffee consumption because caffeine reduction allows your hormonal function to restore itself, so menstrual cycles will become more regular, and you’ll reduce the risk for ovarian cysts.”

Dr. Bruce Katz, Dermatologist

“Coffee does not have any effect in terms of causing cellulite or dimpling of the skin,” says board-certified New York dermatologist Dr. Bruce Katz. “Coffee also doesn’t have any direct effect on acne, but it could potentially make the acne you do have worse by increasing the amount of stress hormones like cortisol. Anytime your body is under stress, the increased cortisol leads to an increased amount of oil produced, which can make acne worse.”

Natalie Aguilar, Dermatological Nurse

“When one is dehydrated, the eye area may appear to be sunken in, lackluster, and fine lines and wrinkles are more visible,” Aguilar says. “I recommend constant hydration, even adding various electrolyte drinks into my rotation. (I like the Cure Hydration electrolyte powders; they help my skin stay hydrated and look plump.) The problem isn’t just in the coffee itself, but the custom drinks that are created with it. Specialty coffee drinks typically contain a lot of sugar and/or dairy. Consuming these sugary coffee drinks can actually damage our skin through a process known as glycation. Glycation occurs when the sugars in our blood attach to specific proteins that produce advanced glycation end products called AGEs. These free radicals can be detrimental and cause premature aging by damaging collagen and elastin fibers. This will lead to crepe-y skin, fine lines, and deep wrinkles, not to mention saggy jowls and crosshatch lines, which usually appear above the lip area and on the sides of the neck. However, drinking coffee in moderation also has its pluses. Plain coffee has been known to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which are good for the skin. I prefer that my clients drink decaf in order to get some of those beneficial properties.”