The Caffeine Effect


Starbucks to-go cups are a universal sight on Madison Avenue. It’s not uncommon for me to see clients or coworkers saunter into the spa sporting a fistful of cappa-mocha-latte love. Caffeine winks at us across the room with offers of free wifi and a comfy seat, as we sink into its loving embrace. Which immediately raises the question: What does it do to our skin?


The science and study of caffeine’s effects on our bodies are pretty involved--and pretty interesting. Before I get to what’s  under the microscope, I’ll ask you to answer the question first: What do you think it does to your skin? I had a client who discovered that if she drank a third cup of anything caffeinated (she’d typically drink two cups, but would sometimes go for a third) she’d feel the onset of a welt of swelling somewhere around her nose, deep under the surface, and mostly invisible to anyone but her: the onset of cystic acne.) Wisely, she did not freak-out or attack it in any way. She drank plenty of water, applied a topical acne cream (have I sung the praises of our incredible topical acne serum, Breakout Blocker lately? Within a day or two, it went away.


I love telling this story because it touches upon one of my favorite practices at the spa: Teaching my clients to be their own skin detective. Some clients get topical acne from caffeine and related stress--we all react differently to different foods, vices or activities in different amounts. For some of us, one cup of coffee is too much. Others can handle multiple cups. We all hear about the benefits of green tea, but another client of mine swears that while she can drink a moderate amount of coffee, when she tried switching to green tea she, too, had a case of cystic acne.


Let’s talk about what’s going on in your body that could cause outbreaks or skin damage:


Dehydration: Like sodium and alcohol, caffeine dehydrates our bodies. Alone or in concert, they make the liver work in overtime which causes toxic build up in the body.  When our bodies are on toxic overload, the presence of low-level toxins that make their way to your skin disrupt healthy skin function. While we can sing coffee’s praises as a laxative, it is a diuretic, and losing hydration has a direct effect on skin.  Dehydrated skin causes inflammation (redness) and premature aging (collagen loss).  And without enough water flushing your system, toxic buildup in the skin can also cause acne.


Creamer Clogging: When you consume caffeine in the form of light or sweet coffee--cappuccinos or lattes, let’s say--you also run the risk of consuming additional acne boosters. According to the good people at, coffee triggers acne because of the milk and sugar we consume with it.  That’s just one of their 12 reasons to cut back.  Read here for the other 11 points, which include such fun goodies as reduction in gut flora and the presence of mycotoxins.   

Clearskinforever calls milk the worst thing to consume if you want to maintain clear skin, thanks to its hormones, its effect on the production of sebum, and its terrible quality of gluing dead skin cells together.


Destructive Sweeteners: Aside from causing dehydration and creating acne, sugar causes glycation which causes inflammation and premature aging.  Around the holidays, did you eat more sugary foods and sweets?  You may have noticed your skin looked less luminous, and more slack.  Yup, eating those extra cookies and cake make your skin less healthy. Your skin loses elasticity thanks to glycation and contributes to a lackluster appearance. You are then peddling backwards in order to go forwards.  What do I mean by that?  You have to spend your time repairing your skin when you should be maintaining its strength.  It’s ok.  We all slip every once in awhile.  January was a big month for repair at the spa!


Tannins: A close male friend likes to joke that his English/Irish grandparents lived well into their 90s because they drank so much tea, their internal organs were preserved and turned into supple leather. While there’s absolutely no science behind that anecdote, it does point to the fact that tannins--which are present in coffee and black teas--are used to tan animal hides into leather. And where does all that tannin end up? Being processed by your liver, which filters gunk for your body. Sadly, your liver also retains a fair amount of these toxins over time, which can contribute to liver spots on your skin. A good breakdown of the process can be found here.


Solution? All Things In Moderation--Your Moderation:Overall, consuming too much caffeine, alcohol and eating salty foods, will age us faster.  So what do you do?  My motto is less is more.  Wean yourself slowly, but try.  Try hard.  Drink more water to flush out toxins and combat dehydration.  Consume less caffeine or switch to decaf or green tea.  It’s not easy, but worth the attempt.


Become Your Own Skin Detective: It’s all about balance and moderation.  Try to lessen some of the habits that are detrimental to your skin and see how it responds for at least two weeks. Listen to your body! Read your skin.  For example, drink only one cup of black coffee (fairtrade and/or organic) in the morning and not after 11am.  Switch to dark chocolate instead of a sugary cookies or cake and watch for hidden sugars in your diet. Try to eat gluten free. Switch to a non-dairy supplement like almond or coconut milk for your coffee. Cook at home.  You have more control over the ingredients and salt this way.   


I think you will feel really good about yourself  the positive changes.


The short list to remember:


Consume less:







Enjoy more:



Organic produce

Gluten-free foods



Jillian Wright