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This is an image of a coffee cup. The photo is taken from above. The coffee is black.

Is Coffee Good or Bad for Your Skin (And Should You Care)?

There are two types of people in this world: those who know that coffee is life, and, presumably, children. (But they just haven’t had it yet.)

If you’re an adult who still hasn’t graduated to coffee drinking, put down your apple juice: there are good reasons to start drinking coffee, star. Yet the best reason of all may not be what you think. Is coffee good for your skin? Or is it bad?

I’ll cut right to the chase here because, like coffee, the good stuff is better when it’s piping hot. Coffee can do wonders for skin. There are studies that back this up, like this one, that found coffee consumption by (ahem) middle-aged (Japanese) women, correlated to reduced pigmentation. Another study connected coffee-drinking to a 23-percent reduced risk of rosacea. It’s also been linked to a reduced risk of melanoma in this study

Coffee, like other rich-colored foods, is high in antioxidants that can help to improve the texture and health of the skin. Antioxidants fight free radicals that can cause signs of aging—aka wrinkles, fine lines, and those weird discolorations. That doesn’t make coffee a sub-in for your daily spinach salad (most days, anyway). But according to scientists, it may not hurt, either.

What about caffeine?

Coffee is indeed rich in caffeine—that lovely, legal drug that runs the world. (Sorry, it’s true, Beyoncé.)

Not everyone does well with caffeine though—for highly sensitive or highly stressed people, caffeine can exacerbate some issues. And drinking too much of it—like some skater kids found out when the caffeinated energy drink Red Bull first hit the market—does not give you wings. At least, not the kind you need here on earth. But moderate coffee consumption (fewer than four cups per day) is considered an okay amount to drink on a daily basis.

Caffeine does a few interesting things. The reason it’s so widely regarded and consumed by adults is because of its ability to help focus the brain; it wakes us up from the fog that rolls in on the very last day of our 20s and hovers for the rest of our very un-youthful lives. Most people rely on it to help with work, compensate for a lack of sleep, and even to stave off hunger. 

How does that impact skin?

While the biggest benefits of coffee for the skin come by way of the antioxidants, the caffeine content may have some benefits, too.

First, feeling focused can mean less overall stress, and that’s a boon for your T-zone, too. If caffeine gives you an energy boost and keeps you from senselessly snacking, you’re reducing the risk of some triggers like sugar and dairy. (More on that in a few). 

But caffeine has a dark side, too, of course. Too much of it can make your stress levels worse, not better. That doesn’t bode well for your mental health or your pores. 

Coffee is also a diuretic, which means it makes the body expel more water, and water is key to gorgeous, glowing skin. So, if you’re drinking a cup of coffee, a good rule of thumb is two cups of water for every cup of coffee.

And then there’s sleep—far and away your best skincare secret. Caffeine can disrupt sleep, particularly if it’s consumed in the afternoon or evening. If it leads to restless sleep or insomnia, it’s not likely doing your skin too many favors, either.

What’s the best coffee for skin?

For the Venti-Frappuccino-Double-Whip lovers, there’s some not so good news.

Loading your coffee up with dairy and sugar is not doing your skin any favors. In fact, if you’re consuming any milk and have chronic skin issues, there may be a connection, according to this study.

Sugar’s not much better, according to this research. It correlated with as much as a 30 percent increased risk in acne. 

That doesn’t mean you have to suck down your coffee black like a sociopath. A small bit of sugar (less than half a teaspoon) isn’t likely to produce major breakouts. And subbing in a vegan milk for dairy can give you all the creamy flavor without the skin risks. There are lots of unsweetened nondairy milk options, too. Oat is preferred by baristas for its frothiness, if that’s your thing. There are also nondairy creamers that work just as well as dairy creamers.

What about coffee on the skin?

If bathing in a tub of French Roast sounds like heaven on earth, there’s some fine news for you: coffee on the skin isn’t as weird as it sounds.

In fact, a number of beauty brands are already using coffee grounds as an exfoliant. There are a number of products, like this one, that claim to reduce puffiness and dark under eye circles, with help from coffee. The caffeine helps to reduce swelling and stimulate circulation to reduce discoloration. 

But coffee’s biggest benefit may come in its ritual: those quiet morning moments where we become ourselves again, when we take stock and prepare to conquer the effing world. Because nothing is better for that glow-up than a woman completely in her (caffeinated) power.

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Jill Ettinger is an LA-based writer and editor focused on vegan and cruelty-free living.