Drinking coffee may reduce the redness of this common skin condition.
For years, doctors have gone back and forth about the potential risks and benefits of coffee. Fortunately for latte lovers everywhere, the news in recent years has been mostly good—and another new study out this week is no exception. In addition to its other health benefits, scientists now say that coffee may be good for our skin.
A new study, published in JAMA Dermatology, found that women who drank four or more servings of caffeinated coffee every day were less likely to suffer from rosacea—an inflammatory skin disease that causes redness, flushing, bumps, and irritation, usually on the face—than those who drank it less than once a month.
The study’s authors were interested in coffee and rosacea because they thought the relationship between the two could go either way. “Coffee is known to decrease vasodilation and have immunosuppressant effects, which may potentially decrease the risk of rosacea,” they wrote in their paper. “However the heat from coffee may be a trigger for rosacea flares.”
Besides heat, suspected triggers for rosacea include cold air, sun exposure, spicy food, exercise, hormones, and emotional responses like being embarrassed. To find out where coffee fits in, the researchers looked at data from more than 82,000 women who were followed as part of a national study from 1989 to 2005.
During that time, the women were interviewed every four years about a variety of health topics—including their consumption of coffee, tea, soda, and chocolate. The women were also asked about their health, as well as any conditions they’d been diagnosed with over the study period.
Overall, the researchers identified nearly 5,000 cases of rosacea. After they adjusted for other risk factors, they found that the more caffeine the women consumed, the less likely they were to have rosacea. For coffee specifically, women who drank the most (4 cups or more per day) were 23% less likely to have been diagnosed than those who drank the least (1 cup or less per month).
There was no significant evidence that women who drank decaffeinated coffee, on the other hand, were less likely to have rosacea. That suggests that the caffeine content has something to do with this healthy-skin perk, the authors point out. But interestingly, other forms of caffeine—like tea, soda, and chocolate—were not significantly associated with a decreased risk of rosacea, either. In fact, chocolate consumption was associated with an increased risk.
While they can’t be sure, the study authors speculate there’s not enough caffeine in those other food sources to produce the same benefits as coffee did. They think that the high caffeine levels in coffee may lead to the constriction of blood vessels in the face, resulting in a lessening of rosacea symptoms.
Caffeine, and coffee especially, have also been shown to contain antioxidants and to have anti-inflammatory properties, they wrote in their paper. Caffeine can also modulate hormone levels, which may further play a role in the development of rosacea.
Because the study was observational, it was only able to show an association and not a cause-and-effect relationship. And because information was recalled in four-year intervals, it’s possible that women misreported some of their food or beverage consumption. More research is needed, the authors say, to better understand the connection between coffee, caffeine, and rosacea, especially among different rosacea subtypes.
In an accompanying editorial, doctors from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California, San Francisco point out that there are plenty of other reasons to enjoy coffee. Studies show that coffee seems to protect against cancer, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, chronic liver disease, Parkinson disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and depression, they wrote.
Coffee even seems to protect against early death, they added, and pregnancy is “one of the few times” where higher coffee consumption (more than three to four cups a day) is a risk factor for health problems.
To quote the editorial authors, “who does not love a study that validates one of life’s habitual pleasures?” The new research “provides evidence that patients with rosacea need not avoid coffee, and it offers all of us one more reason to continue drinking coffee regularly,” they wrote. “We will raise an insulated travel mug to that!”