Coffee and Acne: Does Coffee Trigger Acne?

Coffee Can Trigger Acne

Coffee can trigger acne by altering your hormones, messing up your gut flora, and impairing your absorption of minerals.

Ahh, coffee… it’s a magical drink. But there’s a catch!

It might be worsening your acne.

This turns out to be a pretty complex issue… I was actually drinking one cup of coffee a day until I started researching this article.

Okay, let’s dive in to the research.

What’s in coffee, anyway?

Coffee is super complex. It contains over 1,000 chemical compounds – that’s more than chocolate (250) and wine (450).[1]  The best-known ingredient in coffee is of course caffeine, which gives coffee its incredible stimulant and mood-enhancing properties. But coffee also contains things like:

  • Antioxidants
  • Chlorogenic acid
  • Lignans
  • Quinides
  • Trigonelline
  • Diterpenes (cafestol, kahweol)

Coffee is an incredibly complex chemical soup with a complex interplay of health benefits and drawbacks. First, let’s breeze through the benefits.

What are the benefits of coffee?

If you’re a regular coffee drinker, you already know the answer to this. Increased focus, mood enhancements, and just, well… waking up! There are also reported benefits to lowering Type 2 Diabetes risk, increasing athletic performance, preventing cognitive decline with aging, and more.[2] [3] [4]

That’s all well and good, but it turns out there’s a dark side to coffee for acne sufferers.

So… can coffee trigger acne, or what?

Unfortunately… yes! After a careful review of the evidence, it appears that coffee can trigger acne in several important ways. Actually, seven ways! Check this out – this is incredibly fascinating stuff.

Master your acne, in 4 weeks or less

Join 10,000+ readers. Detox your diet and lifestyle and get rid of acne for good, with Clear Skin Forever.

Tell Me More!

#1: Coffee magnifies your body’s stress response

Coffee magnifies your body’s response to stressful events. This is the most dire and far-reaching problem with coffee consumption in relation to acne, I believe.

In technical terms, coffee triggers “hyperadrenalism” – it makes your adrenal glands over-react to stressful events by pumping out excess stress hormones. Not good!

Normally, your body reacts to stressful events – you know, all those little daily stressors at work, while driving, at home, etc., as well as the big things like relationship problems and family issues – by going into “stress mode,” i.e. activating your sympathetic nervous system. Your body releases three hormones – cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine – to prepare you for a “fight or flight” response.

When the stressor is gone, your body goes back into “relaxation mode” (i.e. parasympathetic nervous system mode), and these stress hormones vanish.

(The problem with a lot of the stressors I mentioned is that they don’t stop, they don’t go away. So we’re dealing with chronic, low-level stress all the time. That’s a fundamental problem with Western civilization, I think – read Dr. Sapolsky’s Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers for an incredible description of this widespread problem and how to fix it.)

So already, we’re dealing with chronically elevated stress hormones. That’s bad enough for acne, but coffee adds fuel to the fire.

In fact, coffee massively magnifies your body’s stress response. One study found that after drinking coffee, a stressful event raised study subjects’ cortisol 211% versus those who didn’t drink coffee, and epinephrine was 233% higher! That means that coffee essentially doubles your body’s hormonal stress response.[5] [6] [7] [8] [9]

This is bad news for your skin, because the same stress hormones that prepare you for a “fight or flight” response (including cortisol) also trigger acne. These stress hormones make your body pump out insulin, a hormone that causes acne in at least three ways:

  • Insulin makes your skin produce excess oil / sebum.
  • Insulin triggers over-production of new skin cells, which makes your pores more likely to get clogged.
  • Insulin increases your body’s inflammation levels, which makes acne more red and swollen.

If that wasn’t bad enough, cortisol depresses your immune system, making it much more difficult for your skin to fight off P. acnes bacteria, which multiply inside clogged pores, eat your sebum (yuck!), and produce inflammatory by-products that make acne even more red and swollen.[9] [10]

So essentially, coffee makes you hyperactive in response to stress, so your body blows things out of proportion, and makes things really difficult on your skin – the result? Worsened acne.

#2: Coffee impairs glucose metabolism and makes you insulin resistant

This is similar to #1, but a little different. Drinking coffee actually makes it more difficult for your body to process carbohydrates effectively. Basically, coffee makes you insulin resistant, which can lead to systemic elevated insulin and blood sugar, causing your skin to over-produce oil, your skin cells to replicate too quickly, and your inflammation levels to go up (i.e. more redness/swelling of acne).

One study found that when healthy men drank coffee, they had 40% reduced insulin sensitivity after they ate a high-glycemic meal an hour later. Not good! That means their blood sugar stayed elevated for a much longer period of time than it normally would.[11]

Another study found that this insulin-resistance effect lasts for a week after coffee consumption.[12]

Several other studies have reached a similar conclusion, finding that caffeine induces insulin resistance.[13] [14] [15] [16] [17]

This isn’t as much of a problem if you’re eating extremely low-carb, but for most folks, coffee can pose a real problem as far as provoking short-term insulin resistance, which can worsen acne.

#3: Milk and sugar in coffee drinks cause acne

Coffee drinks frequently contain milk and sugar. In fact, it’s pretty difficult to walk away from Starbucks without a giant milky concoction, with 8 ounces of low-fat, pasteurized, conventionally-raised milk (the worst kind for acne), a load of sugar, and poor-quality coffee with 300mg+ of caffeine (a stress disaster waiting to happen).

So why are milk and sugar bad for acne?

Well, simply put, milk is probably the #1 worst thing you could eat for acne, and sugar is right up there, spiking your blood sugar, boosting inflammation/redness/swelling of acne, making your skin over-produce oil, depressing your immune system, and damaging your skin cells through glycation.

In short, milky, sugary coffee drinks are acne bombs. Avoid at all costs! If you’re in a bind, go for black coffee, always. However, black coffee still has the other 12 acne triggers associated with it… read on to find out more!

#4: Coffee makes you crave sweets (which cause acne)

Coffee boosts stress hormones (as we saw in #1), which stimulate cravings for sweet, calorie dense foods and salty, high-carbohydrate snacks, which are a recipe for acne.[18]

When you’re drinking coffee every day, it’s much more difficult to say “no” to these cravings, and you end up eating more junk than you otherwise would. The big problem is that these junk foods – chips, cookies, candy, sweets, pastries, etc. – really trigger acne in a bad way. They’re basically made entirely out of different combinations of the top four acne triggers – milk/dairy, gluten, sugar, and vegetable oil.

Avoiding coffee entirely is the best way to let your appetite regulate itself naturally – you’ll find it much easier to avoid problematic acne-causing foods by ditching coffee.

#5: Coffee interferes with absorption of minerals from food

When you drink coffee with a meal (or close to a meal), it impairs your body’s ability to absorb minerals from your food. That’s a really big potential issue for acne sufferers, because acne can be worsened by deficiencies in minerals like zinc, selenium, and iron.[19]

In fact, one study found that drinking coffee with a meal (or up to 1 hour after eating) impaired iron absorption by a whopping 72%![20]

Avoiding coffee will help your body absorb more minerals from your food, which are absolutely key to clearing acne and maintaining clear skin.

#6: Coffee can disrupt your gut flora, leading to acne

Coffee can cause disruptions in your gut flora due to its high acidity, leading to a condition known as “dysbiosis” – essentially, overgrowth of bad bacteria in your intestine, and not enough good bacteria.[20]

Dysbiosis hampers your ability to produce B vitamins and absorb nutrients from food, which is how you get all your nutrients! It’s extremely critical to have this functioning properly, or you risk nutrient deficiencies of all kinds, food malabsorption, digestive issues, and a whole range of potential health issues (including acne).

Dysbiosis also triggers gut inflammation, which can lead to leaky gut and persistent low-level inflammation (redness and swelling of acne).

Probiotics are great, but if you’re still drinking coffee, you’re preventing those probiotics from doing their job properly. You really, really need healthy gut flora to maintain clear skin.[21]

#7: Coffee contains mycotoxins, which can trigger acne

Wait… what? What the heck are mycotoxins?

Basically, they’re toxins created by molds that grow on crops, both before harvesting (during crop growth) and after harvesting (during crop storage).

Not a lot of people know about mycotoxins yet. They’re not out in the public consciousness. And it’s really important that you know about them! Because mycotoxins are bad news for acne.

Molds grow on coffee plants that are grown in low-altitude, hot, humid climates – most cheap coffee (Starbucks, restaurants, coffee stands, and other chains) comes from low-quality coffee grown in such climates. These low-quality coffees are contaminated with high levels of mycotoxins like fusarium and ochratoxin A.[22] [23] [24] [25]

Mycotoxins can worsen acne in several important ways:

  • Mycotoxins can screw with your immune system, preventing proper, speedy immune response to invaders (including acne bacteria).
  • Mycotoxins can act like estrogen in the body – anything that disrupts sex hormone levels is likely to worsen acne.
  • Mycotoxins can lead to cancer (not related to acne, but a bummer nonetheless!).

Now, not all coffee is totally loaded with mycotoxins. High-altitude, carefully-harvested and processed coffee contains much lower levels of mycotoxins, and is available from quality roasters like Blue Bottle Coffee, Intelligentsia, and many smaller local roasters. However, this really high-quality, mycotoxin-free coffee is expensive, and still has all the other problems associated with coffee (#1-6 above).

Three additional reasons to quit coffee (not related to acne)

  • Coffee screws up your normal sleep/wake hormone cycle. In the morning, your cortisol levels are supposed to be highest (which helps you wake up in the morning), but chronic coffee drinkers don’t experience this naturally elevated cortisol in the morning, so they have to drink coffee to spike their cortisol back to normal levels, so they actually can wake up and be functional. Much better, in my book, to let your hormones naturally regulate themselves, rather than becoming dependent on a drug like caffeine to raise your cortisol / wake you up in the morning.
  • Coffee may make it more difficult to build muscle (if you drink multiple cups throughout the day). Coffee can boost your cortisol levels unnaturally high if you drink it in the midday/afternoon time, according to one study. And if you want to build muscle, you’re looking to minimize catabolic hormones like cortisol and maximize anabolic hormones like growth hormone (naturally, of course, by lifting heavy weights – artificially boosting these hormones through whey protein, muscle supplements, testosterone boosters, etc. tends to trigger acne.)
  • Coffee dehydrates the body (it’s a diuretic). This can lead to premature skin aging and wrinkling, according to Dr. Perricone, author of The Wrinkle Cure. Coffee also impairs collagen and elastin production, which are absolutely critical to maintaining supple, youthful skin, so coffee ages your skin faster. Quitting coffee will allow you to maintain that beautiful glow and healthy-looking skin for longer.

So… what about decaf?

Decaf coffee may be a reasonable alternative, with some caveats. It still contains the beneficial antioxidants of coffee without the problems associated with caffeine and the elevated stress response (#1, 2, & 4 above), but it is still acidic and can cause digestive flora problems, dysbiosis, and therefore acne.

One big hangup is that decaf coffee usually contains even more mycotoxins than regular coffee, because the worst-quality beans (read: the most mold-infected beans) are usually relegated to “decaf duty,” so you’re getting the biggest mycotoxin hit. Furthermore, the caffeine in coffee is actually protective against mold growth and mycotoxins, so removing the caffeine (as in decaf) makes it more likely that mold will grow on the coffee during storage. No bueno!

So if you want to drink decaf, buy your coffee fresh-roasted from one of the really high-quality coffee roasters out there making high-quality decaf using a Swiss water process to remove the caffeine. They’re using high-altitude, low-mycotoxin beans. You’ll pay a premium for these, but you will avoid most of the caffeine issue, and the mycotoxin issue as well. The only remaining problems with such high-quality decaf would be the mineral deficiencies and dysbiosis (#5 & 6 above). On the occasions when we drink it, we get our decaf from a great local roaster in Bend, Oregon – Lone Pine – and you can order beans online from companies like Intelligentsia and Blue Bottle (we’re not affiliated with any of these companies).

An even better idea is to drink herbal tea, or a steaming cup of bone broth (build your bones with your morning cuppa, don’t deplete them!). Or even simpler (and cheaper), just drink water in the morning with breakfast!

Okay, I’m convinced – I’ll quit drinking coffee! But what about the withdrawal headaches?

Yep… this is a tough one. Quitting coffee is not easy. The headaches, the brain fog, the crappy mood… however, there are a few things you can do to make it easier. As you quit coffee, you can supplement with the amino acids L-phenylalanine and L-tyrosine to prevent withdrawal headaches and mood symptoms. Try taking 500mg of each at breakfast (when you’d normally have coffee), and then again at lunch if you’re experiencing symptoms, and then again at dinner if headaches, etc. are persisting. I’ve used these amino acids to great effect when quitting coffee – my brain stayed a lot clearer, the headaches weren’t nearly as bad, and they helped me get through the worst 3-4 days at the beginning. All in all, quitting coffee is not an easy process, so if you decide to do it, definitely be kind to yourself! Give yourself a little extra leeway, a little more space, a little more pampering during the process.

For a more in-depth explanation of using L-tyrosine and L-phenylalanine, read this article.

What about tea? Is it okay to drink?

Awesome question! A lot of the studies quoted here were done with doses of 200mg of caffeine or more. Average adult caffeine consumption is something like 300mg per day. Tea, fortunately, has a lot less, though the amounts vary. According to one report, here are the amounts of caffeine in tea:[26]

Black Tea: 23 – 110 mg
Oolong Tea: 12 – 55 mg
Green Tea: 8 – 36 mg
White Tea: 6 – 25 mg

It depends a lot on how strongly you brew your tea, as well as how caffeinated the tea itself is. In general, white tea has the least caffeine and the most EGCG (a potent anti-acne compound), green tea has a little more caffeine and a little less EGCG, and black tea has the most caffeine and not nearly as much EGCG. White tea is really your best bet. I’ve found a quite inexpensive box of white tea containing 100 tea bags (organic) for under $10 at Whole Foods – Prince of Peace brand, I believe. It takes a little getting used to, coming from black tea, but it’s really quite enjoyable. You should be fine with green tea, too, though I’d generally discourage drinking black tea since it can approach coffee-like amounts of caffeine.

The effects of caffeine on your stress hormone levels appear to be dose-dependent, so drinking substantially less caffeine – through, say, a cup of white tea in the morning – shouldn’t really cause much of a problem. Tea also doesn’t have some of the other problems that coffee does, like acidity. (Tea does impair iron absorption and potentially other minerals, so it’s best to drink it 30-60 minutes before meals, or several hours after a meal.)

Herbal tea, of course, is a perfect substitute! It has zero caffeine, no acidity, and all the medicinal benefits of quality herbs.

Key Takeaways

Coffee can cause acne in a variety of ways:

  • Coffee magnifies your body’s stress response, boosting stress hormones that lead to acne.
  • Coffee drinks are often spiked with milk and sugar, which are two of the top four dietary acne triggers.
  • Coffee can disrupt your gut flora, causing dysbiosis, inflammation, and redness/swelling of acne.
  • Quitting coffee is a small part of a holistic diet- and lifestyle-based treatment for acne.
  • There are many bigger, more important root causes of acne. You need to fix your diet and lifestyle to really cure these root causes of acne (that’s what our book is all about!).

In my opinion, if you want clear skin, there are too many reasons to not quit coffee. It tends to cause acne, especially in acne-prone individuals, and if you’re already struggling with acne, chances are you could boost your results by quitting coffee, and thereby helping to re-normalize your digestion, immune system, and hormones.

Tips for avoiding withdrawal symptoms while quitting coffee are here.

You can replace coffee with some organic white tea, green tea, or herbal tea, or just drop the idea altogether and just drink a green smoothie with breakfast! Plenty of clear-skin-friendly options to choose from. Decaf is also a halfway decent solution, but still causes problems for me (nervousness, irritated stomach and throat from the acidity, etc.), so best to drop coffee altogether. (On the regular, that is! I do enjoy caffeinated coffee on occasion – just not as a daily ritual. That one’s up to you.)

Thanks much to Richard Northrop, a physiologist from Rochester, for providing the inspiration (and some excellent scientific explanations) for this article.

About Devin Mooers

Devin MooersHey! Over the past 10 years, I've developed a powerful system for clearing acne with a little-known diet- and lifestyle-based method, and I want to spread the love. That's why I started Clear Skin Forever back in 2011. I studied engineering and product design at Stanford University, and graduated in the top 5% of my class, but afterward, I decided to focus on writing about health, since I found it so fulfilling to help people clear their acne for good. Thanks for reading, and sign up for email updates to stay in the loop with clear skin tips! Also, be sure to check out our book if you haven't yet, all about how to fix acne permanently with diet and lifestyle changes. We've helped thousands of people get clear skin this way!

Sources (click to expand)

  1. ^
  2. Coffee, glucose homeostasis, and insulin resistance: physiological mechanisms and mediators. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2008 Dec;33(6):1290-300. ^
  3. Coffee consumption and the decreased risk of diabetes mellitus type 2. Ned Tijdschr Geneeskd. 2006 Aug 19;150(33):1821-5. ^
  4. Effects of caffeine on human behavior. Food Chem Toxicol. 2002 Sep;40(9):1243-55. ^
  5. Caffeine effects on cardiovascular and neuroendocrine responses to acute psychosocial stress and their relationship to level of habitual caffeine consumption. Psychosom Med. 1990 May-Jun;52(3):320-36. ^
  6. Caffeine affects cardiovascular and neuroendocrine activation at work and home. Psychosom Med. 2002 Jul-Aug;64(4):595-603. ^
  7. Stress-like adrenocorticotropin responses to caffeine in young healthy men. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 1996 Nov;55(3):365-9. ^
  8. Inheritable stimulatory effects of caffeine on steroidogenic acute regulatory protein expression and cortisol production in human adrenocortical cells. Chem Biol Interact. 2012 Jan 5;195(1):68-75. ^
  9. Caffeinated coffee does not acutely affect energy intake, appetite, or inflammation but prevents serum cortisol concentrations from falling in healthy men. J Nutr. 2011 Apr 1;141(4):703-7. ^
  10. Immunodeficiency via glucocorticoids. ^
  11. Caffeinated coffee consumption impairs blood glucose homeostasis in response to high and low glycemic index meals in healthy men. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 May;87(5):1254-61. ^
  12. Metabolic and hormonal effects of caffeine: randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover trial. Metabolism. 2007 Dec;56(12):1694-8. ^
  13. Caffeine ingestion increases the insulin response to an oral-glucose-tolerance test in obese men before and after weight loss. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004 Jul;80(1):22-8. ^
  14. Inheritable stimulatory effects of caffeine on steroidogenic acute regulatory protein expression and cortisol production in human adrenocortical cells. Chem Biol Interact. 2012 Jan 5;195(1):68-75. ^
  15. Acute caffeine ingestion and glucose tolerance in women with or without gestational diabetes mellitus. J Obstet Gynaecol Can. 2009 Apr;31(4):304-12. ^
  16. Glucose homeostasis remains altered by acute caffeine ingestion following 2 weeks of daily caffeine consumption in previously non-caffeine-consuming males. Br J Nutr. 2007 Sep;98(3):556-62. ^
  17. Consumption of caffeinated coffee and a high carbohydrate meal affects postprandial metabolism of a subsequent oral glucose tolerance test in young, healthy males. Br J Nutr. 2010 Mar;103(6):833-41. ^
  18. Caffeine free for optimum health. ^
  19. Vitamins and minerals that affect the immune system.  United States Department of Veterans Affairs. ^
  20. Inhibition of food iron absorption by coffee. Am J Clin Nutr March 1983 vol. 37 no. 3 416-420. ^
  21. Ten reasons to quit your coffee! ^
  22. An investigation into Fusarium spp. associated with coffee and banana plants as potential pathogens of robusta coffee. African Journal of Ecology, Volume 45, Issue Supplement s1, pages 91–95, March 2007. ^
  23. Incidence of microflora and of ochratoxin A in green coffee beans (Coffea arabica). Food Addit Contam. 2003 Dec;20(12):1127-31. ^
  24. The occurrence of ochratoxin A in coffee. Food Chem Toxicol. 1995 May;33(5):341-55. ^
  25. Why bad coffee makes you weak. ^
  26. ^


  1. Idara says

    Awesome post! I love adding coconut oil to my steamed vegetables and my smoothies. I tried it on my face and found out the hard way that it breaks me out. But I haven’t had that issue with hemp and grapeseed oil.

  2. Idara Hampton says

    Thank you for explaining epigenetics so clearly. It’s very easy to follow. Congrats on clearing your skin. Your story is inspiring.

  3. Idara says

    This is such a well researched and well written article. B5 is great for the skin. I also love B6 and B12 for boosting energy, promoting a healthy luteal phase, and stopping PMS.

  4. Idara says

    Great post! Understanding hormonal imbalances isn’t always easy, so thank you for writing an informative and easy to follow article with helpful tips.

  5. wendy says

    There is no official link between iron and acne in science research but antidotally I believe there is. My daughter used prescription acne creams for a couple of years with only modest improvements to her skin. She recently was prescribed an iron supplement, her iron levels were on the low side of normal, because of her low energy state and, voila, Not only does she feel more energetic, her face is very noticeably improved and much smoother in, just days. She is a big meat eater. Who knew iron can be hard to absorb?

  6. Srey says

    I love this post! I recommend this book “inheritance” by Sharon D Moalem. It talks a lot about genetics, and could be helpful to understand more about epi genetics, and our human genome.

  7. Mike says

    Why do you say that coffee negatively affects muscle since there is like a bunch of evidence that shows the caffeine from the coffee actually helps build muscle and burn fat. Of course this is when you take black coffee without any sweeteners. I have read so many articles that talk about consuming coffee in a fasted state leading to positive muscle gains you can find them easily too

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Mike! Interesting point here. I found this study:

      …Which says that you habituate to the caffeine in a few days’ time, meaning your morning coffee no longer stimulates over-production of cortisol once you adapt to drinking coffee daily. However, the study still found that a 1:00 PM cup of coffee boosted cortisol levels higher than normal (though the study only ran for 5 days of caffeine habituation). My personal experience is that coffee just makes me more stressed out in response to stressful events, which includes cortisol release. But I haven’t read the articles you have about fasted-state coffee drinking leading to muscle gains – I wonder if this is just due to metabolic rate increase from the caffeine? In any case, if coffee floats your boat and treats you well, go for it!

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Julie! I’m not totally sure on this. That still sounds like a good range. I was going based on a Dr. Mercola article, which I can no longer find (the link is broken). I am far from an expert on what ideal ferritin levels should be!

    • Rhonda says

      I will interject with a personal anecdote about Ferritin levels. I have a genetic disorder called Hemachromatosis. It causes iron from the food I eat to get into my organs and my body can only release it through phlebotomy (donating blood). My Dr noticed a high ferritin level and high liver enzymes on a blood panel and on a hunch she ordered a DNA test for this. If you are suspicious that your ferritin levels are out of whack, ask for this test. This condition is very common especially if you are of Irish or Scottish descent. It’s a lifelong condition but the remedy is easy because you just have to have your levels checked regularly and donate a pint of blood to balance your levels. I am so grateful my doc was smart enough to call for this test. Having this disorder and not taking care of it can lead to liver damage and heart attack. It’s hereditary and if you do have it, all of your nearest relatives should test for it too. Hoping it’s not the case for you, and wishing you all the best!

      • Devin Mooers says

        Kudos to your doc for finding this!! I’m so glad you know now. I had a genetic test done a few years ago, and ruled out hemachromatosis (at least current knowledge of it). So I guess it was just from my diet. And I do have a fair amount of Irish + Scottish in me. Go figure! Great thing to check for, though, as you just found out!

  8. Katy says

    I’m 25 and I have very irregular periods (which have never been regular) and acne since puberty. I got literally all my hormones checked and everything came out normal. Does anyone have an explanation for this?

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Katy! I don’t put much stock in hormonal tests, blood tests, saliva tests, or related “snapshot” health tests. I don’t think they’re a very accurate reflection of long-term reality, and don’t often give very useful information for clearing acne (in my experience). The fact that you have irregular periods right away shows that something’s up with your hormone levels, and/or some basic nutrient levels like vitamin A, utilizable iron (don’t go taking iron pills though!), and/or maybe some toxin overload issues. There are lots of things that feed into having a normal cycle, and a hormone test isn’t going to tell you what needs to be fixed.

      Are you drinking fluoridated water, do you know?

      Also, do you want to give an overview of what your current diet is – the more detail the better! – and any pills/supplements you’re taking? I can see if anything jumps out!

  9. Johnny Cox says

    Hi. Im going to say that Im afraid to eat coconut because of acne. Chocolate of any kind gives me acne too. Even fish oil. All these oils do it to me. I used to suspect leaky gut causing me breakouts. All these oils ruin my skin. Whey concentrate and isolate too! Someone said “keep eating the Extra Virgin Coconut oil, It’s just die-off!! It will stop soon” But it does not stop. I get brutal acne from it. Tempted to try again after reading this, but it scares me. My acne is so painful..

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Johnny! Really sorry to hear about your experience with so many oils/fats giving you acne. Huge bummer! Frustrating not to know whether it’s from die-off or detox, or just an adverse reaction. (I will say that whey isolate/concentrate both give me acne as well!)

      Couple questions… are you using organic coconut oil, or non-organic?

      Also, do you want to post a mini diet overview right here? I can see if any major red flags come up.

      Finally, are you drinking fluoridated tap water? (And/or using fluoride toothpaste?) Wondering if these fats/oils might be causing a detoxification of fluoride, causing transient acne.

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Ashley! I think it’s okay in really small amounts as a garnish or flavoring, but it’s very high in PUFA so I wouldn’t make it a main cooking or salad oil. Toasted sesame seed oil is even a bit more risky because of the toasting process damaging more of the PUFA (and the protective vitamin E found in raw sesame oil).

      What are you wanting to use sesame oil for? Maybe I can suggest a skin-friendly alternative!

  10. Kris says

    Hi Devin,
    Great research, thank you for linking the sources. I’ve suffered with back acne for years. I eat a mostly plant based diet, so I’d call myself a flexitarian (95% plants, 5% grass fed-organic animal). Before that I did mostly Paleo, therefore lots of fresh plants, but still a lot of organic meat/poultry.
    From recent testing, I have low iron stores (ferritin), normal iron (since I suppliment), and low iodine (I now supplement—-boyfriend has shellfish allergy…). I take vitamine A and Magnesium as well.
    I’m game to try anything thats humane and organic even if its not a plant based suppliment, but I would be interested in the Frankin-rice you mentioned since I try to avoid dairy due to an intolerance (causes me inflammation and IgG testing shows markers). If the colostrum is derived from cows or colostrum is from humans, wouldn’t in theory the human one be closer to what we need? Albeit odd to consider!!
    I’ve also looked for a non-bovine ferritin supplement, but it seems I may need to take the bovine one as the plant ones are just more iron (leading to excess). I just want to be humane in my choices, with no added hormones from the cows, etc. With all that said—I’m open to anything—as my skin and other health issues are the number one priority! Any product tips would be greatly appreciated. I use Pure Encapsulations too. 😊 Thank you!

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Kris! Sorry for the epic delay on this, I haven’t checked blog comments in a long time. My fault!

      How low is your ferritin? Did you get liver enzymes checked? It’s quite possible to have low ferritin, but also have an overload of unusable iron stored up in your liver. Taking additional iron supplements on top of that, if that’s the case, isn’t a very good idea. Liver enzymes (and/or GGT) can help point to iron overload in the liver. (See my iron article for more info on tests.)

      What kind of iron are you supplementing with?

      Doubt you’ll find human-sourced colostrum, though it’s an interesting idea! 🙂

      Are you interested in lactoferrin for reducing your iron levels, or for boosting your ferritin? There are definitely other, more effective ways of modulating ferritin, I think (see the iron article linked above for way more info on all the iron stuff, including why I think many people may have an iron overload problem even if ferritin levels don’t show it). I’d target the iron-utilization-boosting nutrients listed in the iron article, personally.

      Also, how much iodine are you taking? What form?

      Finally, have you thought about A2 milk as a skin-safe dairy option, that would give you some lactoferrin in a whole food form?

  11. Donna says

    I actually test low for iron. My Tibc, Total Iron, Iron Saturation, and Ferritin are all low.
    It was recommended for me to take Lactoferrin with an iron supplement to properly increase my iron.
    I’m confused about your article because it makes me second guess my situation. You don’t believe ANYONE is actually low in iron?

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Donna! How low are we talking on these numbers?

      I definitely think there are a small number of people who are actually low in iron, but I think it’s probably a lot fewer people than most doctors think. Often, if you have iron dysregulation, excess iron gets stored up in your liver, which doesn’t show up one these blood tests. If you’re lacking in one of the co-factors necessary to use iron properly (vitamin A, molybdenum, vitamin C, copper, ceruloplasmin, vitamin B12, etc.), you can get excess iron deposits in the liver combined with low circulating iron. When you add a plain iron supplement on top of that, without addressing the deficient co-factors, you can worsen the problem. Did you happen to get your liver enzymes and/or GGT tested? That can sometimes indicate excess iron storage in the liver. But keep in mind I have zero clinical experience in all this and just going based on the all the research I’ve read (and my own iron overload problem).

  12. jay,s says

    hi, suffering from acne for 20 years and a rediculolus amount of money spent on “solutions”i tried a newer supplement that’s called acne block that contains lactoferrin,found it on amazon.. it actually was/is one of the only supplements I have tried that actually helped..

    • Devin Mooers says

      Great to hear you got good results from lactoferrin! The science is sound behind why it works, helping to reduce iron overload. Good stuff.

  13. Sara says

    Would eating liver or taking a dessicated liver supplement cause iron overload? I would like to get more vitamin A, but am concerned about the extra iron I would be getting.

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Sara! Wise to be cautious about this. Do you have reason to suspect you have existing iron overload? Curious about that, I’ve suspected that in myself for a while now, and have been avoiding liver for that reason. I’m taking Pure Encapsulations vitamin A instead.

    • Sarah says

      Suggesting vegans/Vegetarians have a greater risk of iron deficiency is incorrect. There are at least as many meat-eaters as vege people deficient in Iron. Meat is not an efficient source of iron for human beings. Cutting out animal products goes along way in clearing up acne.

      • Devin Mooers says

        Hey Sarah! I actually agree with your first point now, but differ in the second. I think many people, vegeterians and meat-eaters, have an iron overload problem. This is pretty new to me, but the research seems sound. Turns out you can have anemia AND iron overload, due to iron getting deposited in your liver, but a lack of nutrients that are required to put iron into hemoglobin, like vitamin C, vitamin A, molybdenum, and copper. I also think the research strongly points to heme iron from meat being an excellent source of iron – much more absorbable than plant iron – but I now think eating too much meat leads to iron overload, because your body can’t shut off absorption from heme iron like it can from plant iron. If you’re curious to learn more, I just posted a huge article on iron and acne two days ago:

        Iron and Acne

        I think this is really an unusual perspective, and the opposite of what most people will tell you! Curious to hear your thoughts! 🙂 (I’m actually eating mostly vegetarian these days, due to trying to reverse my iron overload problem, and, yes, the environmental impact.)

  14. Taylor says

    So if I maintain a Paleo/Whole 30 diet that includes high quality meats and seafoods and I do not eat any of the iron-fortified foods or foods that inhibit lactoferrin – my body should be creating lactoferrin on it’s own in a healthy manner and I likely do not need to supplement it, correct?

    • Devin Mooers says

      Yep, exactly! Historical iron overload can be an issue, less so for menstruating women due to the continual iron dumping outlet. Bloodletting was effective back in the day for many diseases due to iron removal! Men don’t have such a built-in iron removal system (perhaps explaining why men tend to live shorter lives than women – iron buildup!). I’m not 100% sure how effective lactoferrin supplementation is for addressing built-up iron overload. Morley Robbins ( is the guy to read about on all the iron issues.

  15. Christina says

    I’m confused. I was just about to purchase some FCLO for my teen daughter to help her with her acne and now I stumbled across your reply where you state you no longer recommend FCLO! Why the change?

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Christina! Sorry about the confusion here – I wish we could keep the same recommendations forever, but our knowledge (and the science, and reader experience, etc.) forces us to change our recommendations now and then, and it’s hard to change everywhere all at once! We changed this recommendation because FCLO is basically pure PUFA (polyunsaturated fat), which is more susceptible to lipid peroxidation than other fats, and this is a major contributor to acne, we now believe (lipid peroxidation). The vitamin A in FCLO tends to be very beneficial, but you can get that vitamin A from eating liver, taking desiccated liver capsules, or taking a vitamin A supplement such as this one by Pure Encapsulations. We now think it’s best to reduce the total body load of PUFA as much as possible, rather than trying to boost omega-3s, for instance. Does this make sense?

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Sam! That’s actually a really good idea. We currently do not recommend taking FCLO or cod liver oil – we’ve updated our book but haven’t found the time yet to update our cod liver oil blog post – we’ll do that soon! We recommend taking desiccated liver capsules or eating grass-fed liver regularly, or taking a vitamin A supplement like this one:

      Pure Encapsulations Vitamin A 10,000 IU

      Taking vitamin E is a great PUFA defense strategy when you’re eating out at restaurants or for some reason consume a large amount of PUFA. We’re working on a “PUFA Shield” supplement that incorporates full-spectrum E along with some other lipid peroxidation blockers to make it easier for travelers, folks who eat out a lot, etc. to avoid the worst PUFA effects on acne.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Master your acne, in 4 weeks or less

Get instant access to our comprehensive guide to getting rid of acne permanently, through intelligent diet and lifestyle changes. Learn how to get clear skin ASAP, by getting a copy of our e-book.

Get our complete solution