You are what you drink: the absolute worst beverages for skin health

Just as water has a powerfully positive impact on our skin, other beverages can have a powerful and highly negative impact on our skin, dehydrating instead of adding moisture to the dermis.

Dehydrating compounds in beverages such as alcohol and coffee can damage the collagen in our skin while non-organic dairy products can harm skin because they are packed with dangerous hormones that cause skin conditions from acne to psoriasis.

If we want beautiful skin, we have to choose beverages that detoxify the liver and hydrate tissues. Equally important is to compensate for the dehydrating effects of beverages and other factors that damage skin by hydrating and moisturising the skin.

Alcohol, coffee, dairy: the missing link between you and beautiful skin?

coffee-563797_1280 Many individuals today are thinking a lot about what they put in their mouths as far as food is concerned and not thinking nearly enough about how the liquids they consume every day can affect the skin.

Consuming lots of highly caffeinated beverages or, even worse, drinking alcohol on a regular basis can be a death sentence for the skin comparable to years of sun damage.

“In a weird way, drinking alcohol and tanning are comparable. If you go tanning once or twice in your teens, you aren’t going to see wrinkling and skin deterioration the very next day. If you continue to go tanning on a consistent basis and look in the mirror when you’re in your mid-30s, your skin will look aged and unhealthy. This will be especially true compared to your friends who stayed out of the sun and kept their skin safe by taking proactive measures. The same can be said for alcohol consumption. Over the years, the negative consequences will catch up to your skin and your body.”1

- Dr. Alan J Parks, Dermatologist and founder of DermWarehouse -

Alcohol isn’t the only beverage that ages skin or causes loss of important skin compounds, chiefly collagen. Many liquids we consume today do anything but hydrate and nourish the skin.

Let’s look at the worst ones.

  1. Soft drinks, soda pop and energy drinks

With everything we’ve been hearing about sugary colas and energy drinks and their negative impact on overall health, it’s little surprise that such beverages can also have an intense effect on skin health.

Sodas and energy drinks, in particular, are packed with two compounds which have wickedly ageing effects upon the skin: caffeine and sugar. We’ll discuss the effects of caffeine when we discuss coffee below, but let’s look at the even more damaging aspects of sugar to your skin.


Soft drinks are packed with sugar. One 24-ounce bottle of soft drink (soda) can have anywhere from 7 to 14 teaspoons of sugar in it. Whenever you consume massive amounts of sugar like this, in food or beverage form, you trigger the release of inflammatory messengers called cytokines.

Cytokines have a highly negative impact on the tissues of the body because they cause both acute and chronic inflammation, which is bad not only for your health but the appearance of your skin as well.2

Even worse, cytokines literally eat away at collagen and elastin, causing premature sagging, loss of tone, and wrinkling—much like deadly sun damage does to the skin.

“Soda is a factor in the ageing process of the skin because it causes the body to produce all kinds of inflammatory products . . . I compare it to Pac-Man, going around the body eating good tissue. Diet, and especially soda, greatly affects your skin . . . Soda causes damage to the skin just like smoking. Just like sugar, nicotine causes inflammation. Whether you are drinking or smoking chemicals, it’s hard on the body to fight them.”

- Dr. Steven Victor, Dermatologist -

According to Victor, the inflammatory cascade that cola drinking sets off in the skin can lead to wrinkling, premature ageing, and can exacerbate skin conditions such as acne, rosacea, and psoriasis.3

But sugar is dangerous to skin for another important reason as well. The excessive sugar in soda causes glucose molecules to attach to the collagen in your skin in a process called glycation. Glycation’s impact on the skin is so severe it can cause not just premature ageing but scarring as well.

This is because glycation causes sugar molecules to attach to the protein in your bloodstream to form these harmful new molecules called advanced glycation end products (or, ironically, AGEs for short).

The more sugar you eat, the more AGEs you develop and this sets off an array of damaging effects to the skin, which dermatologist Fredric Brandt, MD, explains as such, “[when] AGEs accumulate, they damage adjacent proteins in a domino-like fashion.”

In short, sugar is deadly to the two compounds we need for youthful skin: collagen and elastin.

What’s worst is that beyond damaging collagen, sugar also transforms type III collagen, our strongest collagen fibres, into type I collagen fibres, which are fragile. “When that happens,” Brandt adds, “the skin looks and feels less supple.”4

Even worse, these AGEs in the skin go on to deactivate our natural antioxidant enzymes, leaving us vulnerable to sun damage, which is the most pervasive threat of premature ageing to our skin, period.

A recent study from the National Institute of Health found that the ageing effect of AGEs from drinking soda are caused by their negative impact on our skin’s proteins, lipids, and nucleic acids, depleting and weakening them, all of which leads to premature ageing.

AGEs go to work on the skin, breaking down collagen and elastin, leading to sagging skin and wrinkles. What’s even more dangerous is that AGEs also deactivate natural antioxidant enzymes, leaving the skin more susceptible to sun damage. 5

Not only is inflammation bad for the skin, inflammation is the lead cause of degenerative and chronic diseases of all kinds, including autoimmune disorders like diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.

In fact, a new study has just found a causal link between drinking soda and rheumatoid arthritis finding that in 100,000 women for 28 years that those who drank two sodas are 63% more likely to develop RA than women who do not drink soda pop.6

  1. Dairy

Does milk really do a body good? Not most milk.

Yes, organic, filtered, milk from non-hormonally injected, pesticide free, pasture-fed cows can be good for your health, as can organic yoghurt, cheese, and eggs, from all-natural, chemically free animals like these. But ingesting dairy that’s full of hormones and chemicals can have horrible effects on the skin.

Registered dietician, Maria Bella explains that she came to understand the full impact non-organic dairy can have upon the skin through noticing, over a period of years, that many of her clients with the clearest, most youthful looking skin led a completely dairy-free lifestyle. This prompted her to begin her own mini-investigation into why dairy is so harmful to the skin.

As Bella learned, “Most of the cows used in farming are actually pregnant cows. The hormones such as progesterone and insulin growth factors make their way into the milk,” she explains. “When we consume the milk, it leads to increased levels of inflammation, skin breakdown, ageing and acne in many people.”7

In fact, these hormones in milk aren’t just responsible for just an overall poor appearance to skin but severe skin conditions such as severe acne and cystic acne.

This is because milk contains a lot of a specific hormone called IGF-1 found. Farmers feed baby cows IGF-1 enriched milk to yield bigger cattle, but in humans, it produces inflammation, acne, and increased production of the sebum glands (oil glands). As Melnik notes, much of the reason dairy causes acne is because “Milk consumption results in a significant increase in insulin and IGF-1 serum levels comparable with high glycaemic food.”8

The diary-acne connection is well documented in study after study. In the last ten years, research in this area has literally exploded, and we’ve learned the real extent of the connections between hormones, acne, and the real cause of cystic acne. In general, the research proves that excessive milk consumption, in short, leads to excessive acne.9,10

If you think that dairy is ruining the look of your skin, try an elimination diet for 10-12 weeks, completely removing dairy in all its forms from your diet—even coffee creamer products, cheese sauces, and powdered cheese products in packaged foods such as macaroni and cheese. If you end up with the best skin you’ve ever had, you’ll know the no-dairy way is for you.

If you’re worried about calcium deficiency, calcium is plentiful in vegetables, especially dark leafy greens like spinach and kale and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli.

  1. Liquor: The worst of the worst

Alcohol has a range of negative impacts on the skin. It’s dehydrating, ageing, toxic, and contains compounds such as congeners which have excessively negative effects upon the skin.

Studies have connected alcohol consumption with many skin disorders from rosacea, to psoriasis, to premature ageing, sagging skin, and acne. Excessive consumption of white wine, interestingly, has also been connected with an increased risk of melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers.11

One good rule in trying to pinpoint foods and drinks which might age skin, cause acne flare-ups, or damage collagen, is to look at foods that don’t detoxify well from the body or which contain toxins, chemical, or substances that the liver has difficulty flushing from the system: consider, for example, the toxic effects of substances such as liquor, processed foods, trans fats, and other compounds which toxify rather than detoxify the body.

You have to remember, alcohol acts a toxin to the hepatic glands, specifically the liver. In fact, if you question the extent to which liquor can affect your skin, Dr. Stephen Colbert advises, “ ask [yourself] what does someone look like who is dying of liver failure? They’re sallow, they’re pasty, they’re cold, their pores are huge.”12

Beyond alcohol’s toxic effects on the liver and, consequently, the skin, there are four other chief reasons alcohol ruins skin.

    Alcohol is particularly dehydrating

For every 8 ounces of liquor you ingest, you expel 16 ounces of urine in the body’s efforts to detoxify the liver. This means you’re losing water and electrolytes from your system, and dehydration wreaks havoc on skin health, robbing your skin of moisture and its youthful tone.

    Alcohol destroys the collagen in your skin

Alcohol stimulates the production of a natural enzyme known as collagenase, which cleans up our damaged collagen and encourages new collagen growth—it’s like nature’s apricot scrub. However, alcohol starts a process in which good collagen is discarded and not replaced, leading to a lack of collagen in your skin, which will, of course, have a very ageing effect upon your skin. This is why heavy drinkers always, always look older than they are. Look at some rock stars from the 70s and 80s for some prime examples of aged skin due to the ravages of alcohol.13

On top of this, alcohol ruins your reparative sleep cycles when collagen is replaced and, even more, most people staying up drinking aren’t getting enough hours sleep to even reach that sleep cycle (that stage of sleep is called “slow-wave sleep” and it’s when all the muscles and tissues of the body repair).14

    Alcohol expands blood vessels

If you’ve ever heard of the alcoholic “red nose” syndrome, the “ruddiness” effect of alcohol upon the skin comes from the fact that alcohol causes the expansion of blood vessels, which can lead to broken capillaries in the face. Regular drinking leads to permanent webs of red lines on the face. The end result is red, rough, aged skin that looks decades older than it is.

Like sugar, alcohol is highly inflammatory as well. This is why alcoholics get a beer belly, and most alcoholics are overweight and unhealthy. 15

Overall, heavy drinking is bad, bad, bad for the skin.

  1. Coffee

Every year we either hear of coffee as a bane or a boon to health. When it comes to skin, coffee has both positive and negative effects here as well.

Studies in the past five years confirm that coffee does show protective effects against skin cancer. In fact, recent studies confirm that women who drank 3 or more cups of coffee a day are 21% less likely to get basal cell carcinoma (skin cancer), while for men, the risk reduction was 10% overall.16

Although scientists are still somewhat unclear why coffee protects individuals against skin cancer, individuals who consumed decaffeinated coffee in this study did not experience the beneficial effects. So it seems as if there is a cancer protective aspect to caffeine.

At the same time, however, studies also reveal that caffeine can have an ageing effect on the skin because of its dehydrating properties. As New York City dermatologist Dr. Deborah Wattenberg explains:

“Alcohol and caffeine … act like a diuretic and prevent you from holding on to water, so your skin looks sort of prune-like. It can get dry and get washed out . . .  Junk food contains a lot of preservatives and that will do the same thing.”17

- Dr. Deborah Wattenberg -


So yes, anything in excess can age us. The bottom line is if you are going to drink liquids that have a toxifying, ageing, or dehydrating effect upon the skin, be willing to compensate with hydration of the skin within—and without.

Natural skin hydrators can help to counteract some of the dehydration you might experience from drinking coffee, tea, and other beverages by hydrating the skin from without.

The key is to take steps to think about hydrating your skin from the inside and out every single day. Drink lots of water and use skin products full of natural emollients that hydrate, fortify, and protect skin from damage without.

Great essential oils and herbs to look for in skin hydrators are centipeda cunninghamii extract (old man weed) and vitis vinifera extract. Both of these compounds help to lock moisture into the skin keeping it taut, hydrated, and youthful. Applying a hydrator before a moisturiser provides a seal of moisture that can be then locked in with a good, natural moisturising cream.

Read part 2 in our series of You are what you drink by clicking here.

References and Sources
  1. DermWarehouse. (2016). What dermatologists want you to know about the ageing effects of alcohol.
  2. Sauder, D. N. (1990). The role of epidermal cytokines in inflammatory skin diseases.   The Journal of Investigative Dermatology. 95(5): 27S-28S.
  3. Cappon, C. (2014). Fox News: Health. What is soda doing to your skin?
  4. Repensi, K. (2011). Face facts about sugar. Prevention. rel=”nofollow”
  5. Gkogkolou, P. and M. Böhm. (2012). Advanced glycation end products: Key players in skin ageing? Dermatoendocrinology. 4(3):259-70.
  6. Hu, Y., et. al. (2014). Sugar-sweetened soda consumption and risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis in women. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 100(3):959-67
  7. What diary can do to the skin. (2015). The Huffington Post.
  8. Melnik, B. and G. Schmitz. (2009). Role of insulin, insulin-like growth factor-1, hyperglycaemic food and milk consumption in the pathogenesis of acne vulgaris. Experimental Dermatology, 18: 833–841.
  9. Adebamowo, C., et. al. (2008). Milk consumption and acne in teenaged boys. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 2008 May;58(5):787-93.
  10. Ismail, N., Manaf, Z., and N. Azizan. (2012). High glycemic load diet, milk and ice cream consumption are related to acne vulgaris in Malaysian young adults: a case control study. BMC Dermatology.
  11. MacMillan, A. CNN. White wine raises melanoma risk, study says.
  12. Huffington Post. (2013). Here’s how alcohol wrecks your skin . . . And how to choose the least
  13. Fridlington, J. Westlake Dermatology. How drinking alcohol affects your skin and facial appearance.
  14. Wiggins, R., et. al. (1988). Effects of ageing and alcohol on the biochemical composition of histologically normal human brain. Metabolic Brain Disorders. 3(1): 67-80.
  15. Cakani, N., (2014). Effects of ethanol on the heart and blood vessels. OA Alcohol. 2(1):7.
  16. Song, F., et. al. (2012). Increased caffeine intake is associated with reduced risk of basal cell carcinoma of the skin. Cancer Research.
  17. Dahl, M. Today.Com. Your daily cup of coffee may be ageing your skin.

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