Slip, slop, slap, seek, slide… sip: Coffee and skin cancer

21 Jan
In Melbourne, we are all too often more obsessed with our coffee than our sun protection. As a skin cancer risk protection strategy, there’s no substitute for reducing ultraviolet exposure with sunscreens, shade and protective clothing and eyewear. But our addiction to coffee may be a helpful addition to our skin protection strategy.

Coffee and melanoma

A study has shown that people who drank coffee regularly were less likely to develop melanoma, a potentially life-threatening form of skin cancer. Published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in 2015 (Loftfield 2015), the study showed that:

  • Over a period of ten years, white-skinned people aged 50 to 71 were 20 per cent less likely to develop melanoma if they drank four cups of coffee per day, compared with those who drank none.
  • People who drank three cups per day were 10 per cent less likely to develop melanoma. In other words, it seems the more coffee they drank, the greater the protective effect.
  • The reduction in risk only applied for caffeinated coffee.
  • The risk of melanoma in situ (the earliest, least aggressive stage of melanoma) was not reduced in coffee drinkers.

Coffee and basal cell carcinoma

Other studies (Ferruci 2014, Song 2011) have suggested that coffee could also decrease the risk of basal cell carcinoma, a less serious but very common form of skin cancer. Both of the studies showed that people who consumed three cups of coffee per day had a significantly lower risk of developing basal cell carcinoma.

  • This effect might be greater in women than men (in one study, 20 percent reduction in risk for women vs nine per cent reduction for men).
  • The reduction in risk is greater if more coffee is consumed.
  • The reduction in risk applies for caffeinated coffee, and for hot tea containing caffeine.
The more coffee you drink, the lower the risk of basal cell carcinoma

How does it work?

Several compounds in coffee, including caffeine, have been shown in experiments to reduce ultraviolet-induced damage to skin cells. Caffeine may also act as a kind of sunscreen by absorbing ultraviolet radiation.


It’s important to remember that these findings aren’t conclusive and they show an association between coffee consumption and reduced skin cancer incidence. In other words, the studies do not conclude that coffee consumption is the cause of reduced skin cancer incidence. The best method of reducing skin cancer risk is still to minimse exposure to excessive ultraviolet radiation. So make sure that sunscreen becomes as much a part of your daily routine as your morning beverage.