How Does Alcohol Affect Skin?
How do you unwind at the end of a long or stressful week? How about after a long or stressful day? Some of us would say, “I flop onto the sofa, watch some reality TV, then crawl to bed”. (Sounds good, right?)
Others would respond by saying that they went to the gym, or did some crafting or went for a head clearing walk. However we choose to unwind, it’s our absolute right to enjoy it.
What if we reach for the nearest wine bottle or stopped off at the pub on our way home from work? We wouldn’t be alone. Millions of us Brits unwind with an alcoholic drink at the end of the day or week. And there’s nothing inherently wrong in that whatsoever.
The Effect of Alcohol
But how does drinking alcohol impact our skin? We know that after a particularly long or heavy session with the Sauvignon Blanc that our skin might look a bit sallow (we can thank the dehydrating nature of alcohol for that, more on that shortly).
We also know that drinking more than the recommended drinking guidelines isn’t good for our liver. The NHS also advises that if we drink more than the 14 recommended units of alcohol per week on a regular basis, we’re also more at risk of developing heart disease, strokes, certain cancers and pancreatitis.
So what about our skin? Are there long term risks to our skin when we consume alcohol? What about if we don’t overindulge and stick to the recommended guidelines? Can drinking alcohol lead to skin conditions we may not have considered? Does any level of alcohol have an impact? Is it just excessive drinking that causes skin irritation? Or can any level of alcohol intake make your skin look dull and blotchy?
Here’s what we found out…
The Problem of Dehydration: The Impact of Drinking Alcohol on the Skin
Sadly, there’s no two ways about it, alcohol is dehydrating. Alcohol dehydrates us however much we drink, even if we don’t drink to the point of getting a hangover the next day.
Drinking alcohol can affect how often we need to pee. But how does it do that? It's all because alcohol is a diuretic, and as anyone who’s drunk alcohol will know, a diuretic is something that makes you pee...
How Does Alcohol Use Cause Dehydrated Skin?
More technically, a diuretic forces fluids from the blood into the kidneys and then the bladder more quickly than other drinks. That’s why, when we start drinking alcohol, we tend to need to pee soon after, and we continue to need to throughout our meal or drinking session. The more we pass urine, the more dehydrated we become.
There are circumstances when this dehydration can have more of an effect, too. For example, if we consume alcohol on an empty stomach, the alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream more quickly. This then means that the diuretic effect begins much more quickly.
The effects of dehydration cause the familiar hangover headache the day after a night of drinking, due to the tiny blood vessels in our heads becoming constricted (or narrowed) due to a lack of water. That’s why we crave fluid the morning after, and why it eventually helps to cure our headaches.
But dehydration also spells bad news for our skin. The small blood vessels that supply water, oxygen and nutrients to the skin also become constricted when we drink alcohol.
What Are the Short-Term Effects Caused By Alcohol on the Skin?
In the short term, alcohol increases our levels of dehydration which will have a visible impact on our skin health. Our skin may appear dry and we may experience a few bumps and blotches. Also, existing skin issues can be further impacted by alcohol. This could mean that drinking alcohol can cause further flushing and redness if we have rosacea, for example.
Dehydrated skin appears dry and sallow looking, and it may feel itchy or flakey. It’s lacking moisture, or more specifically, water (as opposed to dry skin, which is a long term skin type caused by a lack of natural oils in the skin).
We may also notice dark circles around our eyes once our skin becomes dehydrated, and our skin may just look like it's lost its vigour and glow. We might notice a different appearance and ageing skin may look more pronounced. Skin that’s become dehydrated through drinking alcohol may also appear puffy or bloated, again due to dehydration.
But none of this is particularly long lasting and our skin will settle down once the amount of alcohol in our bodies has dissipated and we've rehydrated ourselves. (And perhaps treated our skin to a nourishing face mask.)
However, if we don't stop drinking alcohol, and we continue to to drink alcohol excessively, what happens to our skin?
Does Alcohol Cause Long Term Skin Damage?
As well as dehydration due to alcohol, drinking also has an inflammatory effect on the body. Inflammation is essentially a good thing, it's all part of our immune response. But if inflammation builds up and becomes chronic, such as in the case of heavy drinking and alcohol misuse, it can lead to a higher risk of chronic disease.
Skin-wise, this can mean long term itching and frequent rashes and skin infections. But chronic inflammation can also lead to fluctuations in our hormones. This in turn can then make us suffer spots and acne breakouts, especially if we have acne prone skin. A surge in hormones can cause an increase in oil in your skin, and your skin will look more oily and shiny. The pores of the skin will become blocked, and you'll experience even more breakouts.
The more alcohol you drink, the worse the problem may become. Your skin cell turnover will become sluggish and you may experience allergy like symptoms such as burning and itching.
How Does Excessive Alcohol Affect Your Skin?
But what about the effects of long term, heavy drinking? So far, we’ve spoken about the effects of keeping to our limits and the occasional blow out.
Chronic drinking causes changes in our blood pressure, causing it to increase. High blood pressure causes the blood vessels to the skin to rupture or burst. This gives us visible red, broken spider veins in our skin.
Our eyes may also appear bloodshot in these circumstances too, due to the blood vessels in the eyes being affected. The nose can also be affected over the longer term, causing it to become red and bulbous.
So it's clear to see, drinking alcohol frequently can have a detrimental effect on skin. Here's a few quick fire questions on how alcohol can affect your skin.
Can Alcohol Cause Red Skin
Yes. Drinking alcohol can lead to skin redness and flushing due to inflammation and broken skin capillaries.
Can Alcohol Cause Itchy Skin?
Drinking alcohol can also cause an itch within the skin, again due to inflammation.
Can Alcohol Cause Bad Skin?
In terms of acne and oily skin conditions, alcohol is also linked to an increase in spots and breakouts. The good news is that cutting back on alcohol or quitting alcohol altogether could help to reverse this.
Can Alcohol Cause Dry Skin Patches?
Yes, again the dehydrating effects of alcohol can cause dry, flaky patches of skin on the face and body.
Can Alcohol Cause Skin Cancer?
There is no evidence that drinking alcohol means that you'll develop skin cancer.
Bottoms Up? The Good and the Bad of Alcoholic Drinks
When we’re thinking or reading about our alcohol consumption, it's easy to forget that there are some benefits to drinking alcohol.
The headlines of the illnesses and diseases associated with alcohol consumption are scary. And we’re all always going to know someone who, for their own personal reasons, doesn’t touch a drop.
But, within reason, drinking a glass or two, a few times a week isn’t devastating. If drinking our favourite drink helps us to relax, then we think that’s a good thing, because stress has a large impact on our emotional and physical health.
So the advice is, keep your alcohol consumption to within the guidelines. Remember, the 14 units advice is a maximum guideline, not a target. It’s probably better to be under 14 units on some weeks. It’s always a good idea to have several alcohol free days each week, too. Mix up your drinks by drinking water with meals and alongside your alcoholic drinks to help you avoid dehydration as much as you can.
Can I Reverse the Effects of Alcohol on Skin?
You can't technically reverse the ill effects of drinking too much alcohol. But you can support the health of your skin by using nourishing skin care products specifically designed to support the skin, whatever its needs. Our range of alkalising cleansers, moisturisers, serums and masks support all skin types.
We’ve added hydrating ingredients such as squalane and glycerin and left out the harsh, chemical ingredients that can spell bad news for the skin. So if you drink alcohol, support your skin with our nourishing skin care and let your skin, not the wine, do the talking!
This article is not meant to treat or diagnose. Please visit your doctor for advice about any health concerns you may have.