Alcohol and its effects on the health of your skin

Many studies have shown that drinking a moderate amount of alcohol, especially red wine, can be beneficial to health[1]. Reaching for a glass of beer or wine is a common way to relax after a hard day at work, however too much alcohol has a detrimental effect on your health and is especially reflected in the health of your skin.

Drinking too much robs your skin of important vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. Over time nutritional deficiencies can develop as the body makes metabolising the alcohol a priority, instead of absorbing the nutrients from food[2].

Combined with putting nutrients from food on the back burner, the body can become impaired in its digestive processes if too much alcohol is consumed on a regular basis, resulting in malabsorption[3], as well as irritation of the gut lining, which can create, or contribute to, digestive disturbance.

Nutrients for skin health that can be depleted with alcohol:

  • Vitamin A. Deficiency results in dry, irritated skin[4].

  • Vitamin B1 (thiamine). Lack of this vitamin can make the skin appear waxy and the tongue swollen and red.

  • Vitamin B2 (riboflavin). Deficiency can show up as cracked corners of the mouth and rashes on the face, as well as a sore tongue.

  • Vitamin B3 (niacin). Too little of this important vitamin leads to pellagra, a serious disease presenting with dementia, diarrhoea, and dermatitis.

  • Vitamin C. This nutrient plays an important role in skin health and deficiency results in loss of collagen, reduced skin elasticity and poor wound healing[5].

  • Zinc. Another important skin nutrient, which if depleted can cause acne, dry patches around the mouth, scaly, flaky skin and scalp, as well as rashes and skin discoloration[6].

The skin is an organ of detoxification

As the liver works to process the alcohol, the skin steps in to help out and some of it leaves the body through your skin by perspiring, as well as through your breath and urine.

Why do you look so rough after a big night out?

“Alcohol causes a flushing of the skin in those prone. This can trigger rosacea, a chronic redness in the skin because the blood vessels enlarge and produce more blood flow. Though the redness can go down, over time it can lead to a permanent enlargement of the blood vessels and visible thread veins on skin.” And also with alcohol consumption, “the skin becomes dehydrated and the fluid lost can lead to flakiness and puffiness around the eyes. Plus, the excess sugars you’re consuming – especially with beer and wine – damage the DNA and collagen in the skin which can lead to more rapid ageing.”

- Professor Nick Lowe, Consultant Dermatologist for the British Skin Foundation -

Skin conditions that are linked to excess alcohol consumption:

  • Over time, heavy drinking on a regular basis can be detrimental to the skin, creating permanent skin conditions. Rosacea, for example, is a skin condition that begins slowly with a tendency for the skin to blush easily[7]. It can eventually lead to facial disfigurements, such as the red bulbous nose[8] often seen in alcoholics.

  • Acne can be triggered by the nutrient depletion associated with alcohol. Too much alcohol also means too much sugar in the body, leading to hormonal fluctuations associated with acne[9]. If untreated, acne can result in facial scarring.

  • High alcohol consumption has been shown to be a risk factor for psoriasis. The distribution of psoriasis has been observed to be particularly prominent on the fingers and hands of heavy drinkers. People who have psoriasis and drink more than 80g of alcohol per week have been found to have more severe treatment-resistant psoriasis. Patients with psoriasis and high alcohol intake are also more likely to suffer from depression. [10]

  • Bloodshot eyes. With excess alcohol consumption, the tiny blood vessels on the surface of the eye become dilated and inflamed.

  • Acne can be triggered by the nutrient depletion associated with alcohol. Too much alcohol also means too much sugar in the body, leading to hormonal fluctuations associated with acne[9]. If untreated, acne can result in facial scarring.

  • High alcohol consumption has been shown to be a risk factor for psoriasis. The distribution of psoriasis has been observed to be particularly prominent on the fingers and hands of heavy drinkers. People who have psoriasis and drink more than 80g of alcohol per week have been found to have more severe treatment-resistant psoriasis. Patients with psoriasis and high alcohol intake are also more likely to suffer from depression. [10]

  • Bloodshot eyes. With excess alcohol consumption, the tiny blood vessels on the surface of the eye become dilated and inflamed.

  • Spider Veins. Blood vessels just below the surface of the skin can become dilated with excess alcohol, worsening the appearance of – or causing – spider veins. In association with drinking, they are usually most common on the face, chest, hands, arms, the V of the neck and abdomen. In heavy drinkers, this effect can become permanent leading to an unhealthy, uneven-looking complexion[11].

  • Facial redness. One of the telltale signs of heavy drinking is a red face[12]. This occurs when blood vessels expand due to the failing of regulation of vascular control in the brain.  Transient flushing is also common in drinkers, because acetaldehyde, the main breakdown product of alcohol is thought to stimulate the release of histamine and cause flushing[13].

  • Facial and abdominal bloating. Alcohol can make your face look bloated and puffy after overindulging. It can also create excess gas in your digestive system, leading to trapped wind and bloating.

  • According to the personal trainer, James Duigan, toxins from too much alcohol may contribute to a build-up of cellulite. It is thought that cellulite worsens with excess sugar and alcohol intake[14]

  • This can occur with alcoholic liver disease. The bodily skin and sclera of the eyes can turn yellow. Chronic liver disease can also create a darkening of the skin around the eyes, mouth and on the legs[15].

  • Itchy skin (pruritus). Too much drinking can lead to generalised itchiness of the skin, which is thought to occur because of a build-up of poorly metabolised substances stimulating nerve endings in the skin[16].

  • Skin cancer. Too much alcohol increases your risk of skin cancer[17], as well as cancers of the liver, breast[18], pancreas and mouth[19] [20]. In addition to causing nutrient deficiencies, alcohol suppresses the immune system and reduces the body’s natural defences against cancer. Acetaldehyde is a carcinogen, producing reactive free radicals and damaging DNA.

Excessive alcohol can speed up the ageing process

Alcohol causes dehydration in the skin causing it to become wrinkled, dry and old looking. Your body is composed of up to 60% water, and as the largest organ in the body, your skin cannot work well without adequate hydration.

Water is like an internal moisturiser for the skin

Dehydration pulls moisture from the skin, along with crucial nutrients needed to keep skin healthy. Dry skin is more likely to wrinkle and can make you look much older than you actually are.

Alcohol dehydrates the skin

According to New York dermatologist Whitney Bowe, M.D., “Drinking alcohol dehydrates the skin, which leads to tired, sallow looking skin with more pronounced fine lines, wrinkles, and pores,” It dehydrates your skin in two specific ways. “One is that it acts as a diuretic which forces water out of the body. Second, it interferes with the hormone vasopressin, which is responsible for telling your kidneys to reabsorb some of the water that is about to leave your body. Alcohol hinders the production of vasopressin, so it doesn’t allow your body to reabsorb the water that it needs.” And that heavy alcohol intake depletes “vitamin A…a powerful antioxidant that is responsible for cell turnover, fighting off free radicals and giving your skin that healthy glow.”[21]

Avoid damaging your skin when drinking

  • Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water during and after drinking alcohol to rehydrate your skin. Drinking a glass of water between each alcoholic beverage is a great habit to get into.

  • Be choosy about what you drink. A shot of vodka served with soda water and freshly squeezed lime is a more hydrating drink than a sugary cocktail. Spirits that are darker in colour contain congeners, chemical substances that are produced during the fermentation process, that contribute to a drink’s taste and smell. It is thought that congeners are linked to hangovers and skin ageing.

  • Avoid sugary drinks. Any drink containing added sugar will give you a “sugar hangover” on top of your regular hangover. Sugar spikes insulin, creates inflammation and contributes to cell damage and premature ageing of the skin.

  • Drink red wine. As long as you only drink a small glass a day, the resveratrol[22] in red wine acts as a powerful antioxidant and may benefit skin and overall health.

  • Watch what you eat when drinking. Too much alcohol can lead to other unhealthy habits, such as eating junk food and smoking, which both have a negative impact on skin health.

  • Eat nutritious foods after partying. Instead of reaching for junk foods to cure a hangover, concentrate on loading up your plate with nutritious, healthy foods to provide your skin, and body, with the nutrients it needs to look fresh, healthy and bright again.

  • Support your skin after drinking. Ensure you cleanse and moisturise your skin properly using quality, natural products that nourish and protect your skin, such as griffin+row.

  • Supplement with nutrients before and after drinking. It’s a good idea to get into the habit of taking a quality multivitamin and mineral, vitamin C, B vitamins and the herb, milk thistle[23] before and after a night out, to minimise any potential deficiencies and support liver function.

  • Drink in moderation. Have a few nights off alcohol each week, preferably three days in a row to help liver function, and avoid binge drinking on the weekends. You’re better off drinking moderately throughout the week, than binge drinking on the weekend[24], as the liver struggles to process a high volume of alcohol.

Recommended moderate alcohol consumption in the UK:

  • Men 3-4 units a day

  • Women 2-3 units a day

  • 1 unit = 10ml or 8g of pure alcohol

  • A large glass of wine 12% alcohol (250ml) = 3 units

  • A medium glass of wine (175ml) = 2 units

In summary, drinking a moderate amount during the week has some reported health benefits, specifically related to resveratrol in red wine. It seems, however, that those people who can go for weeks at a time without drinking, but then binge drink a lot of alcohol in just one night, may suffer more health complaints than those who drink regularly, due to the liver’s inability to process large amounts of alcohol at any one time.

Like everything in life, balance is the key. And when it comes to skin health, the health of the whole body needs to be considered.


Sources and References:

[1] O’Keefe, JH; Bhatti, SK; Bajwa, A; DiNicolantonio, JJ; Lavie, CJ (March 2014). “Alcohol and cardiovascular health: the dose makes the poison…or the remedy.”. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 89 (3): 382–93.

[2] Lieber, C.S. The influence of alcohol on nutritional status. Nutrition Reviews 46(7):241-254, 1988.

[3] Effect of alcohol consumption on the gut

C Bode, JC Bode – Best Practice & Research Clinical Gastroenterology, 2003 – Elsevier

[4] Bland JS et al. Clinical Nutrition: A functional approach. Washington, USA. Institute for Functional Medicine, Inc; 1999: pp 123-178

[5] Basu TK , Schorah CJ. Vitamin C in health and disease. AVI publishing Co, Inc Westport Conn 1982

[6] Lansdown AB, Mirastschijski U, Stubbs N, et al. Zinc in wound healing: theoretical, experimental, and clinical aspects. Wound Repair Regen. 2007 Jan-Feb;15(1):2-16.

[7] Chalmers DA. Rosacea: recognition and management for the primary care provider. Nurse Pract 1997;22:18, 23-8,30

[8] Wilkin JK. Rosacea. Int J Dermatol 1983;22:393-400.

[9] Elevated serum insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) levels in women with postadolescent acne. Aizawa H1, Niimura M. J Dermatol. 1995 Apr;22(4):249-52.

[10] Psoriasis: depression, anxiety, smoking, and drinking habits. Jennifer Hays, John Koo. Dermatologic Therapy, volume 23, Issue 2. March/April 2010, pages 174-180

[11] Cutaneous adverse effects of alcohol. Dr Susan Simpkin, Dermatology Registrar, Auckland, New Zealand, 2011 – Dermnetnz.org

[12] Invited Review: Alcohol and the skin. EM Higgins, AWP Du Vivier – Alcohol and Alcoholism, 1992 – Med Council on Alcohol

[13] Cutaneous adverse effects of alcohol. Dr Susan Simpkin, Dermatology Registrar, Auckland, New Zealand, 2011 – Dermnetnz.org

[14] Website: drinkaware.co.uk/alcohol-facts/health-effects-of-alcohol/appearance/how-alcohol-affects-your-appearance/

[15] Cutaneous adverse effects of alcohol. Dr Susan Simpkin, Dermatology Registrar, Auckland, New Zealand, 2011 – Dermnetnz.org

[16] Cutaneous adverse effects of alcohol. Dr Susan Simpkin, Dermatology Registrar, Auckland, New Zealand, 2011 – Dermnetnz.org

[17] International Agency for Research on Cancer. Alcohol drinking. IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans. Vol 44; 1988.

[18] Seitz, H., et al., Epidemiology and pathophysiology of alcohol and breast cancer: Update 2012. Alcohol and Alcoholism, 2012.

[19] International Agency for Research on Cancer. Consumption of alcoholic beverages. IARC Monogr Eval Carcinog Risks to Humans. 2012;100E.

[20] Scoccianti C, Cecchini M, Anderson AS, et al. European Code against Cancer 4th Edition: Alcohol drinking and cancer. Cancer Epidemiol. 2015;39:S67-S74.

[21] Here’s How Drinking Alcohol Impacts Your Skin. Claire Hannum. 2016 December 12. Self.com/story/heres-how-drinking-alcohol-impacts-your-skin

[22] Farris P, Krutmann J, Li YH, McDaniel D, Krol Y. Resveratrol: a unique antioxidant offering a multi-mechanistic approach for treating aging skin. J Drugs Dermatol. 2013 Dec;12(12):1389-94.

[23] Protective effects of silymarin, a milk thistle (Silybium marianum) derivative on ethanol-induced oxidative stress in liver. SK Das, DM Vasudevan – 2006 – nopr.niscair.res.in

[24] O’Keefe, JH; Bhatti, SK; Bajwa, A; DiNicolantonio, JJ; Lavie, CJ (March 2014). “Alcohol and cardiovascular health: the dose makes the poison…or the remedy.”. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 89 (3): 382–93.

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