What Happens to Your Skin When You Drink Too Much
It’s not just about dehydration, y’all.
We all know that feeling after a night out drinking with your friends, when the sunlight streaming into your room is threatening to burn your retinas—your mouth is Sahara-desert-dry, your stomach is doing backflips, and once you make your way to a mirror, you see that your skin is looking (to put it lightly) lackluster. It’s no secret that drinking, especially in excess, is detrimental to your body, but your skin also takes its own particular beating. Think sallow complexion, under-eye bags, puffy cheeks, and an overall lack of hydration. But what exactly is happening beneath the skin that is making us look, and feel, so terrible?
To learn more about the effects of alcohol on our complexions, we consulted two New York–based dermatologists, Dr. Doris Day and Dr. Carlos Charles. From whether or not the type of alcohol you drink makes your skin worse, to how long it takes to look like your normal glowy self again, this is everything they wish their patients knew about skin care and drinking.
How does alcohol dry out and damage the skin?
Dr. Charles: “Excessive alcohol consumption leads to general dehydration including the skin. This is in part because alcohol is a diuretic, meaning that it draws fluids out of the body. Excessive alcohol consumption also makes it more difficult to rehydrate the skin. Additionally, alcohol triggers inflammation throughout the body. This can easily be seen in rosacea-prone individuals that turn red after consuming an alcoholic beverage. Over time all of these changes can lead to impaired skin-cell turnover and accelerate collagen breakdown. The end result is a dull skin appearance, more pronounced fine lines, as well as decreased facial volume.”
Do different types of alcohol affect the skin in different ways?
Dr. Day: “There may be some differences, but this has not been studied. One way they would affect the skin differently is by overall alcohol content. If the alcohol is in a mixed drink, that adds sugar, which can be very inflammatory and aging for the skin. For this reason, pure alcohol or beer may be better because they don’t have as much of a glycemic effect.”
Does excessive drinking actually cause breakouts?
Dr. Charles: “Excessive drinking stresses the body in several ways and can have significant deleterious effects on the skin. Any prolonged stressors can lead to breakouts. Certain forms of alcohol are often mixed with other sugary drinks or substances. These combinations can trigger hormonal changes that can certainly have some unwanted effects on the skin, such as acne breakouts.”
What are some other long-term effects of excessive drinking on the skin?
Dr. Charles: “Excessive alcohol consumption can also make it more challenging to reap the benefits of dermatologic treatments. Over time, skin that is exposed to excessive alcohol will be less responsive to treatments such as retinoids, chemical peels, and certain lasers. So while you are not only causing damage to the skin with excessive long-term alcohol consumption, it also may become more difficult to reverse these changes.”
Dr. Day: “When people drink, they tend to eat high-carbohydrate, high-salt foods. This can increase puffiness around the eyes, shallowness of the skin, and affect skin turgor, which is hydration of the skin, making the skin feel and look saggy.”
Is there an amount of alcohol that will not have a major effect on the skin?
Dr. Charles: “As with everything in life, alcohol intake in moderation may not cause major effects on the skin. However, if you are consistently drinking heavily, then you are doing potentially irreversible damage to the skin, among other organs.”
Dr. Day: “When you drink alcohol, it’s helpful to make an extra effort to stay hydrated and minimize salt. Slowing down the pace of drinking helps, as well as avoiding high-sugar-content mixers. The absolute amount of alcohol that has an impact varies greatly from one person to another. Also, smoking can have an additive destructive effect when mixed with alcohol, increasing the risk of skin cancer.”
On average, how long does it take to recover from the effects that drinking has on the skin?
Dr. Charles: “One night of excessive drinking should not have long-term sequelae [Ed. note: a condition that is the consequence of a previous disease or injury] on the skin, and recovery should occur within a couple of days, [provided] you actively rehydrate and avoid this pattern on a regular basis.”
Dr. Day: “The good news is that the skin is resilient and can recover relatively quickly if you hydrate (drink water and moisturize), get enough sleep, and improve your diet. You can see a difference in as little as one day.”
What else do you wish your patients knew about their skin and drinking alcohol?
Dr. Charles: “Drinking alcohol can affect the body in several unwanted ways. Unfortunately, the skin can act as a visual representation of all of these ill effects. As with everything, when it comes to drinking alcohol, moderation is key to prevent potentially irreversible, unwanted skin changes.”
Dr. Day: “We are learning more about the effects of alcohol on the gut, causing or exacerbating leaky gut syndrome, which leads to inflammation in many organs, including the skin. This may contribute to conditions like acne, rosacea, psoriasis, and other conditions. If you have a drink, please don’t smoke at the same time (or at all); try to drink more water than alcohol.”
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