From dullness and enlarged pores to blotchiness, increased redness and puffiness, the effects of alcohol on skin seem infinite. We spoke to the experts about why alcohol causes these issues and how you can lessen the damage.
If you notice your skin looking redder after drinking too, there’s a very simple scientific explanation. Alcohol inflames the tissue of the skin and increases the blood flow to your skin cells, which can leave your appearance looking inflamed and unhealthy for days.
This is because alcohol causes blood vessels under the surface of your skin to widen, which allows more blood to flow, producing that tell-tale flushed colour or redness in the skin.
If you’re consuming alcohol frequently, chances are you’re not getting the sleep you need either, which can also leave you with dark circles under the eyes. There are so many health benefits of giving up alcohol, but we understand that not everyone wants to quit drinking completely.
It is advisable to choose your drinking wisely however, stay hydrated and nourish your body so you can reduce the effects of alcohol on your skin. Over time, excessive drinking will cause the skin to become more damaged, meaning symptoms will stick around for longer, leaving your skin open to free radical damage that leads to premature ageing.
What are the effects of alcohol on skin?
Overindulging on alcohol may leave you with an all-mighty hangover the next day. The throbbing temples, nauseous stomach and poor quality of sleep are just some of the side effects, but what effects of alcohol can be seen in the skin? The two main effects of drinking too much alcohol on your skin are dehydration and inflammation.
The effects of dehydration from alcohol
- Loss of elasticity, leading to wrinkles and sagging skin
- Enlarged pores
Cosmetic doctor, Dr Rita Rakus explains, “Alcohol is known to dehydrate the skin, depriving it of the moisture and nutrients it needs to keep our complexion looking radiant, supple and youthful. Alcohol removes the fluid in the skin which can increase the appearance of wrinkles, dryness and sagging skin. As alcohol is a diuretic, it means that it actively draws water away from the body, significantly lowering the body’s water level, therefore causing dehydration. Dehydrated skin can look dry and unhealthy, both in the colour of the skin as well as the texture.”
The effects of inflammation from alcohol
- Increased redness or flushing of the skin
GP and online doctor at MedExpress, Dr Clare Morrison, sheds some light on exactly how inflammation starts. “Alcoholic drinks, notably cocktails and wine are incredibly high in sugar, and this will show in your skin if you are consuming more than the recommended amount. The sugar in alcohol can crystalise your skin cells, also known as glycation, which leads to visibly deflated skin, damaged cells and a duller complexion. Sugar has also been shown to trigger the hormone IGF-1, which causes an overproduction of oil in your skin, increasing your chances of breakouts or acne.”
If you suffer from the skin condition rosacea, it’s highly likely that alcohol will exacerbate your symptoms. “Rosacea is a condition that is triggered by alcohol consumption – especially red wine – as it’s an inflammatory condition, so when we drink alcohol we’re increasing chances of a flare-up.”
The worst alcoholic drinks for your skin
From research into the types of alcoholic drinks and the effect on skin, it’s fair to say that some are worse than others.
Of course, drinking full stop will aggravate skin but if you want to enjoy a tipple or two, we ranked the most common drinks from worst to bad for your skin…
If you’re partial to a few JD and cokes on a night out, then you may find yourself waking up with awful hangovers. Dark spirits, such as whiskey, bourbon and rum, contain congeners – chemicals such as tannings and methanol – which make hangovers worse.
In fact, a study by the British Medical Association found bourbon is twice as likely to cause a hangover as the same amount of vodka.
Lighter coloured drinks such as vodka, gin and tequila contain the least amount of additives and are processed by the body quickest. This means that they should have the least impact on your skin, therefore minimising potential damage.
And although you may still suffer a hangover the next day, drinking lighter drinks may minimise your suffering slightly (and the amount of bacon sandwiches you have to consume!) because they don’t contain congeners. In fact, a study by the British Medical Association found bourbon is twice as likely to cause a hangover as the same amount of vodka.
Despite red wine being hailed as the ‘healthiest’ choice of alcohol because it contains antioxidants, it is actually the most damaging for your skin.
Because red vino is unfiltered, the liver and kidneys have to work harder to process it, and it’s the most likely booze to cause flushing, redness, and blotchy skin – which is bad news if you already suffer from a skin condition that causes redness, such as rosacea.
Unfortunately, white wine tends to be high in sugar too, which can lead to swollen skin and bloating, which is the last thing you want for your face.
Everyone loves holding a fancy cocktail glass in their hand, but your faves like Pornstar Martinis and Cosmopolitans are also bad news if you want to keep a clear complexion as the high sugar content in most cocktails can lead to inflammation, which increases cell damage and is a cause of acne.
The high sugar levels can also leave skin looking dull and sallow. So next time you’re perusing the cocktail list on a night out, bear in mind that a Margarita is the worst offender as it contains both sugar and salt, both of which can leave skin puffy.
How to reduce the effects of alcohol on your skin
Keep hydratedIt may sound like an obvious one, but one of the most important things you can do to help your skin is to drink enough water.
After a night out, Faye Purcell, Development Chemist at Q+A skincare suggests, getting a pint of H20 in, “Dehydrated skin needs to be treated from within, and plain and simple water is your best option. So, drink up before bed, and keep as hydrated as you can the next day. Leave a pint of water by your bed and drink it before you go to sleep. The next day, try infusing your water with cucumber, citrus or mint for an extra antioxidant boost.”
Drinking alcohol dehydrates your skin as your kidneys go into overdrive trying to flush out the excess liquids. This means the rest of your organs aren’t getting enough hydration, which will eventually show in your skin. So, get rehydrating ASAP.
As well as keeping your body in shape and taking care of your inner health, exercise improves the blood flow throughout the skin, helping to keep it looking healthy, juicy and plump. Get sweating with a fun workout and this will clear your pores too.
Include supplements into your diet
Alcohol can drain the body of vitamin A, which is the vitamin responsible for cell turnover, so by taking a daily supplement you can help to encourage the cell regeneration process which you’ve inhibited by drinking alcohol. You can also take a supplement dedicated to keeping your skin, hair and nails healthy which can help repair your skin damages in an efficient manner.
Other supplements that can help restore the balance to your skin include vitamins C, E, B1, B6, B2, B3 and Omega 3.
Drink non-alcoholic alternatives
Just because you’re not drinking booze, it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a fancy cocktail. Known as a ‘mocktail’, most bars and restaurants will offer non-alcoholic alternatives to the cocktails on their menu.
There’s also plenty of non-alcoholic beers and wines on the market, so if you’re serious about cutting down your alcohol intake but still want something a bit more exciting than H20, there are lots to choose from.
Do your skincare before bed
This applies to everyone, whether you’re drunk or sober. We’ve all been there but this really is important when it comes to looking after your skin.
We asked Faye what to look out for, “We know your usual skincare regime may go out of the window following a night out, so if you only do one thing after cleansing, apply a rich moisturiser that contains antioxidants and ingredients that help soothe and hydrate.”
“Applying calming and ultra-nourishing ingredients should be a priority! You want to look out for ingredients called humectants which will draw moisture from the air into your skin to replenish your cell’s water levels and work best when applied to damp skin. Look for hyaluronic acid, glycerine and panthenol (Vitamin B5) on the ingredients list of your products.”
Sleep with an extra pillow
Believe it or not, sleeping with two pillows in bed slightly propped up is one of the best ways to minimise eye and face puffiness. This is because dark circles can be caused by fluids that tend to pool in the under-eye area if your head is lying flat.
It also helps to sleep in a cool, darkroom. Studies have shown a direct link between core body temperature and sleep quality, concluding that cooler temperatures do not interfere with the body’s natural REM cycle.
When you’re able to get a good night’s sleep, your skin and body can much more effectively recharge, allowing you to wake up looking and feeling refreshed.
Choose your cover-up carefully
If you’re adamant that you’re not leaving the house without make-up on, then always use a lightweight and moisturising foundation. To camouflage any redness in your face, try using a green-tinted primer before applying any make-up, which should help neutralise any redness.
It’s best to avoid using powders if you’re trying to improve your skin as are often more drying.
What happens to skin when you stop drinking alcohol
Whether you decide to cut down on drinking or completely stop, avoiding alcohol is inevitably going to be great for your skin. Your body is an amazing regenerator and the negative effects of alcohol can be reversed if you act in good time.
Here’s what will happen to your skin when you quit drinking:
- Hydrated, plumper skin
- Fewer wrinkles
- Brighter skin
- Smaller pores
- Excessive redness will disappear
- Acne may improve
- Skin tone becomes even
- Puffiness subsides
- Flare-ups of rosacea become more infrequent
Anna Bailey stopped drinking alcohol in 2019 and has noticed a dramatic improvement in her skin, “I’m so much happier with my skin since I stopped drinking,” she said. “I used to spend a fortune on skin creams and facials, and they’d barely make a difference – but quitting alcohol, even in just the first couple of weeks, had a dramatic and instant effect on my complexion.”
“I have less fine lines, smoother skin and the vertical crease between my eyes, which was also SO much worse when I was hungover, has disappeared. I’ve also noticed small bumps on my skin and raised freckles seem to have shrunk down. I no longer suffer from ‘drunks dawn’ – waking up at 5am with a hangover – so my beauty sleep isn’t interrupted and I don’t look or feel as tired as I used to. When I was hungover, I couldn’t resist gorging on sweets and greasy takeaways – and I’m sure cutting down on these has really helped as well.”
If you’re struggling with the use of alcohol or are in need of help and guidance. Head to the NHS website or visit www.drinkaware.co.uk for more information.