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Alcohol Effects on Skin

Posted on Sep 02, 2016

We all know the old adage “You are what you eat.”  The same wisdom applies to what you drink, especially when it comes to alcoholic beverages. Alcohol consumption effects can be drastic and affect many organs outside of just your liver. (The largest organ, your skin, can become permanently damaged if you aren’t careful.) Now, no one expects you to quit happy hour altogether, but knowing what effect your actions have on your body will help you make choices you won’t regret down the road. Alcohol effects on skin can be hard to reverse, keep reading to learn how you can avoid them.

Alcohol Aging Skin: How Much Does It Take?

You might be thinking, “I don’t drink that much, these things won’t happen to me.” Sorry, but that’s not true. Alcohol in any amount will affect your body and your skin, but for the sake of argument let’s talk about volume. There is a government standard of moderation when it comes to alcohol consumption for men and women. For men, moderation means two drinks in a single sitting, while for women it is just one. A drink is equivalent to 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or 1.5 ounces of liquor. In case you’re wondering how much is too much, “binge drinking” is classified when a man has 5 or more drinks, or a woman has 5 or more. The negative effects listed in this article occur even at the level of moderation, so don’t think you are exempt from damage just because you drink in or near moderation.

Alcohol Abuse Skin Problems

Alcohol has a number of negative effects on the skin. Besides causing broken capillaries, dehydration and affecting sleeping patterns, if can open your body up to infection and cause preexisting skin conditions to flare up. Keeping your intake low and infrequent is your best bet for keeping the following symptoms at bay.

Alcohol can damage your complexion permanently.

One of the main beauty consequences of drinking is that it causes peripheral blood vessels to expand and widen, allowing more blood to flow through our skin, especially on the face, neck and chest.  Over time, that dilation can become permanent, leading to a flushed, ruddy-looking complexion with numerous small broken blood vessels.  Rosacea sufferers don’t need any introduction to these symptoms and, not surprisingly, alcohol worsens this common but complicated skin condition.

Alcohol Dehydrates Your Body and Skin.

Alcohol is also a powerful diuretic – meaning that it prevents the body temporarily from retaining water.  This is why when you drink, you have to use the restroom more often, and also why you wake up thirsty after a night out on the town. We all know the importance of drinking adequate amounts of water for skin health.  But when you drink alcoholic beverages, you undo those benefits and cause dehydration.  Dehydrated skin is not as resilient or elastic, and shows fine lines and wrinkles more prominently.  Dehydration also deprives the skin of vital nutrients and antioxidants, including Vitamins A, B-3 and C, because these vitamins are water-soluble, and when water is not being retained, the flow right out of you without being absorbed. When this happens, skin can appear dull, ashy and lifeless, often with scaly dry patches.  Those who already have a tendency toward dry skin or eczema are even more prone to seeing these negative effects. In addition to causing your body to lose water rapidly, alcohol also hinders the production of the hormone that helps your body reabsorb water. So not only is it forcing out the most vital substance your body requires (besides oxygen), but it is also preventing you from restoring hydration.

Alcohol allows toxins to thrive.

Toxins generally populate in your liver, where they are filtered out and destroyed. Your liver is good at this because it contains special cells designed to eliminate toxins and poisons. However, alcohol is a “hepatotoxin” – it is toxic to those awesome cells that destroy toxins. If your liver suffers, so does your skin. Liver failure causes patients to look pasty and sallow and enlarges their pores.

Alcohol prevents a good night’s sleep.

Alcohol affects sleep patterns and can result in fewer hours of the quality, restorative sleep your body needs to do much of its repair and healing.  Your skin uses those quiet hours of the night to do some repair of its own; restoration that cannot take place while you’re awake. In addition to feeling less energetic in the morning, you can often see the toll being taken in the form of bloodshot, glassy eyes with dark circles to boot.

Alcohol increases your risk of infection.

In the case of excessive drinking, alcohol can lower your skin’s immunity to bacteria and leave you open to infection. Infections of both bacteria and fungus are more common in those who drink frequently and in excess than those who don’t.

Not All Drinks Are Created Equal

Although the majority of negative side effects hold true for all forms of alcohol consumption, some drinks are worse for you than others. If you want to be conscious of your skin’s health while having a nice cocktail, here are a few easy pointers to remember before you place your order at the bar:

  • Clear Liquid is the Clear Choice. Most experts agree that clear forms of alcohol such as vodka, tequila, or gin contain fewer problematical additives, and if not mixed with sugar, salt or other harmful ingredients, pose less of a threat to your skin’s health. So instead of ordering a murky mixed drink, try something unmixed that you can see clear through.
  • Your Skin Says Skip the Mixer. Drinks made with sweet mixers pose an added threat in the form of sugar, which produces an inflammatory response that damages skin. While the health benefits of moderate consumption of red wine are well documented, it can cause histamine release, leading to increased flushing (especially for those with rosacea) and more of a hangover. Consuming alcohol that hasn’t been muddled with any additional flavors is less damaging to your skin.
  • Salt is Salt in the Wound. If you want to avoid looking bloated during and after drinking, avoid ordering drinks that come with salt on the rim. Salt at any time of day and consumed with any drink or meal contributes to bloating. Salt that goes down with liquid, however, causes symptoms like swollen eyes and parched skin. Also, be careful about drinks that already contain sodium, such as beer.
  • The Lower the Content, the Lower the Damage. Liquor will dehydrate your skin faster than beer because it has a higher alcohol percentage. If you want to slow the dehydration process that occurs during alcohol consumption, stick with lower-alcohol content drinks like hard ciders, beers or other weak forms of alcohol.
  • Beer Has Benefits. Beer contains antioxidants (though not as many as red wine) which help to prevent signs of age and help repair damage to your skin. And because beer contains less alcohol than liquor and will do less damage overall, it is a more worthwhile choice than other drinks (despite the sodium) when consumed in moderation.
  • Choose Red Wine over White. While it does contain beneficial flavonoids and polyphenols, white wine contains less of the powerful antioxidant resveratrol than red. Red wine, however, is not for everyone. Those suffering from rosacea and other skin conditions tend to see a flare up of redness after drinking red wine.
  • Every Other Drink Should Be Water. If you’re serious about avoiding dehydration, drink a full glass of water after each alcoholic beverage. Some studies even suggest that vitamin-enhanced water (particularly first thing the next morning) can allow for a faster hangover recovery as this helps to replenish nutrients in your system more quickly.
  • Don’t Drink Every Day. Alcohol takes time to get out of your system, and the older you are, the longer it takes. For a 20-year old, the average time from entry to exit is three hours, so there’s no risk of overlapping alcohol in your blood from yesterday with today. However, for a 40-year-old the average is thirty-three hours, meaning if you drank last night and tonight, the old alcohol is still in your system and you are doubly dehydrating yourself and your skin. Every other day is a safe amount of time, and even less often is better.

The good news is that many of the negative effects of alcohol are reversible.  In a 2013 article for the UK newspaper the Daily Mail, a 40-year-old mother of two gave up alcohol for a month to test the difference abstinence would make on her skin.  Although her normal consumption was moderate (about 5 large glasses of wine per week) the effects of foregoing alcohol on her skin were noticeable.  A month after going “cold turkey” her skin was noticeably clearer, less flushed and puffy, and the dry patches she had previously struggled with were gone. If you have been drinking for decades and are older, you will likely have more difficulty in restoring your skin to its natural balance.

A Skincare Routine That Supports Alcohol Consumption

While alcohol is going to damage your skin no matter what, there are a few items you should never be without the morning after you’ve had a drink:

  • Moisturizer. Replenishing water and vitamins to your skin is the best thing you can do for your dehydrated epidermis.
  • Hyaluronic Acid. This is what will help your skin retain water, and it will draw the most out of your moisturizer.
  • Vitamin C. Alcohol brings out redness in your face, and Vitamin C helps your skin tone even out while decreasing redness.
  • Eye Cream. Our eyes tend to get the brunt of alcohol use because the skin around the eyes is more delicate than on the rest of our face. Choose a moisturizing eye cream or gel that combats puffiness and dark circles.

Whether you choose to drink and how much alcohol you consume is a personal decision.  Knowing the potential negative consequences, however, can help you make smart choices that limit the visible damage.  Adequate hydration, plenty of sleep and a healthy diet rich in antioxidants can mitigate the problems alcohol can cause. Cheers to that!

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