Drinking can take a serious toll on your skin. Hopefully pointing this doesn’t make make me a buzzkill, because we assume most adults know firsthand how alcohol impacts them. There’s the obvious correlation between a big night out and the next-morning raccoon eyes. But what does that do in the big picture, and what does simple sustained drinking (a serving or two per day, let’s say) do for one’s complexion?
How Alcohol Negatively Impacts Skin
It might seem illogical that some liquids actually dehydrate the body, but that’s what alcohol does. In alcohol’s instance, as the body metabolizes it, it releases a byproduct called acetaldehyde, which Spizuoco says is toxic to body tissues and skin (causing both to lose moisture). This is why your skin can feel rough and desert-dry the morning after a binge. Then, if you magnify that fact times all of the instances you have a bender, imagine the influence it has on premature aging. Dehydrated skin easily wrinkles, and routinely dehydrated skin is sparse on resilience, firmness, and elasticity.
On top of that, having dry skin is a prime condition for acne. Which leads us to…
2. Inflammation and acne
Some people get blushy after one drink, while others take a whole 12-pack to turn rosy in the cheeks. “Alcohol releases a histamine that dilates the blood’s capillaries,” Spizuoco explains. “And the net effect of that is redness of the skin.” However, Spizuoco warns that, when compounded over several years, this inflammation and redness can be permanent. A constant barrage results in a constant swell. (And as a side note, think of the inflammation it causes other parts of your body, like your liver, and the trickle-down effects…)
Another kind of inflammation caused by alcohol is more localized, and familiar to us all: Acne. “Alcohol dilates the pores of the skin, leading to blackheads and whiteheads,” says Spizuoco. “And if it is not properly treated, it can go on to cause inflamed skin papules [lesion-like bumps] and cystic acne.” In the long term, this can cause permanent scarring or result in hyperpigmentation, which itself can be permanent or take months or even a year to disappear.
3. Hindered cellular turnover
Of the many bodily processes impacted by alcohol, sleep ranks among the most vulnerable. And by interfering with your sleep cycle, alcohol effectively and significantly compromises your body’s cellular rejuvenation cycle. (Not to mention, your key cognitive functions.) This is when your body best heals itself from all ailments, and when it rapidly regenerates cells in order to keep you in tip-top shape. As that pertains to superficial cells, it means that your skin looks more dull, and its texture is rougher.
4. Sullen, puffy eyes
Your eyes are often what gives away your hangover to the public. They are byproduct of dehydration, inflammation, and poor rest. The dehydration and lost firmness causes the fat deposits under your eyes to sink downward, and gives the thin area of skin a level of translucence that showcases the blood vessels just yonder—hence the dark raccoon circles. (The exhaustion only exacerbates it all.)
How to Minimize Alcohol’s Effect on Skin (As You Drink)
So, aside from drinking in moderation, what is Dr. Spizuoco’s advice on mitigating superficial strain while drinking? She suggests alternating between a serving of alcohol and a glass of water. Chase one with the other. “This can minimize harmful effects of alcohol on the skin by hydrating the tissues and skin,” she says. Spizuoco also stresses that eating full meals prior or while drinking will deter the side effects, since some of the alcohol will pass instead through the gastrointestinal system along with the food, so that the two are metabolized in tandem (and thus, side effects aren’t as potent).