What Drinking Alcohol Really Does to Our Skin
It starts out innocently enough. Some friends want to grab a drink after work and then, boom! Next thing I know, I’m a handful of cocktails deep because—hey, as Lizzo says, blame it on the Goose.
I get home later than I planned. Like, way later. I dive into my cozy-looking bed head first, completely ignoring my beloved nightly skincare/self-care ritual. I know; so tragic.
Once my head hits the pillow after going a little hard on a night out, it can feel like the biggest test of willpower to even grab a facial wipe—let alone do my entire skincare ritual!
Even when I do muster up the strength to wash my face before bed after too many vodka tonics, I still wake up to dull skin, a puffy face and a cystic zit that magically appeared overnight. Basically, my skin has “I’ve been drinking” written all over it.
This got me thinking. Just how bad is alcohol for our skin, really?
Well, spoiler alert (that you probably already knew): it ain’t good.
What are the short-term effects?
Hangovers aside, the most immediate culprit to lackluster skin after drinking is dehydration. Alcohol is a diuretic, so it actually forces water out of your body. Not only does this make you pee a lot (1), it can make your skin to look dry, less plump, and well, just blah.
Alcohol also increases inflammation, which can show up on the surface in the form of rosacea, breakouts and puffiness.
Not only that, it’s been shown that drinking causes an imbalance in your microbiome (2)—the “good” bacteria that live in your gut. This imbalance has been linked to changes in immune responses (3) and the development of inflammatory skin conditions like eczema.
Can’t I just sleep it off?
Although alcohol might help you fall asleep fast (enough to sometimes make you forget to wash your face at night!), it turns out, it actually disrupts restorative sleep. Even just a couple of drinks can cut your precious REM sleep for the night (3).
Paired with dehydration, this can seriously mess with your body’s nightly regenerative process including your skin’s natural cellular turnover. That overnight zit might not be from that late-night pizza after all.
What are the long-term effects?
Beyond just the occasional breakout or puffiness after indulging in a few cocktails here and there, like anything else, there’s a cumulative effect. One study has shown that heavy alcohol use, along with smoking is associated with generally looking older than one’s actual age (4).
More specifically, a multinational survey showed that heavy drinking (8 or more drinks a week) was associated with a reported increase in facial lines, under-eye puffiness, blood vessels, and loss of overall skin volume (5).
Even though I think the natural aging process is something to be honored and celebrated, I don’t exactly want to expedite it. Like a fine wine (I just had to go with that metaphor!), I trust in nature to take its course. It doesn’t need my help to speed up the process.
But I’m certainly not here to condone missing out on a good time either. If you’re going to imbibe, there are smart ways to do it. Being informed with the facts and having go-to strategies to minimize the effects of alcohol on your skin (and your internal organs) can go a long way to living your best life…while keeping your skin happy.
Ok, so how can I get my drink on without pissing off my skin?
As they say, failing to plan is planning to fail. Set yourself up for success before you begin imbibing.
Start by hydrating throughout the day by drinking lots of water, not sugary drinks. If you know you’re prone to redness and inflammation, taking an antihistamine, like Pepcid, beforehand is also a good idea.
Eat a meal either prior to or with your alcoholic bevs. This just helps your body metabolize some of the alcohol with your food. Alcohol on an empty stomach is never going to do you any favors. Have your food before or with your drinks or you just might end up at a Taco Bell way too late for your own good later.
Also, alternate each serving of alcohol with a serving of water. Think of them as water chasers! Whatever it takes. Remember, alcohol will try its best to dehydrate you, so do your skin, tissues and organs a fighting chance and give them the water they crave.
Are some types of alcohol better than others?
While moderation is ultimately the key to skin-smart drinking, making smarter alcohol choices can also mean less harm on your skin overall.
Try to steer clear of sugar-laden drinks with lots of additives. Love a margarita? Maybe splurge for that top shelf tequila you’ve been curious about and sip it on the rocks instead.
Clear liquor like vodka and tequila have less sugar and additives than darker ones, making them easier for the body to metabolize.
If you’re in the mood for wine, red wine is rich in resveratrol, an antioxidant (6) that reduces oxidative stress. White wines tend to be higher in sugar, so keep that in mind before you decide on another pour with dinner.
So, the party’s not over?
Just like life, skin thrives when there’s balance. If cutting out alcohol just isn’t realistic (brunch without booze is just a sad late breakfast, am I right?), you can still help curtail the after effects of those drinks on your skin.
A consistent skincare ritual is a great place to start. Staying on top of your routine and incorporating products that contain antioxidants will help boost your skin’s defense against damage.
And of course, it’s worth reiterating the importance of having water before, during and after those boozy drinks. Go ahead, live your life, order that cocktail with the fancy sprig on top. Just remember that moderation is the name of the game.
To quote your BFF before you head out for a fun night on the town: Make good choices!
(4) Schou AL, Mølbak M, Schnor P, et al Alcohol consumption, smoking and development of visible age-related signs: a prospective cohort study
J Epidemiol Community Health 2017;71:1177-1184. https://jech.bmj.com/content/71/12/1177.full