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Alcohol and Health

Does Alcohol Cause Acne?

October 17, 2023
12 min read
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Written by
Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
October 17, 2023
12 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
October 17, 2023
12 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
October 17, 2023
12 min read
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Reframe Content Team
October 17, 2023
12 min read

The past few weeks at work have been chaotic. You’re stressed, tired, and having trouble relaxing at night. You’ve started turning to alcohol in an attempt to unwind, and you find yourself drinking more than normal. Pretty soon, you notice that your face is breaking out with pimples. What’s going on? Is it the stress? The alcohol? Or something else? Let’s take a look at the connection between alcohol and acne.

Understanding Acne

We’re probably all too familiar with acne: the whiteheads, blackheads, and pimples. While certain lifestyle habits can make us more vulnerable to developing acne, our genetics play a significantly larger role. Many researchers believe that acne is an inflammatory skin condition and that acne develops because our skin is prone to it.

However, some forms of acne are driven by specific factors. For instance, cystic acne is closely linked to hormones. Similarly, while some factors don’t necessarily cause acne, they can make it harder to manage. For instance, our skincare habits won’t cause acne, but rarely washing our face — or washing it too often! — can contribute to pimples.

Research also indicates that acne can be made worse by lifestyle factors, such as stress and certain food and drinks. But again, these factors aren’t responsible for causing acne in the first place. So what does cause it? 

In general, acne is caused by three factors: excess oil (sebum) production; hair follicles that have become clogged with oil and dead skin cells; and a proliferation of bacteria. All three of these factors have to be present for acne to happen.

Can Alcohol Cause Acne?

What’s the relationship between alcohol and acne? As we’ve established, certain lifestyle factors don’t cause acne. So drinking alcohol doesn’t directly cause acne, nor does it worsen the condition. However, alcohol can affect certain bodily systems that contribute to acne development. Let’s discuss some of alcohol’s effects that may indirectly cause or worsen acne: 

Weakened Immune System

Alcohol can significantly suppress our immune system. It can decrease, and even destroy, the cytokines and other protective cells that keep our body healthy. This can make us more susceptible to infections. For instance, the bacteria Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes) is known to cause cysts and pustules. A reduced immune response from alcohol may make us more vulnerable to infection with this bacteria, which can contribute to acne breakouts or cause them to become more inflamed.

Hormonal Imbalances

Alcohol also has a well-established impact on our hormone levels. Specifically, alcohol can increase estrogen levels in men and women, as well as levels of cortisol — a stress hormone that can lead to weight gain, sleep disturbances, and a weakened immune system. Increased hormone levels can stimulate our oil glands, causing them to secrete more sebum (oil), which can clog our pores and result in a breakout.

Unveiling the alcohol-acne connection: Understand how alcohol consumption can contribute to acne formation

Increased Inflammation

Alcohol can contribute to inflammation in the body, which can wreak havoc on our immune system over the long run. Our body processes alcohol as a sugar, one of the main culprits in increasing inflammation. If we have mixed drinks containing sugary juices and syrups, our risk for inflammation essentially doubles.

Papules, pustules, nodules, and cysts are all considered forms of inflammatory acne. Interestingly, one study noted participants improved their acne after eating a diet with low glycemic index (that is, a low-sugar diet) for 10 weeks.

Excess Toxins

Our liver is responsible for removing harmful toxins — including alcohol — from our body. Frequent alcohol consumption makes it difficult for our liver to effectively remove toxins, which may cause a build up of harmful substances. These toxins then leave the body through other pathways, such as our skin, resulting in a breakout. Furthermore, alcohol can cause inflammation of liver cells and eliminate antioxidants, leading to oxidative stress (cell and tissue damage), which can make acne worse. 


Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it increases the production of urine, flushing out more salt and water than usual. As a result, we can become dehydrated, which is problematic not only for our bodily systems, but also our skin. When our skin is properly hydrated, it’s better able to balance natural oils and get rid of dead skin cells and toxins.

Research suggests that dehydration may cause our oil glands to produce more oil to make up for water loss. Excess oil can lead to breakouts or make existing acne more severe. 

How Different Types of Alcohol Affect Our Skin

While alcohol alone doesn’t cause acne, some types of alcohol might affect our skin and acne more than others. For instance, one survey found that red wine appeared to trigger rosacea — an inflammatory skin condition that causes reddened skin and a rash — more than others. 

Here’s a look at other types of alcohol and their potential effect on acne: 

  • Dark liquors. Dark liquors, such as whiskey, scotch, and brandy, contain large amounts of congeners — the chemicals produced during alcohol fermentation. Although congeners enhance alcohol’s flavor, they increase our risk of dehydration. They also raise our blood sugar levels and increase bodily inflammation. 
  • Clear liquors. Clear liquors, such as gin and vodka, are low in congeners. The fewer congeners in our drink, the less likely we are to experience hangover symptoms, such as dehydration. However, consuming large amounts can still lead to dehydration and inflammation.
  • Mixed drinks. Mixed drinks contain sugar syrups or fruit juices along with the liquor. Even if we opt for low-sugar versions, mixed drinks can still raise our blood sugar and dehydrate our skin. 
  • Beer. Beer contains a congener called furfural, a yeast inhibitor added during the fermentation process. Like liquor, beer can contribute to inflammation and dehydration.
  • Wine. Both red and white wine can dehydrate our skin and increase inflammation, due in part to antioxidant congeners called tannins.

The Bottom Line

While there is no direct link between alcohol and acne, alcohol’s harmful effect on various bodily systems may indirectly contribute to acne or make it worse. If we’re already prone to acne, regularly consuming alcohol probably isn’t wise. 

Cutting out or eliminating alcohol can do wonders for our skin in general, not to mention our overall health and well-being. Let Reframe show you how!

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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