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Alcohol and Health

How Does Alcohol Affect Your Skin and Looks?

December 13, 2023
18 min read
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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.
December 13, 2023
18 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.
December 13, 2023
18 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.
December 13, 2023
18 min read
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Reframe Content Team
December 13, 2023
18 min read

You’ve been terribly stressed for what feels like years. Alcohol has been your way to unwind after work, and your consumption has slowly increased. But now when you look in the mirror, your skin looks lifeless — and you feel like you’ve aged way beyond your years. What’s going on? 

In this post, we'll look at how alcohol influences our looks, both in the short term and over the long haul. We'll explore skin conditions that can arise from excessive alcohol use and offer tips to combat alcohol’s effects and protect our skin. Let’s get started! 

Alcohol and Your Skin: Does Drinking Alcohol Affect Your Skin?

First things first: drinking alcohol — even in moderate amounts — can affect our skin both in the short and long term. So if you’ve noticed your skin changing after a few beers, it’s not just a coincidence. 

One reason alcohol affects our skin is because it dehydrates us. As a diuretic, alcohol promotes water loss through urine (hence all those trips to the bathroom). Increased urination leads to a significant loss of bodily fluids, including the moisture that our skin relies on to maintain a healthy glow.

As our body loses water, our skin becomes more susceptible to the effects of this dehydration: we start to look and feel dry, dull, and tired. Not only that, but our skin might start feeling rough, and we may even notice flakiness or peeling in some areas. 

Perhaps even more alarming for some is that dehydration from alcohol can accentuate fine lines and wrinkles. Our skin loses its plumpness, magnifying the appearance of these telltale signs of aging. A night of drinking can make us appear older than we actually are — even if we’re young.

Alcohol and Your Skin: Long-Term Effects

Our skin naturally changes as we age, but heavy, chronic alcohol consumption can age us faster. In fact, alcohol doesn’t only affect our skin in the short term; it also takes a toll on our skin’s long-term health. 

How does this work? Collagen and elastin are two essential proteins in our skin that are responsible for maintaining its elasticity and firmness. Chronic dehydration caused by alcohol consumption can lead to the gradual breakdown of these crucial proteins. As collagen and elastin diminish over time, our skin loses its ability to "snap back" into place, resulting in sagging and a loss of firmness. Fine lines and wrinkles become more pronounced, and our skin appears less resilient. 

Collagen is our skin’s structural foundation, providing it with strength and suppleness. Collagen loss in particular leaves us with skin that sags and wrinkles prematurely, making us look older than our biological age.

Furthermore, prolonged alcohol consumption can cause the blood vessels in our skin to expand or dilate, which can lead to the development of visible redness or "broken" blood vessels, particularly in our nose and cheeks. Otherwise known as telangiectasia, this condition can create a persistent rosy or flushed appearance, even when we’re not drinking.

Does Alcohol Cause Your Face To Swell?

So what about swelling? Does alcohol cause our face to swell? While alcohol doesn’t directly cause facial swelling, alcohol can lead to a puffy or swollen-looking face. 

For instance, alcohol consumption can sometimes be associated with consuming salty snacks or high-sodium foods. A high-sodium diet can lead to water retention, which can manifest as facial puffiness.

Furthermore, some people may be allergic to specific types of alcohol or ingredients in alcoholic beverages. In rare cases, an allergic reaction to alcohol can manifest as facial swelling, along with other symptoms like rashes, hives, itching, or difficulty breathing. However, this is more an allergic response than a typical effect of alcohol consumption.

Chronic alcohol misuse can also lead to various health conditions, such as liver disease. This can sometimes cause fluid retention in the body, which might result in facial swelling. However, this is typically a severe and long-term consequence of excessive alcohol use.

Skin Conditions Caused by Alcohol

Apart from the short-term and long-term effects of alcohol on our skin's appearance, alcohol can also be a factor in the development and worsening of certain skin conditions. In fact, research indicates that those who misuse alcohol may be more likely to develop an alcohol-related skin rash or condition. 

Some of these skin reactions can occur almost immediately when we drink alcohol, while others might not develop for months or years. Here are some of the more common skin conditions associated with alcohol misuse:

  • Psoriasis. Psoriasis is a skin disease that causes a rash with itchy, scaly patches. It can develop at any point in a person’s life and affect different body parts, including arms, torso, scalp, face, genitals, and fingers. Research suggests that excessive alcohol consumption can cause the development of psoriasis or worsen an existing condition.
  • Eczema. Eczema is a common skin condition that includes symptoms such as itchy, red, dry, and inflamed patches of skin. Alcohol consumption can cause an existing eczema condition to flare up. This is partly because alcohol causes dehydration and because alcohol can suppress the immune system.
  • Rosacea. Rosacea is a common skin condition that usually begins in the nose and cheeks of those who tend to blush or flush easily. While alcohol doesn’t necessarily cause rosacea, it can trigger a flare up or rosacea symptoms. One study found that the risk of rosacea increased as alcohol intake increased. In fact, it's often referred to as "alcohol flush reaction" or "Asian flush" when it occurs after drinking (approximately 35% of people of East Asian descent experience this redness when drinking). For people with rosacea, drinking alcohol can lead to a temporary increase in redness and discomfort.

Other skin conditions that can be caused or worsened by heavy alcohol use include hives, dermatitis, severe itchiness (pruritus), stinging, tingling or burning sensations, red spots, hyperpigmentation, and cellulitis.

It’s worth noting that chronic alcohol use prevents the absorption of essential vitamins, including vitamins B and C — both of which are vital for healthy skin and immune function. Not getting enough of these vitamins could worsen any existing skin condition or contribute to the development of a new one.

Furthermore, excessive, prolonged use of alcohol can cause liver damage — which often becomes apparent through skin-related symptoms, such as red or purple rash dots or splotches, severe itching in a particular spot or all over the body, spider veins, small, yellow bumps in the skin or eyelids, brown patches (hyperpigmentation), or patches of dehydrated skin.

Does Alcohol Cause Acne? 

While there is no direct link between alcohol and acne, alcohol consumption can exacerbate acne in several ways. 

For instance, as we’ve learned, alcohol can dehydrate the skin, leading to an increase in oil production by the sebaceous glands. Excess oil can lead to breakouts or make existing acne more severe. 

Additionally, alcohol can also disrupt our hormone levels and lead to a hormonal imbalance. Specifically, alcohol can increase estrogen levels in both 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.

Furthermore, alcohol consumption can contribute to inflammation in the body, which can lead to the redness, swelling, and tenderness commonly associated with papules, pustules, nodules, and cysts.

How To Combat the Effects of Alcohol on Skin

Now that we have a better understanding of how alcohol affects our skin, let’s examine how to combat the effects of alcohol. Here are seven tips for protecting your skin: 

  1. Stay hydrated. Make sure to drink plenty of water before, during, and after drinking alcohol. Consider carrying a reusable water bottle with you and make a habit of sipping water throughout the day, especially when you're consuming (or will be consuming) alcohol. Experts recommend drinking at least six 8-oz glasses of water daily, but more is better if we’re drinking alcohol or exercising.
  2. Practice moderation. If you choose to drink, limit your alcohol consumption to moderate levels. Typically, moderate drinking is defined as up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men — and these limits benefit both your skin and your overall well-being. Mindful drinking can be a particularly beneficial practice to reduce consumption.
  3. Follow a skincare routine. Develop a consistent skincare routine that includes gentle cleansing, moisturizing, and sun protection. Cleansing removes impurities, moisturizing restores hydration, and sunscreen protects against UV damage — all of which contribute to healthier skin. Whatever skincare routine you follow, be consistent!
  4. Choose alcohol-free skincare products. Steer clear of skincare products that contain alcohol, as they can exacerbate dryness and irritation, especially if your skin is already dehydrated from alcohol consumption. Opt instead for alcohol-free products, which helps maintain skin moisture and reduces the risk of irritation.
  5. Eat a balanced diet. A diet rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals can help keep your skin healthy and glowing. Opt for plenty of fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins, such as fish, chicken, or quinoa. Antioxidants in particular can help maintain a vibrant complexion by combatting the oxidative stress caused by alcohol consumption.
  6. Exercise regularly. Physical activity increases blood flow, which delivers oxygen and nutrients to your skin cells. This enhanced circulation promotes a healthy complexion and aids in the removal of waste products, leading to more supple skin. Experts recommend getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week.
  7. Get plenty of sleep. Believe it or not, sleep is vital for your skin. In fact, during deep sleep, your body undergoes essential repair processes, including skin cell regeneration and collagen production. A lack of quality sleep prevents these important processes from taking place and contributes to dull looking skin. Experts recommend getting at least 7 hours of restful sleep each night.

Consistency is key! By routinely following these steps, you’re likely to notice not just healthier skin, but significant improvements to your overall health and well-being. 

The Bottom Line

Alcohol can have both short- and long-term effects on our skin. From dehydration to accelerated aging, the effects are hard to ignore. Plus alcohol can trigger skin conditions like rosacea and worsen existing ones like acne and psoriasis. One of the best things we can do for our skin — and overall health — is to cut back on alcohol or quit drinking altogether. However, if we do choose to drink, we can protect our skin by staying hydrated, eating a balanced diet, following a consistent skin care routine, exercising regularly, and getting adequate sleep. 

If you want to cut back on drinking, but don’t know where or how to start, consider trying Reframe. We’re a science-backed app that has helped millions of people reduce their alcohol consumption and enhance their physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

Summary FAQs

1. Does drinking alcohol affect my skin?

Yes, even moderate alcohol consumption can impact your skin both in the short- and long-term.

2. How does alcohol affect my skin in the short term?

Alcohol dehydrates your skin, leading to dryness, dullness, and accentuated fine lines and wrinkles.

3. What are the long-term effects of alcohol on my skin?

Chronic alcohol use can accelerate aging by breaking down essential skin proteins like collagen and elastin, resulting in sagging skin and visible blood vessels.

4. Does alcohol cause facial swelling?

While not a direct cause, alcohol consumption coupled with high-sodium foods can lead to facial puffiness. Allergic reactions or chronic alcohol misuse can also contribute to swelling.

5. What skin conditions can alcohol trigger or worsen?

Alcohol can exacerbate conditions like rosacea, acne, psoriasis, hives, dermatitis, and more. It can also prevent the absorption of essential vitamins, further affecting skin health.

6. Does alcohol cause acne?

Alcohol doesn’t necessarily cause acne, but it can exacerbate it by dehydrating our skin and disrupting our hormonal balance, which may lead to increased sebum production and inflammation, both of which are acne triggers. 

7. How can I combat the effects of alcohol on my skin?

The best thing you can do for your skin and health is to reduce your alcohol consumption. If you choose to drink, be sure to stay hydrated, practice moderation, follow a skincare routine, choose alcohol-free skincare products, eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly, and prioritize quality sleep.

Combat Against Alcohol Mortality With Reframe!

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

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Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol. 

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app today! 

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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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