How Does Alcohol Consumption Change Our Skin?

As we approach the silly season after an unprecedented year, no one would blame us (particularly Victoria) for letting our hair down even more so than normal. Whilst, we’re certainly partial to a drink or two, we thought it would be beneficial to get the lowdown on how exactly regular consumption of alcohol effects our skin. 

Dr Armour tells us that ‘unfortunately, there are a myriad of effects that alcohol consumption can have on the skin. And, it doesn’t hurt to have these in mind.  As with all good things in life – all things in moderation is the key!’

 

 

So, what impacts does alcohol have on our skin?


Inflammation

The link between alcohol and skin inflammation is complex. Some studies suggest that light alcohol consumption (especially red wine) may reduce inflammation due to the consumption of antioxidants within wine. However, these studies suggest that drinking more than one or two standard units of alcohol “regularly” may actually increase inflammation throughout the body, including our skin.  However, “regularly” isn’t well defined.  Adhering to the suggested safe alcohol consumption guidelines is  sensible. The Australian government published the following guidelines this year, “To reduce the risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury for healthy men and women, drink no more than 10 standard drinks per week and no more than 4 standard drinks on any one day. The less you choose to drink, the lower your risk of alcohol-related harm.”  Perhaps I should put down the glass of rosé that I’m enjoying as I type this!


When it comes to specific effects of alcohol on the skin in terms of inflammation, we should consider that alcohol leads dilatation of blood vessels, which contributes to redness and flushing. So, certain types of alcohol can flare inflammatory skin conditions such as rosacea and acne.  I can’t tell you how many of my patients who suffer from acne report breakouts after a “big night out.” It’s “a thing.”  Inflammation can also lead to general puffiness.  I think that we’ve all experienced that bloated, puffy, feeling the day after one or two too many – that’s inflammation!

Skin Aging – alcohol contributes to this via a number of mechanisms….
Via Glycation of Skin Proteins.

Alcohol consumption may contribute to skin aging via a number of mechanisms.  Glycation of skin proteins is really important here. Glycation occurs when an excess of glucose binds to the important plumping fibres in our skin (collagen and elastin), and causes them to clump and stiffen.  With age, Advanced Glycosylation End Products (AGE) accumulate in the skin’s dermis. This destroys the supporting and plumping layer of our skin which collagen and elastin crucially contribute to.  Unfortunately, high sugar alcohols (read yummy dessert wine, champagne, and sugary cocktails) and sugary foods such as chocolate, wreak havoc here by speeding up the development of AGEPs.  Sad, but true.  Again, all things in moderation!


Oxidative stress

Whilst so many of us enjoy a glass (or three!) of wine to decrease our stress levels, regular alcohol consumption also causes oxidative stress within our skin’s cells, driving our cells to age faster. 


Dehydration 

The high sugar alcohol content in many types of alcohol, as well as the diuretic effects, leads to dehydration of our whole body, including our skin. Pumping headache anyone?  So, the morning after a big night out, or a weekend of too many sugary drinks and not enough sleep, will see us suffering from a dull, sallow complexion.  Our skin will appear less plump, and wrinkles will temporarily be more prominent. So, not only will matching each glass of wine with a glass of water help ward off that hangover, it’ll help to prevent you looking haggard the next day!


How often do you have to be drinking to cause this kind of damage?

There aren’t any studies that can give us clear guidelines on this.  But, in essence, the less alcohol we consume, the better for our skin (as well as our liver!).  I’d suggest that staying within the Australian government guidelines of no more than 10 standard drinks per week, and no more than 4 standard drinks on any one day, is a good starting point

 

If you do give up drinking, does your skin have the ability to repair itself?


Absolutely! Signs of dehydration and inflammation will absolutely improve. However, glycation of skin proteins is permanent. So, to combat any champagne-induced wrinkles, consider using skincare ingredients to boost collagen production – a cocktail of niacinamide, and retinoids alternating with AHAs is a good start.

 

If you do drink, what's the best kind of alcohol to choose? 

The lower the sugar content the better. The more excess sugar that we consume on a night out, the worse the glycation of our dermal collagen will be.  So, champagne (sob!), sweet cocktails and sweet white wine = bad, and clear spirits (think gin and vodka) and dry white wines are a little better.

 

Any other tips to lower the damage of your skin if you drink?  


Drink plenty of water to combat the dehydrating effects of alcohol on our skin. Eat a diet rich in antioxidants (blueberries, green leafy veggies, and other bright veggies are in) to combat oxidative stress on your skin. Make sure that you have at least two alcohol free days per week. And, absolutely ensure that you sun protect carefully to make sure that UV damage which is so prevalent in Australia, isn’t also contributing to destruction of your skin’s precious collagen and elastin. If you suffer from an inflammatory skin condition such as rosacea, acne, psoriasis or eczema, seek help from your general practitioner or dermatologist if things aren’t getting out of control for you. 


We hope you have a wonderful Holiday season, and enjoy yourself!