January feels like the first fresh page of a brand new notebook. After cracking the spine, you can write whatever you want for the next 365 pages. This leads some people to develop bold resolutions for the months ahead and drives others to go to work on themselves immediately with an undertaking like Dry January. Abstaining from alcohol can do a lot for your mental and physical health, but what can it do for your skin?
What kind of negative effects can alcohol have on your skin?
Alcohol can be detrimental to many parts of the body, and that includes your skin. One problem alcohol poses for skin is that it’s dehydrating. It “can cause damage to skin cells, potentially interrupting cell function and the production of collagen,” explains Melville, NY dermatologist Kally Papantoniou, MD. She adds that it’s also inflammatory and can lead to redness and dilated blood vessels.
Chico, CA dermatologist Kafele T. Hodari, MD says the dehydration can result in a “dull, lackluster complexion.” On a bigger scale, alcohol can also lead to “papular and pustular forms of acne and rosacea.” We’ve all woken up after a night out with a new pimple or an undesirably ruddy complexion, and alcohol is often to blame.
Down the line, alcohol can even age your skin faster. Celebrity aesthetician Shani Darden says alcohol can speed up aging. It affects “the elasticity in your skin, causing your skin to appear looser and more wrinkled.” She adds that “Alcohol is extremely dehydrating, and dehydrated skin leads to more visible fine lines due to lack of water in the skin. This also means that youthful bouncy, plump skin takes a backseat.”
What causes these negative effects?
Alcohol affects many of our body’s most important processes, which, in turn, impacts our skin. Nutritionist Jess Barber explains that alcohol affects the gut microbiome, which ultimately affects the gut-skin axis. Additionally, “Alcohol can also cause inflammation within the body, which can trigger the release of a compound called histamine. Histamine can cause redness in the skin,” says Barber. Inflammation is your enemy. According to Darden, the inflammation causes your skin to be “more dull, puffy and dry,” and can also speed up the aging process.
One of the organs most affected by excessive drinking is the liver. Barber explains that if the liver is backed up from metabolizing alcohol, excess estrogen may end up being reabsorbed by the body. This occurrence can lead to post-menstrual syndrome symptoms, including susceptibility to breakouts.
Alcohol is also known to impair your sleep quality and quantity. According to Barber, “This impacts the body’s regenerative cycle that occurs while you sleep. If this cycle is interrupted consistently, it can decrease normal cellular turnover and lead to a dry, dull complexion and possibly acne-prone skin.” Holistic nutritionist Shauna Faulisi says not getting a good night’s sleep can also trigger our hunger hormone ghrelin. Faulisi says with your hunger hormones thrown off you may reach for unhealthy foods full of sugar, salt and processed cards which won’t support your skin.
Dr. Papantoniou explains that dehydration also plays a role. “The alcohol acts as a diuretic leading to dehydration, to skin and surrounding tissues and organs, and alcohol can damage cellular DNA and interrupt cellular function,” says the doctor.
Are there alcohols that are better or worse for your skin?
Good news for vodka and tequila drinkers, as Dr. Papantoniou says, “the clearer the alcohol, the less inflammatory.” The tannins present in drinks such as red wine or whisky have more inflammatory properties. Darden points out that clear liquors are also processed by the body faster, which means they’ll have less of an impact on your skin.
Sugar is also a big culprit in the negative effects of drinking. Faulisi says sugar and elevated insulin levels “will always negatively impact your skin.” Choosing alcohol low in sugar, such as tequila or mezcal, can minimize skin issues. She suggests you opt for a cleaner mixer as well, like soda water. When it comes to wine, Faulisi says you should stick to natural and biodynamic wines as they tend to be naturally lower in sugar and alcohol.
Are there ways to combat these effects?
Staying hydrated while drinking can help abate some of the negative effects drinking has on your skin. Faulisi suggests following a one-to-one rule—a cup of water for every alcoholic beverage. For those that experience redness or flushing when drinking, Dr. Papantoniou suggests prescription propranolol to help reduce the reaction. Barber says having alcohol in moderation can also help keep your skin clear.
After a big night of drinking, you should show your body some extra love. Barber suggests eating cruciferous vegetables and whole foods following a period of excessive drinking.
It’s easy to pass out in your makeup or swipe a wipe over your face for five seconds after a night out. However, Darden says you shouldn’t abandon your skin-care routine after drinking. At the very least, you need to wash your face. She adds that a gentle treatment serum can also be the boost your face needs for the next day.
What might taking a month off from drinking do for your skin?
Participating in Dry January can benefit your body head to toe. Dr. Hodari says you may have more energy, stronger focus and better sleep, all of which can ultimately aid your skin. Dr. Papantoniou says taking the month off from drinking can help you rehydrate. It will “allow the cell machinery to heal and repair your skin cells and collagen structure. It will also ensure better vitamin and nutrient absorption, which will also aid in healthy skin.”
Faulisi notes that no two people are the same, so results may vary. However, you’re likely to notice a reduction in inflammation, redness and fine lines if you stop drinking for a month. “Expect more hydrated skin, fewer breakouts, less redness, and more glow,” says Barber.