Alcohol can have a wide range of ill-effects, especially when it is used regularly and in large amounts, and alcohol can cause skin rashes, cancers, diseases and general ill health.
Alcohol misuse is now the biggest risk factor for death, ill-health and disability among 15-49 year-olds in the UK, and the fifth biggest risk factor across all ages. It is also linked to more than 60 medical conditions, including: mouth, throat, stomach, liver and breast cancers; high blood pressure, cirrhosis of the liver; and depression.
It can also cause, worsen or contribute to a number of conditions that might be less serious, but which can still affect your quality of life. Did you know, for example, that alcohol dehydrates your body every time you drink – including your skin? This happens even with small amounts of alcohol due to the diuretic effect (meaning you pee out more fluids than you take in).
As your skin loses the vital fluids and nutrients it needs, it can start to lose elasticity and become more wrinkled. It can also lose or change colour, becoming grey and dull. For other people it can become red and puffy and drinking alcohol can also cause or contribute to a range of different types of skin rashes caused by alcohol.
What Are Alcohol Induced Skin Rashes?
A skin rash is an area of skin that has become swollen, inflamed, or irritated. They can take a number of different forms including dry and flaky skin, pimply bumps and sores, or red scaly patches. They may also be sore to the touch, itchy or burning.
Rashes have many different causes and can sometimes be difficult to pin down. Alcohol is known to be a cause of skin rashes in some people however. Alcohol consumption can also make skin rashes from other causes worse.
Some specific examples of alcohol-related skin rashes include:
Alcohol and eczema
Eczema is a persistent condition that causes the skin to become itchy, dry and cracked. It can be very uncomfortable for sufferers, especially when they experience a ‘flare up’. There is no strong evidence that alcohol causes new cases of eczema, but some people report experiencing a flare up and worsening of symptoms after drinking. One study found that patients with inflammatory skin diseases, including eczema and psoriasis, are frequently heavy alcohol drinkers.
Alcohol and psoriasis
Psoriasis is a skin condition that causes flaky patches of discoloured skin which form scales. The National Psoriasis Foundation quotes experts who say: “Several studies suggest that alcohol use may increase a person’s risk of developing psoriasis and/or lead to worsening of their disease.”
Alcohol and rosacea
The British Skin Foundation says that rosacea appears as persistent redness caused by dilated blood vessels, small bumps, and pus-filled spots similar to acne. There may also be uncomfortable redness and irritation of the surface of the eyes and eyelids. Again, there can be many different causes but the Foundation notes that alcohol is a known trigger that can make rosacea worse.
Alcohol flush reaction
Some people can experience an unpleasant phenomenon called the alcohol flush reaction when they drink. This results in a red face (flush) but can also be accompanied by hives, nausea, low blood pressure, the worsening of asthma, or an episode of migraine. More seriously, it is also linked to a higher risk of some cancers. The flush is not exactly an allergic reaction but is a form of genetic intolerance to alcohol.
Alcohol and hives
Hives take the form of raised bumps or patches that can come in many shapes and sizes. They are generally a reaction to something and can accompany an alcohol flush reaction (see above). They may also be a sign of an allergy to alcohol, although this is uncommon. People who experience allergic reactions and skin rashes after drinking might actually be allergic to grapes, yeast, wheat, preservatives and the many other derived substances in their drink, rather than alcohol itself.
Symptoms of Alcohol-Induced Skin Rashes
The symptoms of alcohol and skin rashes can vary widely depending on the actual cause of the rash. You may experience symptoms including:
- A red flush
- Dry, flaky skin
- Spots, bumps or scaly patches
Rashes can have many different causes but if you tend to experience an unexplained rash or a worsening of an existing condition after drinking, this may be a sign of a link between alcohol abuse and skin rashes.
Causes of Alcohol Related Skin Rashes
There are numerous potential causes of alcohol-related skin rashes. Adam Friedman, M.D., FAAD from the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, told the National Psoriasis Foundation: “Alcohol, in general, will worsen psoriasis, as it will almost any inflammatory skin disease. Alcohol intake can cause dehydration and nutritional issues, but just by itself can create oxidative stress and inflammation.”
People experiencing an alcohol flush reaction may have a genetic intolerance of alcohol. They may also be allergic to alcohol or one of the many other ingredients in the alcoholic drinks they consume. If you are taking certain medications (or recreational drugs), these may sometimes react with the alcohol in different ways, including skin rashes.
How to Prevent Alcohol Related Skin Rashes
The best and most obvious way to prevent skin rashes from alcohol is to stop or moderate your drinking. This can be particularly important if you experience severe rashes or an alcohol flush reaction, which is caused by a genetic intolerance to alcohol. You might also be able to avoid or reduce symptoms by alternating alcoholic drinks with water to improve your hydration levels and avoid dehydration.
Treatment of alcohol-induced skin rashes
As already noted, the best way to prevent alcohol-related skin rashes is to avoid drinking in the first place. There are also some treatment options for alcohol-induced skin rashes that can help reduce the symptoms, however.
The NHS says that an oily moisturiser or emollient can be used if your skin is dry or flaky while topical creams containing menthol to cool your skin or anti-itch ingredients such as crotamiton can help relieve burning and itchiness.
Antihistamine tablets can help control allergic reactions and mild steroid creams such as hydrocortisone cream can be used (usually only for a few days) for small inflamed areas. You should consult your GP or pharmacist before using any of these products. You should also consult your GP if you experience severe or prolonged skin rashes.