There is nothing wrong with a drink every now and again. But it’s no secret that too much alcohol can wreak havoc on your health.
Overconsumption can significantly increase the risk of debilitating health conditions like heart disease, liver cirrhosis, pancreatitis, and various forms of cancer.1 But one thing you may not have considered is the way that alcohol misuse can affect your skin. It is worth knowing the physical changes that alcohol can bring so that you can weigh the risks and cut back on your consumption if necessary. No one wants to look, or feel, old before their time.
Negative Effects of Alcohol on the Skin
One of the worst side effects of alcohol is that it leads to dehydration. You might expect a soft drink or water to leave you feeling refreshed and hydrated, but in fact, alcohol does the opposite. Alcohol is a diuretic, which basically means that it makes you urinate more. It inhibits your body’s production of vasopressin, a hormone that plays a large role in the natural regulation of water excretion.2
An evening of heavy drinking might leave you feeling rough the next day. Many of us have woken up with dark circles under our eyes, a bad taste and an unpleasant dry feeling in our mouths. But if you regularly consume too much alcohol, the impacts of dehydration will leave a more obvious and long-lasting mark on your skin. Some of the negative effects of alcohol-induced dehydration include skin dryness, skin sagging, wrinkles, and sunken eyes.
Does Alcohol Consumption Cause Premature Ageing?
Dehydration is not the only concern. Alcohol can also accelerate the ageing process by decreasing your body’s natural production of collagen. Collagen is a protein found in the bones, muscles, skin and tendons of the human body. It is a vital part of the connective tissue, an essential chemical that holds the body’s cells together and provides strength and elasticity to our skin.3
By disrupting the production of collagen, alcohol leaves our skin much weaker. The result of this loss of collagen is more wrinkles, more sagging, and generally older looking skin.
But alcohol’s effect on the ageing process goes much deeper than the skin. A recent study by Oxford Population Health has found that alcohol directly and literally accelerates ageing by damaging DNA in telomeres.4 Telomeres, put simply, are DNA sequences that cap the end of chromosomes to protect them from damage. The length of a person’s telomeres are considered to be an indicator of biological ageing since DNA bases are lost from the telomeres every time a cell replicates. When alcohol damages these protective DNA sequences, it increases the risk of developing illnesses usually associated with old age. Diseases such as cancer, coronary artery disease and Alzheimer’s all become much more likely.
Does Alcohol Cause Redness?
One side effect of alcohol abuse that more people are aware of is that of reddened skin. The image of the red-faced drunk is a common and enduring stereotype. It is true that alcohol can cause increased redness in your skin. Facial flushing after drinking is a little bit like an allergic reaction, a reaction of alcohol intolerance. When the body is processing alcohol, it breaks it down into other substances to make it easier to flush out.
One of the substances that the body converts alcohol to is acetaldehyde, a very toxic molecule. If the drinker is healthy, and only consuming a moderate amount of alcohol, the body should be able to process the acetaldehyde very well – breaking it down further into other, non-toxic compounds. But if the drinker is sensitive to alcohol, or if they have consumed too much, the acetaldehyde can cause the release of histamine and trigger the flushing reaction.5
The facial flush is not dangerous in and of itself, though it may feel uncomfortable or make you feel self-conscious. But you should watch out for it because the alcohol flush can be a sign or precursor of much more serious issues. Acetaldehyde is a carcinogenic, so if the body is not processing it properly it can significantly increase your risk of developing a variety of different cancers.
While the facial flush is temporary, alcohol misuse can also cause long-term redness in the face. Rosacea is a chronic skin condition, and alcohol intake is a significant contributing factor to its development.6 Rosacea causes blushing across the cheeks, forehead and nose, as well as broken blood vessels. It can be an unpleasant condition, and sufferers may experience burning or stringing as a result of their rosacea.
Alcohol and Liver Disease
Red is not the only colour that you might find yourself turning if you over-drink. Liver disease is one of the most common and deadly consequences of alcohol abuse. One of the tell-tale symptoms of liver disease is jaundice, or yellowing of the skin and eyes.7 If you are a heavy and consistent drinker and you begin to notice changes to the colour of your skin, it is a worrying sign that you should not ignore.
Will Stopping Alcohol Consumption Improve My Skin?
Fortunately, many of alcohol’s effects on your appearance are reversible. Because most of the superficial damage is caused by dehydration, cutting out alcohol or reducing your intake to moderate levels should make a big difference. It is important to stay healthily hydrated, so whether you are cutting alcohol out completely or simply cutting down, you should also make sure that you drink plenty of water in order to properly regulate your fluids.
The dermatological effects of long-term health conditions caused by alcohol abuse, like rosacea and jaundice, will of course be much harder to deal with. But even if these issues cannot be entirely reversed, the first step in preventing them from growing worse or suffering more serious complications is to moderate or eliminate your alcohol consumption.
There is nothing wrong with a drink every now and again. But if we want to be healthy, and have healthy skin, it is important not to overindulge.