Alcohol: What a Night of Drinking Does to Your Skin

alcohol and its effect on skin

Is "alcohol skin" a real thing?

"How is my skin?!" – it's probably not the first thought that pops into most of our heads after a night of heavy (or even moderate) drinking. A more common thought is probably more along the lines of, "Why am I wearing my girlfriend's pants?" or "Will I make it to the bathroom in time?" 

But allow me to present a scenario to you. After numerous failed attempts, you finally force yourself out of bed. Hovering over your bathroom sink, you splash your face with beautifully cold water. This refreshment, however, comes to an abrupt stop when, as you finish rubbing your eyes, you come face to face with yourself in the mirror. There it is, directly in the middle of your forehead – a pimple as inflamed as the setting summer sun.

Turning your head to left, you find another one. And another one. Aaaand another one. After taking off your shirt, you find that it only gets worst below the surface. Your torso, back, shoulders…. Nothing is safe. Now, on top of getting back the respect of your best friend for drunkenly revealing too much about him to his new girlfriend, you also have your silly spotted skin to worry about.

I think we are all pretty familiar with the more internal effects of a night of drinking, headaches, nausea, punishing regret, but what about alcohol’s effects on our skin? Why does it have a tendency to turn our entire body into one inflamed zit? Let’s take a look.

alcohol causes acne  

Alcohol Dehydrates the #@*& Out of You

alcohol dehydrates your skin

Have you ever noticed that hangovers give you the same feeling as if you’ve been standing out in the blazing hot sun all day? Or if you’ve just finished an incredibly tough workout? Well that’s because alcohol can zap your body of water and fluids just as easy as a bout in the sun or run on the treadmill.

The only thing that’s different is the way in which alcohol dehydrates your body. Alcohol consumption suppresses what is called our ADH, or antidiuretic hormone. ADH’s main purpose, specifically by working with our kidney, is to conserve water within our body and help get it to where in needs to go.

The less ADH in our body (i.e. the more alcohol in your body), the more water is taken away from where it needs to go, like our organs (specifically our skin). Where does it go instead? Well, we simply pee it out. This is largely why we have to pee so often when we drink alcohol.

All of this ultimately leaves our skin looking and feeling much dryer. The more often you excessively drink alcohol, and thus tamper with your body’s ADH levels, the less hydrated your skin will be. Over time, this can result in much faster development of wrinkles and overall skin aging. This also explains why the morning after drinking, your pores and lines temporarily look more pronounced.

Alcohol zaps you of your vitamins and minerals

alcohol and vitamins

On top of dehydrating your body, alcohol can have devastating effects on your body’s ability to produce various essential vitamins and minerals. Among others, alcohol consumption can lead to lower levels of calcium, potassium, phosphate, magnesium, and vitamin A.

The last of these, a deficiency in vitamin A, can be particularly harmful to our body. Vitamin A plays a crucial role in our body’s ability to regenerate new cells. Relating specifically to our skin, vitamin A is essential in the making of collagen.

Collagen is everywhere in our body, from tendons, to muscles, to our teeth, but in the cosmetic world it is generally known for its role in keeping our skin firm and supple. The older we get, the less collagen our body produces, which is one of the reasons an older person’s skin tends to “hang” more than a younger person’s.

When you deplete your body of vitamin A, as excessive drinking can do, and are thus making it more difficult for your body to produce more collagen, you are essentially aging your body faster than it naturally would. This then makes your skin less elastic (how fast it snaps back if you were to pull on it) and firm in appearance.

Alcohol opens up your blood vessels

alcohol makes you flush

At first read, this kind of sounds like a good thing. In the context of drinking, however…. not so much. When you drink alcohol, your blood vessels have a tendency to dilate, particularly the vessels on the outmost layers of your skin. This effect is most visible is in the areas of the face, neck, and chest. This is often why certain people look “flushed”, or red in the face when they drink.

On top of just developing a rosy complexion, these widened blood vessels can also cause fluids to leak into surrounding tissues. The most common areas once again tend to be around the face where the skin is most delicate, like the eyes and/or cheeks. This is likely the reason your body looks more puffy when you wake up the morning after.

Where real issues can begin is when you continue to drink on a consistent basis. As long as there is alcohol, blood vessels can continue to open up, flushing more and more blood in to the outermost (visible) layers of your skin. Not only does this not look good for your skin (ever heard of whisky nose?), but it can also lead to permanent changes in your skin tone.

These effects are even more pronounced for people with chronic skin conditions like psoriasis or rosacea, or even everyday acne. The increased blood flow caused by these widened blood vessels can result in flare-ups, especially if you are drinking on a consistent basis.

What to do before, during, and after drinking to minimize the effect of alcohol on your skin (and brain):

Before:

Try to get all nutrition in before you begin drinking. This could be in the form of a fruit and veggie smoothie, multivitamin, or just nutritious meals throughout the day.

Supplement with glutathione, Vitamin C, and N-Acetyl-Cysteine before you start drinking. They help your body detoxify and eliminate something called Liposomal Glutathione; a toxic compound that results after your body consumes alcohol.

During:

WATER. For every drink you have, sneak away and chug down a cup of water. Warding off the dehydrating effects of alcohol can help minimize the negative effects described above.

Certain drinks are better than others in terms of warding off hangovers and overall bodily damage. Here is a great list from Optimal Living Dynamics:

  • Vodka – best option
  • Gin 
  • Rum 
  • Dry cider 
  • Dry white wine
  • Tequila
  • Whiskey
  • Regular white wine
  • Red wine
  • Cider with lots of sugar
  • Gluten-free beer
  • Regular beer – worst option

After:

MORE WATER. Speaking from persona experience, drinking large amounts of water before you fall asleep (we’re talking 4 or 5 cups) can be incredible for minimizing hangovers.

Supplement with Theanine (or just a multi-mineral/vitamin). Theanine can help you feel less drunk (great for when you’re trying to fall asleep), improve your sleep, as well as minimize your hangover the next day.

water and alcohol

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You now have the alcohol what, why, and how covered. Hopefully you can take this information and use it to better prepare for your next “when”. Spread it to your friends! Or just keep the information to yourself and be that annoyingly spry person the morning after drinking. Maybe even make breakfast for everyone! Your call.

Want an alternative hangover cure? Try a warm shower and handful of revitalizing Coffee Scrub.

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