How Does Alcohol Affect Your Appearance and Skin?

Many people are aware that alcohol can affect you negatively, whether it be physical health concerns, relationship struggles, or financial strains. But did you know that drinking alcohol in excess can also affect your appearance and skin? You might not attribute these changes to alcohol at first, but after a closer evaluation of your drinking habits, you may find that alcohol has more to do with how you look than you had thought. And importantly, cutting back on drinking can also impact your physical appearance. Let’s discuss!  

How Does Alcohol Affect Your Appearance?

Drinking alcohol can affect appearance in a variety of ways that are typically undesirable. Excessive drinking can contribute to inflammation, unpleasant body odor, and/or a decrease in your overall hygiene. It can also change the appearance of your hair, eyes, and stomach.  Let’s take a closer look at each one of these areas.

Hair

When you’re drinking excessively, you’re more likely to have poor nutrition and vitamin deficiencies due to the way alcohol can affect your gut health and diet. Because alcohol is a diuretic, you’re also more likely to be dehydrated. For hair to be healthy it needs to have zinc, copper, protein, water, and iron. If you’re lacking in these nutrients, your hair may become dry, brittle, shed, or break off.¹

Eyes

Drinking can make you lose sleep, leading to puffy eyes and dark circles. Those who drink heavily can also develop a condition called ‘alcohol amblyopia’, which is when your eyes start to lose their color.² Your eyes can become bloodshot and red due to the lack of oxygen, swollen blood vessels, and dryness associated with alcohol use.³

Stomach

Alcohol is a toxin that spends a significant amount of time in the stomach as it gets slowly metabolized. With prolonged exposure to alcohol, your stomach can become irritated and inflamed, causing it to bloat and swell. The calories and sugar from alcohol can also lead to weight gain. Moreover, the fact that alcohol is often carbonated is one of the reasons behind excess gas, discomfort, and bloating.

It’s also important to remember that a change in appearance may be a sign that your drinking habits are negatively impacting things you cannot see – like the health of your liver and other vital organs. Speaking with a physician can help you learn more about the connection between your drinking habits and physical health, and identify next steps for cutting back safely. (Note: Quitting alcohol cold turkey may be dangerous depending on your past alcohol use.)

"Signs your body is telling you to drink less: you constantly wake up feeling unrested, you notice dry skin and dark under eye circles, your heart races the morning after drinking, you catch colds more easily, you experience avid reflux or heartburn, you feel physical manifestations of shame"

How Does Alcohol Affect Your Skin?

There’s been a huge emphasis on skin care over the past decade, but many people still don’t know the extent to which drinking alcohol can negatively impact their skin. Alcohol use can  increase your risk of skin cancer, and your likelihood of developing acne. It can also cause your skin to become dehydrated, experience redness, and age prematurely. Here’s why.

Dehydration 

Alcohol is considered a diuretic, meaning it promotes the production of urine. This can quickly cause dehydration. Dehydration can wreak havoc on your skin leaving it dry and itchy. It can also cause your skin to be saggy and lose elasticity, which may cause wrinkles. 

Redness

Too much alcohol can cause various parts of your body to become red. An “alcohol flush” is when your face becomes red after drinking. This may be due to an allergic reaction, an intolerance to alcohol, or an adverse reaction to mixing alcohol with your medication. Your nose may also become red. This is a condition called rhinophyma, which is a side effect of the skin condition rosacea. 

Alcohol is also known as a vasodilator, meaning it can widen blood vessels. If the blood vessels in your face widen, it can lead to a loss of skin tone, create permanent redness, and even cause blood vessels to enlarge and burst. Lastly, if you were to develop alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver, you may also experience red palms as a side effect.

woman washing her face in the mirror

Premature Aging

There are several reasons why drinking can cause your skin to age prematurely. When you consume alcohol in unhealthy amounts, some of the toxins from alcohol are unable to be processed by the liver and have to exit your body through the skin, which can cause wrinkles and tired-looking skin. As mentioned above, dehydration can also cause an increase in wrinkles at any age. Lastly, not getting adequate nutrition due to excessive alcohol use can rob you of the nutrients and vitamins that help you ‘look young.’ A lack of nutrients can also create a decrease in collagen, causing the face to lose its elasticity and fullness.⁹ 

Does Drinking Worsen Skin Conditions?

Drinking alcohol can intensify existing skin conditions. It can also lead to hives or bacterial skin infections, such as cellulitis. Some skin conditions that can be irritated by alcohol use include psoriasis, rosacea and discoid eczema.

Psoriasis

Psoriasis is a chronic inflammatory autoimmune condition. If you’re diagnosed with psoriasis, drinking alcohol may increase symptoms or cause a flare up. This is because alcohol is known as an inflammatory substance, which can agitate or even incite the chronic inflammation that causes psoriasis. This can also reduce the effectiveness of psoriasis medication.¹⁰

Rosacea

Alcohol dilates the blood vessels and increases body temperature, triggering the body’s stress response. It also stimulates the production of inflammatory cytokines, causing the skin to swell. These factors combined may trigger facial flushing and other rosacea symptoms. Recent studies have also shown that drinking alcohol can actually increase your chances of developing rosacea, as opposed to those who don’t drink.¹¹ 

Discoid Eczema

Much like psoriasis and rosacea, alcohol can be a trigger for eczema flare ups. While drinking, alcohol can dilate the blood vessels and dehydrate the skin, causing current eczema to become darker, itchier and more uncomfortable.¹²

"alcohol will become less important to you"

Can You Reverse Damage to Your Skin From Drinking Alcohol?

The short answer is…yes! Whether you decrease your use of alcohol or decide to give it up completely, your skin and hair can heal. You may notice that your skin becomes brighter, wrinkles decrease, acne may clear up, and redness starts to fade. You may have a more even skin tone and flare ups may lessen or even go away. Some things that can help this process along is to increase your intake of water, increase your daily nutrition to include essential vitamins, and get adequate exercise and good sleep. You might consider building an alcohol-free nighttime routine that includes a good hygiene and skin care routine, as well as other self-care practices! 

Changing your relationship with alcohol isn’t always an easy process. Our brains can adapt to crave alcohol, which can make drinking habits hard to break. There are many options to help you make a change, including therapy, medication to stop drinking, and peer support. At Monument, you can meet with specialized clinicians, such as myself, to get personalized care. You should feel empowered to use whatever tools feel right for you so that you can look and, most importantly, feel your best.

"enroll in your personalized care plan"

Sources:

  1. Healthline. “Alcohol and Hair Loss: What You Need to Know, https://www.healthline.com/health/alcohol-and-hair-loss.” Accessed Sept 29, 2022.
  2. AlcoRehab. Alcohol Effects on Eyes: Short and Long Term Reactions, https://alcorehab.org/the-effects-of-alcohol/eyes/.” Accessed Sept 29, 2022.
  3. VisionCenter. “Red Eyes (Bloodshot Eyes): Causes, Symptoms and Treatment, https://www.visioncenter.org/conditions/red-eyes/,” Accessed Sept 29, 2022.
  4. Healthline. “Why Does Alcohol Make Me Bloated?, https://www.healthline.com/health/alcohol-bloating.” Accessed Sept 29, 2022.
  5. National Cancer Institute. “Alcohol and Cancer Risk, https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/alcohol/alcohol-fact-sheet.” Accessed Sept 29, 2022. 
  6. Medic Pole. 15 Bad Effects of Dehydration on Your Skin, https://medicpole.com/bad-effects-dehydration-skin.” Accessed Sept 29, 2022. 
  7. Alcoholism.org. “Red Face from Alcohol: Causes, Symptoms, https://alcoholism.org/alcohol/effects/red-face/.” Accessed Sept 29, 2022. 
  8. Medical News Today. “What is Palmar Erythema?, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320593.” Accessed Sept 29, 2022. 
  9. Vertava Health. “Can Alcohol Use Cause Premature Aging?, https://vertavahealth.com/alcohol/premature-aging/.” Accessed Sept 29, 2022. 
  10. Skin Therapy Letter.  “Alcohol and Skin Disorders: With a Focus on Psoriasis, https://www.skintherapyletter.com/psoriasis/alcohol-skin-disorders/.” Accessed Sept 29, 2022.   
  11. New Leaf. “Alcohol and Rosacea: The Reasons Why Alcoholics Have a Red Face, https://nldetox.com/alcohol-and-rosacea/.” Accessed Sept 29, 2022.  
  12. My Eczema Team. “Alcohol and Eczema: Your Guide, https://www.myeczemateam.com/resources/alcohol-and-eczema-your-guide.” Accessed Sept 29, 2022.  
Disclaimer: Our articles and resources do not constitute clinical or licensed therapy or other health care services. If you need counseling or therapy services please contact a licensed provider. If this is a medical emergency, call 911.

About the Author

Tiffany HopkinsTiffany graduated from the University of Cincinnati with her BA in psychology. She then went on to work at a community mental health agency where she gained experience in helping the severely mentally disabled population. While there, she earned her master's degree in social work and became independently licensed in Ohio with supervisory designation. She then left the agency to become a stay-at-home mom to her two amazing boys. While raising her boys she obtained a certificate in integrated behavioral health and primary care from the University of Michigan. She went back to work in a counseling position at a primary care physicians office and eventually opened up her own telehealth private practice where she specializes in anxiety, depression and substance abuse. She has since earned her ACE Certified Health Coach certification so that she can further assist her clients as a whole, mind and body. In her spare time, she enjoys watching her boys play sports, camping and traveling.