Patients come to my office everyday asking what they can do to improve the appearance of their skin. One of the most overlooked approaches is relatively simple: drink less alcohol. Or, better yet, give it up for thirty days and see what happens. I can guarantee that they’ll see less redness, irritation and blotchiness.
There are good reasons to give it a try.
Human skin is made up of 64% water and maintaining that amount contributes significantly to a healthy complexion. Consuming alcohol dehydrates your entire body. It draws fluid from your skin and you end up with overall dryness (face and body) that instantly ages you. While this effect may be temporary initially, over time, these unwanted changes can become permanent. Also, as you age, your body is less and less equipped to neutralize the effects of alcohol on your skin.
Secondly, alcohol contains toxins that have a direct impact on your skin. When you drink alcohol, it is metabolized in the liver by an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase which then releases a toxic byproduct called acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde is known to cause skin irritation. This cascade of harmful chemicals wreak havoc on your integumentary system---another word for your skin and hair. As a result, you may notice skin dullness and redness. Wrinkles, lines, and pores may become more pronounced. One rule of thumb I suggest to my patients is to drink one glass of water for each alcoholic beverage to keep the body in balance. I also suggest not drinking on an empty stomach. Eat a simple protein like a serving of chicken breast before you indulge.
Drinking alcohol also interferes with a good night’s sleep, contrary to what many people believe. Sleep disruption shows on your face. Even a single poor night of sleep can result in breakouts and discoloration.
One rule of thumb I suggest to my patients is to drink one glass of water for each alcoholic beverage to keep the body in balance.
Many people prefer cocktails, which add things like sugar and salt to the mix---like margaritas and mojitos. There is ample evidence that sugar has an inflammatory effect on many parts of the body from your brain to your gut. Salt can cause water retention---this translates to a puffy face and water weight gain. To reduce this one-two punch of unhealthy choices, consider drinks with only club soda added. Also remember that alcohol disinhibits, which means you are more likely to break your diet and indulge in sweets and other unhealthy foods.
There is ample evidence that sugar has an inflammatory effect on many parts of the body from your brain to your gut.
If you’re not quite ready to give up alcohol, consider switching to clear spirits like vodka, gin or tequila. These types of alcohol have less congeners--- the by-products of fermentation. Congeners are what cause you to feel drunk and what leads to hangovers. The greatest amounts of these toxins are found in red wine and dark liquors such as bourbon (the highest), brandy, and whiskey. White wine and clear liquors such as rum, vodka, and gin have fewer congeners and therefore cause less frequent and less severe hangovers. Anyone with a hangover can certainly attest to not only a headache but to looking terrible as well.
While red wine has some healthful properties---in particular resveratrol, which acts as an antioxidant for the tissues and skin, and helps rid the body of harmful free radicals---it’s not always the best choice. Over three quarters of people that drink red wine have a rosacea flair, as compared to 56% of those drinking white wine.
While the occasional social drink won’t cause anything drastic to happen to your skin, alcohol has a definite negative effect on your body and skin. Reducing the amount of alcohol you drink is part of an overall commitment to a healthy lifestyle that will not only make you feel good, but look better too.
A board-certified dermatologist, Barney Kenet, MD is regarded as a master in the field of cosmetic medicine. In private practice since 1992, his roster of patients includes Academy Award winning actors and Upper East Side elite, as well as those who are simply seeking the finest level of dermatological care.