One glass of wine may add a bit of glow to the cheeks, but long term, alcohol isn’t exactly ideal for one’s complexion. One major impact drinking alcohol has on skin is that it’s dehydrating. Any fine lines, wrinkles or pores can become more visible as a result. (And as we age, we tend to want hydration.) Alcohol has a number of other effects on the skin, too, contributing to various conditions and flare-ups. Fortunately, healthy lifestyle changes can improve alcohol-damaged skin.
But first, let’s look at the harm excess drinking can do to our largest organ.
Alcohol can increase the risk of rosacea among women. White wine and liquor appear to be the worst culprits. It’s not exactly clear why, but the thinking is that alcohol weakens the immune system and dilates blood vessels, resulting in redness and flushing that can ultimately become permanent.
Red wine has long been seen as a culprit, triggering rosacea outbreaks among those already diagnosed. Red wine does have a slight health advantage in that it contains anti-inflammatory components like flavonoids that white wine and liquor lack. (Red wine still contains histamine and resveratrol, which are linked to the flushing experienced by sensitive skinned drinkers.)
Sun has its place in the, well, sun as the top threat to youthful-looking skin, but inflammation comes in second. Inflammation is when your body responds to harmful invaders, be they infections, injuries or toxic substances. (Alcohol counts as the latter.) It’s the body’s way of healing itself, by increasing blood flow to the area. That’s a good thing, to an extent.
When inflammation is ongoing, however, the body constantly works to fight it off. Worst-case scenarios involve developing cancers and other illnesses. Alcohol-damaged skin is chronically inflamed, which leads to the appearance of blotchy, red skin.
Acne can also be an unfortunate sign of alcohol-damaged skin. Though acne itself has several possible causes (including an unbalanced skin or gut microbiome, clogged pores due to stagnation, inflammation), drinking alcohol reduces the body’s immune response, increasing the likelihood or developing acne (especially cysts and pustules).
Acne is not a direct link to drinking necessarily, but it doesn’t help the situation either, as the added inflammation and triggered immune response interferes with the skin’s self-cleansing abilities and wound healing processes.
Alcohol also affects hormones. Women can experience increases in testosterone and estradiol (a form of estrogen) with excessive drinking. Oil gland production can be ratcheted up, and the increased sebum can clog pores and lead to pimples.
Alcohol, especially when binge drinking is at play, can interfere with the liver’s toxin-removal process. With that slowed, toxins build up, and therefore, so can breakouts.
Red wine has a few health benefits (beer isn’t always the worst, either), but too much drinking equals ingesting empty calories and a lot of sugars. Alcohol itself is a toxin with hardly any nutritional value. By negatively impacting liver function, immunity, hormone function, cell structure, and insulin production it can negatively affect the appearance of the skin.
Alcohol blocks absorption of a lot of vitamins, too, leaving those empty calories, sugars, and toxins. The body becomes depleted of key nutrients like thiamin (B1), vitamin B12, folic acid, and zinc. Many people with acne, rosacea, and other common skin issues show a zinc deficiency, in addition to other nutrient deficiencies, on lab tests.
Holistic help for alcohol-damaged skin
Holistic medicine and aesthetics aims to treat the patient as a whole (which is why you might see the term “wholistic” instead), and not just the symptoms or illness. It pulls from a number of therapies. Practitioners will look at the individual overall, including physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional well-being. Ideally all will be in balance for optimal health.
If a person has severe neck or back pain, for example, traditional Western medicine might suggest ice, pain medication, and physical therapy. Holistic practitioners will look more into the cause. If it’s from tension, for example, relaxation techniques may be suggested. That could include yoga, meditation, acupuncture, chiropractic care or massage.
The same is true about skin. If a person is exhibiting acne, rosacea, or other inflammatory conditions, a holistic practitioner (like a Certified Nutritional Aesthetics® Practitioner) will try to identify the root cause in one’s overall lifestyle; and then provide that person support and accountability to address those causes. Excessive drinking would be considered a potential root cause of skin issues.
For alcohol and its negative effects, integrative approaches (call it a happy marriage of traditional Western and alternative holistic approaches) include examining why a person is drinking. From there the work begins on making lifestyle changes. Exercise may help with milder forms of depression, pain or sleep disorders. Counseling, support groups, and behavioral therapies may dig deeper into underlying or co-occurring (dual diagnosis) disorders (if a person is, for example, self-medicating anxiety or trauma with alcohol). Vitamin deficiencies may be addressed with supplements and dietary changes.
Lifestyle approaches to improve alcohol-damaged skin
Most important for overall health (skin and otherwise) is to get the drinking under control. Assuming withdrawal and most pressing concerns are managed, the work can begin toward remedying skin woes.
Diet can help combat some inflammation. Foods rich in anti-inflammatories include olive oil, leafy greens, tomatoes, fatty fish, berries, and nuts. A Mediterranean diet — full of nuts, fish, fresh produce, whole grains, beans and legumes — can help, too.
Some supplements have been linked to anti-inflammatory activity. Fish oil, ginger, garlic, cayenne and others can provide a healthful boost. Conversely, fried foods, refined carbs, and processed meats can trigger inflammation in some people.
There are a number of popular herbs and other natural treatments that are kind to the skin, especially alcohol-damaged skin.
- Aloe vera gel, applied to skin, can soothe and moisturize. (Or, look for it as a skincare ingredient.)
- Chamomile helps inflamed skin. Try compresses soaked with cooled tea or look for it in soaps, lotions and moisturizers.
- Comfrey contains allantoin, which can ease redness. Find it in salves, creams and lotions. Look for comfrey or allantoin in the ingredients list.
- Green tea is full of antioxidants. Drink it or take it in supplement form. It’s also finding its way into skincare. A compress soaked in the tea can offer comfort, too.
- Lavender has long had a reputation for helping rosacea. Look for products that contain the herb, or mix a couple drops of pure lavender essential oil to a carrier like coconut oil to make a soothing balm.
- Niacinamide is a B vitamin that is found in foods like yeast, fish, milk eggs, beans, and green vegetables. In recent years it’s taken a leap off the plate and landed in skincare. It’s especially good with helping flushing, as long as it’s formulated properly.
Other lifestyle changes can help improve the damage alcohol has caused. Managing stress and anxiety — via therapy, meditation, acupuncture, hypnosis, yoga or any other countless options — can do wonders.
The goal of a holistic approach is to heal the body, the mind, and the spirit to pave the way for optimal health — on the surface and otherwise.
Patrick Bailey is a professional writer mainly in the fields of mental health, addiction, and living in recovery. He attempts to stay on top of the latest news in the addiction and the mental health world and enjoy writing about these topics to break the stigma associated with them.