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What drinking alcohol does to your skin

11 August 2016, 13:11Nielen de Klerk

We spend ridiculous amounts of money and time in pursuit of the perfect skin. We’re like pedantic drill sergeants when it comes to removing makeup before we go to bed and applying day and night creams, toners, serums and eye creams. But somehow we’re just not there yet. The answer to our problem might be staring us in the face. Or rather – in our throats.


While there are tonnes of nasty effects alcohol could have on your skin, it’s not all doom and gloom. It might be about cutting back or just switching to a less harmful alternative.

What alcohol does to your skin

There’s a reason you’re so thirsty for water after a night of heavy drinking. Alcohol dehydrates you. And this dehydration wreaks havoc on your skin, making appear dry and less fresh the next morning. Dry skin is much more likely to wrinkle. That’s why heavy drinkers often seem older than they are.

Not only that – alcohol is also a hepatotoxin, which specifically damages the liver. And this effect on skin? “One way to look at it, is to ask what does someone look like who is dying of liver failure? They’re sallow, they’re pasty, they’re cold, their pores are huge,” Dr David Colbert, founder of New York Dermatology Group told the Huffington Post

Alcohol also steals Vitamin A, which aids cell renewal and turnover, meaning your skin can start looking grey and dull. “If you look at a woman who has been drinking for 20 or 30 years, and a woman the same age who hasn’t at all, we see a massive difference in the skin—more wrinkles from that dehydration damage, which can make you look 10 years older,” nutritionist Jairo Rodriguez says in Vogue.

The best and worst drinks for your skin

Clear shots (gin, tequila, vodka) vs dark shots (rum, whiskey tequila)

“Different alcohols have different effects on the skin, but as a general rule, the clearer, the better: Vodka, gin, and tequila gets out of your system quicker,” Rodriguez says.

These shots are the best way of avoiding sugar, salt, caffeine and other harmful ingredients (more on that later).

Nursing one or two shots of clear shots all evening is fine but be warned: some people who drink shots might end up drinking more alcohol than intended and more alcohol is always the worst option for your skin.

Dark shots, in contrast to clear shots, generally contain a thing called congeners (aka impurities) which are used in the fermentation process and which may worsen your hangover.  Even though the connection hasn’t been formally proven, the excess impurities of the congeners may age skin, the Huffington Post says. 

Mojitos, margaritas, white wine and other sweet drinks

Sugar has a bad reputation in many industries and when it comes to alcohol it’s no different. “Sugar anywhere in the diet, along with other excessive carbs, leads to systemic inflammation, which contributes ultimately to cell damage and increased skin aging,” Dr Jessica Krant Assistant Clinical Professor of Dermatology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center says.  “The less sugar you take in with your alcohol, the better for your long-term wrinkle risk.”

Unfortunately, this goes for white wine too, which contains a lot of sugar.

Margaritas and other tequila-based drinks have the extra problem of containing salt as well as sugar. “The intake of any salt, no matter the source, does contribute to bloating,” Dr. Krant explains. “This is temporary, but no one likes to feel and look puffy on top of a hangover.”

Alcohol also steals Vitamin A, which aids cell renewal and turnover, meaning your skin can start looking grey and dull.


Beer also contains salt, but isn’t dangerously high in sodium levels like other drinks. It also has some other redeeming qualities: it has less alcohol than straight liquor if you look at it from a millilitre to millilitre basis. It also contains some anti-aging benefits and antioxidants. Look out for calories in beer, though. No point in avoiding the skin problem, but replacing it with a weight gain problem.

Red wine

Once again red wine comes out as the unexpected winner in a health test. “Red wine contains more antioxidants than white, which may help counteract some aging processes,” Dr. Krant says.  “I would say the best single drink to have to support skin health and minimize aging risks is a glass of red wine.”

It’s not all good news, though. Red wine is toxic when you have skin issues like rosacea (a facial skin condition characterised by redness and spots).
Experts are also quick to add that any alcohol in excess is bad for your skin.

Other side effects

Not only is excess alcohol in itself not good for your skin, what you do after drinking copious amounts could be just as bad. Think of those times when you go to bed with makeup on or start with your ‘social smoking’ habit. Both big no-no’s when it comes to beautiful skin.



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