Alcohol and Acne – Is there a link?
Let’s be clear about one thing – consuming alcohol is not going to cause an outbreak of acne. Alcohol, by itself, cannot possibly cause acne. Alcohol can also directly not worsen an existing condition of acne. However, the reason it is said that alcohol causes acne is because the consumption of alcohol affects other bodily functions, which in turn can influence the development of acne. These body systems are generally associated with the hormone levels of the body.
Alcohol works as a depressant and affects your body in many known ways. It can cause hangover if consumed over a certain limit. However, alcohol can indirectly affect your body in many ways as well. Coming to acne, or how alcohol affects your skin health, alcohol has an effect on the manner in which nutrients and oxygen travel through the skin. What happens is that oxidative stress worsens acne. So what is oxidative stress and how is it related to alcohol?
Oxidative stress is a condition where an imbalance occurs between the antioxidants and free radicals present in your body. Generally, free radicals are kept in check by antioxidants. However, when there is an excess amount of free radicals inside the body as compared to antioxidants, then they start damaging the DNA, fatty tissue, and even proteins in the body. Alcohol causes an increase in free radicals in the body, thus giving rise to oxidative stress.
Effect on the Immune System – Higher Risk of Acne?
Our immune system is what keeps us safe from harmful bacteria and viruses on a day to day basis. Our immune system is composed of many types of protective cells and cytokines that work nonstop to keep us healthy. When we consume alcohol, it goes inside and starts to reduce the number of these protective cells in our body. In many cases, alcohol actually ends up destroying these cells. This makes our body much more susceptible to infections and diseases.
For example, let us consider the bacteria that cause acne – Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes). P. acnes is known not just cause acne, but it causes pustules and cysts as well while this bacteria can infect your skin at any given time, the risk for getting infected with P. acnes increases many times when alcohol suppresses your immune system. This is why you may see an outbreak of acne sometime after having a night of binge drinking.
While experts have not yet been able to establish a direct link between P. acnes and alcohol, there is definitely a relationship between the suppression of the immune system, higher risk of infection by the bacteria, and alcohol intake.
Effect of Alcohol on Your Hormones and Link to Acne
Alcohol is also known to have a huge impact on your hormone levels. In men, alcohol is known to lower the levels of testosterone. However, a recent small study found that small amounts of alcohol can actually increase the level of testosterone in men. Yet another study has found that alcohol can also increase testosterone levels in women. Even the levels of the hormone estradiol in women increase upon consumption of alcohol. Estradiol is another form of estrogen present in women.
An increase in the levels of hormones in the body is known to stimulate the oil glands, causing an increase in sebum, or oil, production. This clogs up the pores on your skin, causing a breakout of acne.
However, in spite of these studies, more research is still needed to establish a clear relationship between hormone levels, acne and alcohol consumption.
Role of Sugar, Alcohol, and Acne
Most people are unaware of the fact that most alcoholic drinks are full of sugar. If you add any mixer to the drink to make your favorite cocktail, then this only adds an extra dash of sugar to your drink. Many studies have already been done on the side effects of sugar on your skin. It is known that excess consumption of sugar causes inflammation of the skin, causing painful pimples and skin irritation. According to The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 29 men were given up to two cans of soda every day for a period of three weeks.
After 3 weeks, the men had their CRP levels measured. CRP levels are an indication of inflammation in the body. It was found that their CRP levels went up by 86 and 105 percent respectively. You can now well imagine what happens if you are using soda to mix into your alcohol. So regardless of whether you have your alcohol with soda or without soda, you are still consuming the same amount of sugar when you drink alcohol regularly.
When the blood sugar levels go up, the body responds by producing insulin which in turn increase the level of IGF-1 in your body. IGF-1 is a growth hormone that has been proven to be directly related to acne. So the higher the level of IGF-1 in your body, the higher risk you have of having an acne outbreak.
So, even if you want to drink alcohol, try to stay away from sugary cocktails and also try to understand how much sugar you are consuming in that one glass of wine or in tequila shot.
Liver Damage, Acne, and Alcohol
Everybody knows that drinking alcohol regularly can cause damage to your liver. But is there a connection between liver damage and your skin? The primary role of the liver in the body is to purify toxins that are present in the body. It then signals that the toxins have to be excreted from the body. If your liver is damaged or compromised in any manner, it is not able to perform its function of purifying the toxins and getting rid of them from the body.
If these harmful substances are not excreted from your body, they end up being stored in your fatty tissue or they are expelled through other channels, such as the surface of your skin. If these toxins mix up with sebum or oil, then you are likely to get pimples or acne.
Dry Skin, Alcohol, and Acne
Excessive consumption of alcohol dries out your skin. Alcohol dehydrates your body, leaving your skin dry. This type of dehydration can also cause your skin to become red and cracked. Dehydration from alcohol consumption happens because the body slows down the production of vasopressin. Vasopressin is an anti-diuretic. If the production of vasopressin is slowed down, your kidneys are then going to have to remove excess water, rerouting the water that generally goes to your organs, to the bladder. This also means that the water is rerouted away from your skin. When the skin becomes dried out, the likelihood of developing wrinkles increases, making you look much older than you are.
Water is the best drink you can give to your body. Water is extremely necessary for maintaining the health of your skin. Water keeps your skin well hydrated and also maintains the balance of the natural oils on the skin. Water also flushes out the toxins from your body, including getting rid of the dead skin cells.
Alcohol, being a diuretic, increases the production of urine, but this does not mean that it is flushing out the toxins from the body. All alcohol does is that it flushes out the salt and excess water from your body. If you are not alternating alcohol with water, then eventually alcohol will flush out all the water from your body. This is obviously going to make you dehydrated.
Once the skin becomes dehydrated, the oil glands start producing more and more oil, sebum, in order to make up for the water lost. This excess production of oil increases the risk of acne outbreaks.
Do Some Particular Types of Alcohol Cause Acne?
It is difficult to truly understand acne as it is a complex skin condition. There are certain types of alcohol that can increase the risk of an acne outbreak. A recent survey done at the National Rosacea Society in the US showed that rosacea was triggered more frequently by certain types of alcohol as compared to others. In fact, the study found that over 75% of the participants reported a flare-up of their symptoms after having red wine. While it is true that alcohol alone does not cause any type of inflammatory skin conditions, however, it is also important to understand that certain types of alcohol have also been shown to act as triggers for acne and rosacea.
Accordingly, let’s take a look at how each type of alcohol affects your skin. While some alcohol may increase the symptoms of acne, others may cause some other problem with your skin.
Gin and Vodka (clear liquors): Gin and vodka, or any clear liquor for that matter, are used in mixed drinks. Vodka and gin are generally low in congeners as well as calories. So what are congeners and what role do they play in alcohol? Simply put, congeners are chemicals that are produced during the process of alcohol fermentation. The lower the level of congeners in your alcoholic drink the lesser the chance of you developing a hangover. While clear liquors are not known to cause a flare-up of acne, they can still lead to dehydration, causing negative effects on your skin. They can also cause inflammation.
White Wine: The hangover caused by white wine is not as severe as those caused by red wine. However, white wine is still known to dehydrate your skin as well as increase the inflammation in your body. This happens because white wine contains congeners known as tannins.
Red Wine: Red wine contains even higher levels of tannis as compared to white wine. Red wine also dilates the blood vessels, easily causing inflammation on your skin.
Mixed Drinks: These types of drink are a mixture of liquor and either fruit juices or some sugary syrup, similar to cocktails. Even the mixed drinks that are low in sugar are still capable of raising your blood sugar significantly and cause dehydration.
Dark Liquors: These are liquors that have congeners in higher quantity. The excess amount of congeners enhance the flavor of such alcohol, but they also equally increase the risk of hangover and dehydration. These liquors are also known to increase the body’s inflammation and blood sugar levels.
Beer: Beer can also cause inflammation and dehydration. The congener in beer is known as furfural and it is a yeast-inhibitor that gets added to the fermentation process.
What Can be Done?
If you have acne, then this does not mean that you have to give up drinking alcohol altogether. It simply means that you have to be able to determine a moderate level of consumption. Drinking in moderation is the key to making sure that your complexion remains acne-free. Also, keep alternating your drinks with water to remain hydrated. A benefit of moderate consumption of alcohol is that you will sleep better.
A full night’s sleep will help you feel rejuvenated, keeping your skin healthy. There are many factors that can trigger a flare-up of your acne, but if you manage your alcohol intake then you will not have any skin problems after drinking alcohol.
- American Academy of Dermatology Association. (2021). Acne. https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/acne/
- Mayo Clinic. (2021). Acne. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/acne/
- WebMD. (2021). Understanding Acne — the Basics. https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/acne/understanding-acne-basics
- Skinacea. (2021). Does Drinking Alcohol Cause Acne? https://www.skinacea.com/acne/acne-causes.html