Consuming alcohol at high levels leads to skin conditions like flushing, dehydration, ageing, red face, skin cancer, and rosacea (1).
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), most of these conditions occur since alcohol reduces the body's immune function (2).
Long Term Effects
Alcohol And Skin Inflammation
Alcohol abuse is likely to cause skin inflammation, especially on the face.
Rashes caused by alcohol are nodules, papules, cysts, and pustules.
Hormonal imbalance caused by alcohol is the main culprit behind alcohol skin infections.
Nevertheless, other reasons include high sugar levels in alcohol and alcohol-caused diseases like psoriasis.
Alcohol misuse may also cause inflammation due to its diuretic property.
There is an established prevalence of alcohol misuse in patients with skin inflammation issues.
When a lot of water is taken from the body, the body strives to preserve more, thus inflammation, especially on the face.
Alcohol Worsens Acne
Although alcohol has no direct connection to acne, it has effects that result in acne.
For instance, alcohol leads to dehydration and dry skin, which worsens acne.
Evidence from the National Library of Medicine (NIH) shows that alcohol influences the IDF-1 (insulin-like growth factor) hormone levels (3).
When these hormone levels are increased, they stimulate the oil glands.
Stimulated oil glands boost the production of sebum and acne.
Alcohol also causes acne when it compromises liver functioning.
When the liver cannot break down toxins, the body tries other methods of excretion of these toxins, such as through the skin via sweat.
This irritates and inflames the skin, thus causing acne breakouts.
Alcohol And Dry Skin
High alcohol consumption reduces the body's antidiuretic hormone (also known as vasopressin).
This is the hormone that prevents too much loss of water in the body.
After alcohol consumption, the hormone makes and causes the release of a lot of urine.
This results in dehydration and thus dry skin.
Dry skin compensates for the water lost by releasing more oil which boosts the risks of breakouts.
Dry skin appears flaky, rough, sensitive, and itchy.
It is also likely to develop skin wrinkles and be prone to skin diseases and infections.
Alcohol And Skin Ageing
Dehydration and skin dryness is the link between alcohol and skin ageing.
When the skin is dehydrated, it reduces its elasticity and causes sagging.
This makes the alcohol-dependent look older than they are.
NCBI studies also show that alcohol consumption significantly impacts volume-related facial ageing (4).
Moreover, alcohol fastens the process of intrinsic ageing.
Intrinsic ageing is the process through which the skin gets thinner and drier with age, making somebody look old.
Due to hormonal imbalance from alcohol, intrinsic ageing may have an increased effect, thus causing premature skin ageing.
Skin Diseases In Alcoholics
Rosacea is a condition of the face flushing and turning red, especially around the nose, chin, cheeks and forehead.
Alcohol abuse does not cause it directly, but increases the possibility of having a flare-up.
Rosacea is usually a genetic problem found mainly among people of Irish heritage.
Excess alcohol intake weakens the skin and triggers rosacea flare-ups.
Additionally, alcohol worsens the condition of people who already have Rosacea.
Red wine and hard liquor are common reasons for Rosacea, especially in women.
Other drinks such as beer, champagne, tequila and white wine can also cause flare-ups of Rosacea.
Psoriasis is a condition that stimulates the immune system to overproduce skin cells.
Up to 30 percent of skin condition patients with psoriasis have difficulties with alcohol.
It can cause cell multiplication by up to 10 times more (6).
As a result, the skin has scales and itchy, dry patches.
Psoriasis may be triggered by stress or cold, but alcohol is the main causal factor.
Alcohol triggers psoriasis mainly among men and women who drink 'non-light beer'.
A possible reason why alcohol triggers psoriasis is that it affects the immune system.
Due to immunosuppression, the system cannot fight pathogens and other disease-causing germs.
On the other hand, alcohol consumption leads to cell cycle activators.
This leads to overproduction of skin cells, thus psoriasis.
Alcohol also causes nutritional deficiency and dehydration, which puts the body at risk of diseases like psoriasis.
Discoid eczema is a condition of coin-shaped rashes or sores on the skin that mainly occur after an injury. These rashes can be itchy, ooze, or crust over.
Alcohol intake exacerbates discoid eczema.
This happens when alcohol causes dehydration and flushing on the skin.
Alcohol also causes impaired liver function, which can lead to discoid eczema as a secondary issue.
Skin Cancer And Alcoholism
According to The British Journal of Dermatology (BJD), scientists believe that excessive alcohol consumption could bring a chain of reactions that make the skin vulnerable to cancer(7).
In the UK, The British Journal of Cancer approximates that out of 100 cancer cases, 3 to 4 are caused by alcohol (8).
Further, the NCBI states that drinkers have a 20% higher chance of melanoma than non-drinkers (9).
In every 10 grams of alcohol, there is a risk of squamous and basal cell carcinoma, the main types of non-melanoma skin cancer.
The main link between alcohol intake and skin cancer is ultraviolet rays.
Alcohol increases the skin's sensitivity to these ultra-violet rays. When the skin is sensitive to these sun rays, it interferes with DNA repair, which causes cancer.
Alcohol promotes the presence of reactive oxygen species in the body—these reactive oxygen species damage DNA repair, thus increasing likelihoods of skin cancer.
Alcohol also affects oestrogen hormone levels. Oestrogen hormone directs the cells to divide and grow. The more these cells divide, the higher the risk of skin cancer and other body parts.
According to the National Center of Biotechnology Information (NCBI), drinking alcohol makes it hard for the body to absorb nutrients that help prevent cancer, like folate and vitamins A, C, D, and E(10).
Skin Changes Due To Alcoholism
Red Face and Flushing
Alcohol causes flushing due to a deficiency in the dehydrogenase enzyme, which is the enzyme that breaks down alcohol.
With this deficiency, alcohol reaches toxic levels, resulting in flushing.
A red face is also an alcohol flush reaction and occurs when there is trouble digesting alcohol.
This occurs due to increased blood flow. Facial flushing also causes warmth and sweating in the affected areas.
Studies show that although the alcohol flush reaction can happen to all alcohol consumers, it is more common in people of Korean, Chinese and Japanese descent (11).
The sudden redness or discolouration of the skin is generally not harmful but may indicate other risks such as high blood pressure.
It is also an indication that it is time to cut down on alcohol consumption.
Alcohol-related liver disease (ARLD) is brought about by heavy alcohol use, which leads to skin yellowing (12).
However, yellow skin does not indicate skin problems but instead signifies jaundice and liver disease.
Immediate treatment is needed when the skin turns yellow to prevent total damage to the liver. Controlling alcohol addiction (13) is the best way to stop liver damage.
These red and itchy bumps appear on the skin after drinking alcohol. They may affect one part of the body or be all over the body. More often than not, hives are a sign of alcohol intolerance or allergies.
Alcohol Can Trigger Varicose Veins And Spider Veins
Alcohol takes a toll on the circulatory system and increases the heart rate (14) and causes blood to pump faster.
This puts pressure on the blood vessels and veins, thus increasing the risks of varicose and spider veins.
On the other hand, alcohol affects the liver, which purifies the blood. Without the liver's assistance, blood gets thicker and causes the veins to protrude on the skin.
Alcoholism and liver cirrhosis can also lead to spider angioma (15).
This is a condition where blood vessels abnormally collect near the skin surface.
Can The Effects Of Alcohol On The Skin Be Prevented?
Effects of alcohol on the skin may be somewhat minimised by reducing alcohol intake. Drinking a lot of water can also help prevent dehydration.
Is Skin Damage From Alcohol Reversible?
Skin damage, and some other skin conditions related to alcohol, like jaundice, may need medical attention. Always consult your local medical professional in the first instance.
What Does Your Skin Look Like If You Drink Too Much Alcohol?
Too much alcohol causes dehydration. Dehydration makes the skin saggy and wrinkled.