Alcohol-Related Skin Conditions

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Alcohol abuse is associated with lots of health problems such as skin conditions. This is because it is a small, lipid, and water-soluble molecule that reaches all the tissues in the body.

It affects some of the most vital functions. Serious cutaneous diseases have recently emerged as some of the most detectable markers of alcoholism.

The good news is that they are noticed early enough for possible reversibility.

Which skin conditions are caused by alcohol abuse?

Here are some myths and facts about alcohol abuse and skin conditions:

Red Face

Most people believe that someone who is a heavy drinker is likely to have a red face. Myth or fact?

Well, this is true. The scientific explanation behind this is that; alcohol dilates your blood vessels and allows blood to flow near your skin surface, giving you a reddish glow.

Due to some specific genetic mutation, people suffer from facial flushing, making it hard for them to process alcohol effectively.

This causes their complexion to change, which makes them dizzy, and they may even develop palpitations and feel nauseated. They may even vomit.

This gene mutation is prevalent in the Japanese, Korean and Chinese people. As a result of this, they do not abuse alcohol as much.

Now, this link between complexion and alcohol is not short-lived, and when you drink large quantities of alcohol, you may have spider veins appear on the surface of your skin.

The veins are pretty unsightly and are not only limited to your nose and cheeks, but you can find them in other areas of your body as well.

If you have been drinking for a long time, to the extent that you are now suffering from liver damage, this can cause veins' appearance.

This is because alcohol affects the veins by making them leaky, which also causes the face and other body parts to look swollen.

Dry Skin

This is not a myth but the truth. Dry Skin is one of the most common problems of alcoholism, and although many other factors would cause your Skin to dry out, alcohol is also a contributor to this condition.

What happens is that it will drain moisture from your skin, and this has a more significant diuretic effect that causes dehydration.

Dehydration means less water is available inside to moisturize your skin, which causes it to appear flaky and rough.

It is, therefore, more prone to itching and sensitivity.

By alternating your alcohol intake with water and other non-caffeinated soft drinks, you will be able to prevent dehydration and not feel the adverse effects of drinking and steroids.

Ageing Skin

Does drinking too much alcohol cause your Skin to age? It is a well-known fact that smoking will cause your Skin to age prematurely, and it is the same thing with alcoholism.

Heavy consumption of alcohol will cause the skin to wrinkle.

This is concerning the fact that your dehydrated skin will quickly develop creases and fine lines. This is yet another reason why you should include soft drinks together with your alcoholic beverages.

There is a connection between wrinkles and alcohol. This is because the alcohol generates radicals that adversely affect your skin's structure, making it prone to the lining.

Shockingly, research shows that red wine, taken moderately, can protect your heart because it is an antioxidant.

Here's where a disconnect arises; very high intakes of alcohol, even the red wine, causes it to act as a pro-oxidant, generating free radicals, which will damage your Skin.

Skin Flare-ups

This is yet another problem that comes with heavy alcohol intake – it causes a flare-up of pre-existing skin conditions. It is particularly true with conditions known as Psoriasis and Rosacea.

We will explain.

Psoriasis refers to a skin condition that causes the multiplication of your skin cells by up to 10 times the normal rate.

As a result, the Skin will build up as patches of red bumps covered with white scales.

Many people suffer from this condition, and with excessive alcohol intake, the skin rash in Psoriasis gets worse and reduces the effects of the treatment.

Due to this link between Psoriasis and alcohol, this skin condition is more common among alcoholics, and abstaining from alcohol intake could reduce the severity of the symptoms.

As a woman with Psoriasis, however, you should be aware that the alcohol may react with some skin treatments, and this may cause problems for you when you want to conceive.

On the other hand, Rosacea affects even more people than Psoriasis, and it is characterized by some redness on your cheeks, nose, and forehead. It can also spread over to your scalp, chest, and ears.

With time the blood vessels tend to appear, and heavy alcohol intake will exacerbate the problem.

When this condition is not treated, it results in tissue growth that causes bumps to appear on the affected areas. Of course, this will cause issues with your self-esteem and confidence.

Red wine could cause severe flare-ups for the sufferers, and even a single drink can bring on the symptoms.

Avoiding alcohol is the best option as it will help prevent the symptoms and prevent a lasting skin change.

Skin Malnourishment

Your Skin's health is dependent on a healthy supply of minerals and vitamins, just like every other part of your body.

Being alcohol dependent, your nutritional intake begins to suffer, and you are likely to experience some micronutrient deficiencies due to a poor diet or altered metabolism of nutrients.

For example, when you are not keen on your diet and emphasize vegetables and fruits, you miss out on vitamin C, which is required for collagen production.

Proteins, on the other hand, will keep your skin supple.

Alcohol interferes with Vitamin A and E absorption. They are both used to protect the skin from damage.

In alcoholism, the skin will suffer as alcohol metabolism often depletes the B vitamin levels necessary for a healthy delivery and circulation of additional nutrients to the skin.

Skin Bruising

When one drinks too much alcohol, they are likely to bruise easily, besides the extra knocks they may experience when drunk.

For heavy drinkers, this is an issue, and it is connected with how alcohol affects your nutritional status.

Documented evidence shows that extensive bruising is sometimes evidenced in alcoholics due to a condition known as scurvy resulting from Vitamin C deficiency.

Vitamin C supports collagen production in your blood vessels, and when you do not have enough of it, the vessels are easily damaged as they are incredibly fragile.

This also allows the blood to collect under your Skin.

Additionally, the deficiency of vitamin K leaves you vulnerable to bruising. This is required to prevent clotting.

Skin Infections

Yet, another sign of excessive alcoholism is when you become prone to skin infections.

Just a single drink will transiently reduce your immunity, which becomes a constant when you regularly drink.

It places you at risk for skin infections.

Alcoholism directly impairs your immune system, and also indirectly, you will develop many deficiencies such as Zinc and Vitamin C, as we have mentioned above.

This two help to maintain strong immunity

One other reason you suffer from skin infections often is that your Skin is supposed to act as a barrier for the entry of microbes.

When it becomes too dry as a result of alcohol intake, it breaks down. Then, fungi and bacteria easily enter the Skin on the upper layers, and they take hold.

Yellow Skin

Does alcohol intake cause yellowing of the Skin?

Well, yes. But it signifies a much more significant problem.

Yellow Skin indicates that the heavy alcoholic intake has already damaged your liver.

If you happen to find your Skin with a yellowish hue, do not cover it up. It is tempting to mask this, but please seek medical advice immediately.

What is the connection between skin cancer and alcohol?

Heavy drinking may cause cancers that affect your digestive system and mouth.

Additionally, alcoholism can cause skin cancer, non-melanoma skin cancer, and malignant melanoma cancer.

Research shows that taking more than seven alcoholic drinks each week can significantly increase the risk of skin cancer.

Now, for someone who exceeds the recommended alcoholic intake, alcoholic skin cancer becomes a risk factor. It may frequently occur, especially when you combine it with sun exposure and dry Skin.

Do alcohol allergies cause these skin conditions?

Not exactly. True alcohol allergy is rare, and some reactions can be pretty severe. What most people believe to be an alcohol allergy could be alcohol intolerance.

Most people are allergic to specific components in alcoholic drinks, such as potential allergens in the beverages, e.g., wheat, barley, hops, rye, yeast, and grapes.

People will often call alcohol intolerance alcohol allergy and vice versa.

If you happen to have a true alcohol allergy, then you MUST avoid drinking alcohol altogether.

How can you tell that you have an alcohol allergy?

True alcohol allergy can cause a reaction even with minimal amounts of alcohol use. The main symptoms you should look out for include:

  • Itchiness in the nose, eyes, and mouth
  • Eczema, hives, and skin itchiness
  • Swelling on your throat, face, and other parts of the body.
  • Wheezing, nasal congestion, and difficulty breathing.
  • Nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, and vomiting.
  • Light-headedness, dizziness, and loss of consciousness

You shouldn't ignore these symptoms of an allergic reaction. When left untreated, the reaction can get worse and even become fatal.

It is possible to develop an allergy to alcohol at any point in your life. One day you may develop some symptoms after taking alcohol, and you build intolerance to it.


Skin changes associated with drug and alcohol abuse are usually the earliest clinical manifestations of these disorders.

They usually have distinctive and recognizable signs.

Alcohol-related skin conditions can also present as pruritus, jaundice, urticarial, and hyperpigmentation.

Alcohol abuse may also predispose to the development of skin carcinomas, and the cutaneous signs include skin granulomas, recurrent infections, and ulcerations.

By being conscious of some of these cutaneous markers of drug and alcohol abuse, dermatologists will often be in the unique position of recognizing any changes for prompt intervention and diagnosis.

This early diagnosis will hopefully result in a better outcome for the troubled patient.

But the best protection against any of these problems is to control your alcohol intake. Finding a good rehab clinic will help take control of the addiction before things get out of control.

Last Updated: July 11, 2021

About the author

Peter Szczepanski

Peter has been on the GPhC register for 29 years. He holds a Clinical Diploma in Advanced Clinical Practice and he is a Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Misuse for Abbeycare Gloucester and works as the Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Use in Worcestershire. Find Peter on Respiratory Academy, Aston University graduates, University of Birmingham, Q, Pharmaceutical Journal, the Dudley Pharmaceutical Committee, Dudley Council, Twitter, and LinkedIn.