Different drinks are more serious than others, but the bottom line is that if the question is whether or not alcohol is bad for your skin, the answers is a definite yes.
This isn’t to say that you should stop drinking entirely. Moderation is essential when it comes to alcohol, with regards to everything, from your skin to your liver to the amount you consume.
So why does alcohol turn skin red? The answer lies in the way that your body metabolises the alcohol you consume.
Once alcohol is in your system, your body begins to break it down into a compound called acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde relaxing effect causes blood vessels to expand, which results in a dip in blood pressure.
Alcohol is a vasodilator. This means that it opens up the blood vessels, which causes the flush after having had too many.
After this dip, the body tries to bring your blood pressure back to pre-drinking levels. Unfortunately, the body can overcompensate, which results in blood pressure levels that were higher than before you started drinking.
Red skin (or facial flushing) occurs when your body can’t break down the acetaldehyde. If the compound isn’t effectively metabolised, hypertension occurs, which results in blotchy, red skin.
If blood vessels over-dilate, they can burst, causing permanent, unsightly spider veins just beneath the skin. This dilation also causes a puffy complexion.
The effects are even worse for people who suffer from rosacea. Alcohol can trigger and exaggerate the condition. Furthermore, studies have found that women between the ages of 30 and 60 are more likely to experience a red face following alcohol.
It’s commonly-known that alcohol dehydrates the body. Alcohol hinders the production of an anti-diuretic hormone used by the body to reabsorb water. This results in your skin appearing less fresh, and plump.
The lower the intake, the lower the damage to your skin, plain and simple. Alcohol is a diuretic, which makes you need to use the toilet more. At the same time, it gets in the way of the production of vasopressin, a hormone that helps you absorb water.
This means that alcohol makes it more difficult to rehydrate whilst making you force water out, hence the dehydration of skin that results in tired, sallow skin, with more pronounced fine lines, pores and wrinkles.
Different alcohols, different skins
Alcohol’s effect on your skin varies as much as the different types of alcohols you can drink.
A 2009 study demonstrated that between two groups, one drinking whisky and one drinking vodka, those drinking whisky suffered worse hangovers. The difference between the two? Levels of congeners.
Congeners are responsible for the majority of the aroma and taste in liquors. It is also, according to the same 2009 study, seemingly one of the greatest contributors to hangovers.
The effects they have on your skin depends on the alcohol itself. Each different type of alcohol has a different make-up, including different types of congeners, such as acetone, acetaldehyde, esters, tannins and aldehydes. These contribute to the varying tastes, consistencies, and aromas of the drinks.
Which are the best alcohols?
Clear liquors -- like gin, rum, tequila, and vodka -- don’t contain any extra sugar, salt or other ingredients. The general rule when it comes to the effects of alcohol on skin is: “the clearer the better”. Clear and smooth, it is flushed out of your body quicker than other alcohols.
Darker liquors also avoid the pitfalls of extra ingredients, however, a key difference compared to clear liquors is the amount of congeners they contain, due to the longer fermentation process.
Sweet mixed drinks, such as mojitos, contain a lot of sugar. Excessive sugar contributes to cell damage, as well as increased skin damage. Too much sugar causes a spike in insulin levels, which causes inflammation throughout the body. What’s more, skin can appear sallow and eyes bloodshot if too much sugar is consumed.
Salted cocktails, such as margaritas and Bloody Marys contain, as the name suggests, salt, along with sugar. This combination can lead to bloating.
Beer also contains salt, which is linked to dry skin. On the other hand, the nation’s favourite alcoholic drink does have some dermatological benefits: it contains antioxidants, and compared to liquor, contains less alcohol.
Wine, in particular red wine, contains a lot of antioxidants and anti-inflammatories. This isn’t to say that you should drink a bottle-a-day of course...
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
There are many ways of minimizing the negative effects of alcohol on skin. Choosing what you drink carefully is a start. Drinking in moderation is essential, also.
Another solution is to drink a glass of water between drinks. The oldest piece of advice exists for a reason. Whilst drinking water between drinks won’t cure your hangover, make you any less drunk or protect your liver, it will help to keep you hydrated, and your skin’s moisture high.