Is red wine good for your skin?
When it comes to alcohol, most of us accept that it is generally not good for our health, with numerous studies showing that alcohol can negatively impact our mood, liver, sleep and yes, our skin too! An exception appears to have been made for red wine though, which has been associated with supporting our cardiovascular health and even rejuvenating aging skin.
Why is red wine so unique when compared to other alcoholic drinks? Well, red wine’s main claim to fame is a polyphenol called ‘resveratrol’ which is found in the skin of red grapes. This compound can work as an antioxidant, protecting you from the unstable free-radical molecules that are often responsible for signs of premature aging, such as fine lines and wrinkles.
In fact, it’s been speculated that resveratrol could help to maintain healthy blood vessels, even reducing unhealthy LDL cholesterol and lowering our risk of inflammation. In countries such as France and Italy, where red wine is more frequently drunk, people enjoy better health and lower levels of heart disease despite consuming more saturated fats and unhealthy cholesterol. It’s believed that red wine could be playing a role here; however, this is purely observational and the evidence surrounding the health benefits of red wine is actually pretty shaky.
Are these benefits backed up by research?
When it comes to red wine, resveratrol is hailed as the drink’s main health benefit and a lot of this harks back to an animal-based trial conducted on mice. These mice were exposed to concentrated levels of resveratrol for a year and the results found that the polyphenol was possibly linked to inhibiting the unwanted effects of aging on the mice’s neurons and that the benefits were similar to those of dieting and exercising.1
These were animal-based trials though; the result in human beings could be vastly different and in order for us to get the same intake of resveratrol as the mice, we would need to be drinking gallons of red wine – certainly not conducive for our health! This is because, despite containing resveratrol, the amount of resveratrol contained in red wine is actually quite small – around 12.59mg per litre in fact!2
Most experts agree that resveratrol is generally better sourced from other areas of your diet. In many other cases, such as red wine frequently being consumed as part of a Mediterranean diet, the so-called evidence is purely observational. The diet enjoyed by those in countries bordering the Mediterranean could in and of itself be the main contributing factor when it comes to the level of health these inhabitants enjoy – oily fish, bitter salads, fresh fruit, vegetables and olive oil are consumed in much higher amounts compared to a typical UK diet which revolves much more around processed, packaged foods.
So, in reality, there isn’t really much evidence backing up the fantastic health claims made around red wine. It might contain a small amount of beneficial resveratrol but not enough to really make an impact, plus, drinking red wine can also come with some serious drawbacks!
The downside of red wine
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the occasional glass of red wine but it’s important to acknowledge that, even with the small health benefits it provides, it is still a form of alcohol. When it comes to your skin, alcohol has numerous downsides - it slows down your liver functions, encourages nasty free-radical molecules to proliferate and can stimulate inflammation.
When alcohol is broken down by your liver acetaldehyde is produced. This chemical is tricky for your liver to process and can promote free-radical damage, a major cause of aging skin as I’ve discussed. It’s also worth noting that red wine in particular can act as a vasodilator, which means that it can expand your blood vessels. If you suffer from a condition such as rosacea, this can be a real problem and, while alcohol itself doesn’t cause rosacea, it can exacerbate the symptoms or stimulate an outbreak leading to puffy, inflamed skin.
Where there’s alcohol too, there’s also usually an abundance of sugar and red wine is definitely no exception here! Although generally not considered to have the same sugar content as sweeter rosé or white wines, a basic glass of red wine may contain 0.9 grams of sugar whilst other types can vary, containing up to 3 grams. This might not sound like much but just a couple of glasses of sweet red wine could see you knocking back around 20-30% of your daily sugar intake! Not good news as sugar can be a real enemy of your skin.
Finally, where there’s alcohol consumption, there’s also a real risk of dehydration. Red wine won’t contribute towards your daily intake of fluids; in fact, it may do the exact opposite. If you’re trying to nourish your skin and prevent premature aging then dehydration is definitely not your friend as, not only can it slow down your digestive system, upset your kidneys and impact your mood, it can also affect your skin, making it more vulnerable to damage.
What about applying red wine topically?
Okay, so ingesting a couple of glasses of red wine a day might not help your skin but surely there’s no harm applying it topically to your face? Red wine face masks are the up and coming trend with alcohol-infused facials being offered in spas everywhere from New York to Paris to London. Do these treatments really work though?
Once again, when it comes to human-based studies and trials, there isn’t a lot of evidence to go on but studies including mice do appear to elicit positive results; for example, when resveratrol was applied topically to the skin of mice, it appeared to help protect them from UV radiation.3 Similar to other animal-based studies, this conclusion should be taken with a grain of salt – what works for mice, may not necessarily work for human beings.
It’s also worth noting that these results were found with resveratrol – at no point was red wine actually applied to the mice’s skin! A 2011 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Dermatology (this time actually involving humans!) has found that applying a skin gel containing resveratrol actually helped to reduce acne symptoms.4 In this instance, the gel was applied for 60 days though, so it definitely isn’t a quick fix option.
When it comes to applying red wine to your skin, you’re probably better leaving it in your glass. Oral resveratrol supplements were found to be far more effective than topical creams and, unlike a glass of red wine, they contain concentrated amounts of resveratrol but without the same content of alcohol.5
So, unfortunately, while there’s nothing wrong with the occasional glass on a Saturday night, red wine probably isn’t the health tonic for aging skin that the media is cracking it up to be and there are plenty of other places you can source this polyphenol that might be healthier than red wine – red grapes, dark-skinned berries like blueberries and even peanuts all contain this nutrient!