Lockdown has caused sky-high alcohol sales in Ireland, (I'm sure the UK has knocked back a few too)1. This is all while the death knell is sounding for the poor pubs. Our home drinking has even prompted certain government restrictions on the sale of alcohol in Ireland. Is it any wonder that the internet is warning us about 'wine face'?
What is 'wine face'?
I thought 'wine face' might be the joker-like-stain-smile you can get from having a really large swill of your red wine, but no. Its characteristics are considerably varied and are possibly dependent on your degree of self-loathing and guilt. I've seen internet reports of dehydrated, wrinkled skin, enlarged pores and 'deep nasolabial folds' - I am afraid to google that, it sounds horrendous! If I get 'wine face', I imagine it's remorse-projected, puffy and aged with a big red nose.
Putting our sensible hat on, hangovers are not synonymous with clear and beauteous complexions. While not doing us any favours, a drink or two is unlikely to cause utter and hideous metamorphosis overnight. A little alcohol (if you are in good health) does very little harm.
What does drinking alcohol do to your skin?
Too much alcohol can reap some skin havoc and will:
dry out the skin, leaving it dull and parched
cause skin breakouts and pimples
cause inflammation and redness
age the skin
ruin your beauty sleep
Read on if you want to know how alcohol can have these harmful effects and what you can do to put it right again.
Dry, dull, parched skin
Alcohol is dehydrating because it stops the release of a hormone in the body called vasopressin2. Vasopressin helps us keep the right balance of electrolytes (salts) and fluid in the body, preventing dehydration. It can spring into action as an anti-diuretic when the salt content of our tissue becomes too high. The kidneys can then reabsorb fluid to balance water levels in the body.
If too much alcohol is consumed, the kidneys don't get the signal to hold onto excess water, and it's flushed out. That is why you need to pee more when you drink alcohol. The effect this dehydration has on the skin is that it becomes less plump and juicy, more parched and wrinkled-looking. Ironically, dehydration can cause the lymphatic system to become sluggish, which can make to skin look puffy as well.
Babies are 75% water; an adult woman is only 55%, (our fat content takes up water-storing space); and elder folk are only half water.
You can negate this effect of alcohol by making sure that you are not thirsty to start with. Have a glass of water first (and again for each alcoholic drink).
I love my glass of wine before dinner, but I'll often find that the reason I want it so much is because I'm a bit thirsty and a bit hungry. When I have a glass of water or a small snack, I don't want the glass of wine so much anymore. It's so easy to habitually reach for the bottle instead of thinking, 'what do I really need?'
Balance Drink is an electrolyte sachet mix of minerals and vitamin D.
I use balance drink as my afternoon pick-me-up for energy slumps instead of coffee, and as a morning helper when I feel in any way seedy. It’s yummy when mixed in with creamy oat milk: vegan but smelling like those tiny pots of creamy fromage frais that toddlers love.
Skin breakouts and pimples
Alcohol doesn't cause spots or pimples directly, but it can affect the hormones which can increase pimple-causing sebum. Sebum is the oil our skin produces. If we make too much, it can block pores and cause spots. Studies have found that alcohol can increase hormone levels of testosterone, luteinising hormone and oestradiol in women. This can affect their menstrual function3. It's also been associated with hyperandrogenism (increased levels of testosterone), which can affect healthy skin function and can lead to issues with acne and hair thinning4.
Even in the short term, if you find that alcohol worsens your pimples it may also be due to sebum levels reacting to dehydration of the skin. Alcohol may also increase skin infections like acne due to its association with lowered immune function.
Inflammation and redness
Does alcohol give you a red face or a flush? This could be because you are having trouble breaking it down. Either you are drinking more than you can cope with, or you may be lacking an enzyme called ALDH2 needed to break down harmful acetaldehyde that is found in alcohol. Many Asian people genetically lack ALDH2, this can cause alcohol flushing and been linked to an alcohol-induced, increased risk of cancer5. Northern Europeans, who may have a predisposition for acne rosacea, will find that alcohol can drive flare-ups and make them very flushed-looking.
Knocking back the booze too fast or too much can put the liver under a bit of pressure. This is a busy organ with numerous functions: clearing your blood of toxins, supporting the immune system, fat metabolism, nutrient storage, not to mind dealing with your gin and tonic(s). You can support good liver function by keeping your digestive transit clear, i.e. don't be constipated. The liver rids itself of toxins through the digestive system; any blockage in the bowel will send this waste back into the blood and back to the liver. Chill, and time your drinks so that your body has time to metabolise the alcohol. Red face and flushing is your liver's red flag!
Herbs that are great for digestion:
Bitter herbs, like dandelion, artichoke and boldo are very supportive of the digestive system and can help the symptoms of fullness, bloating, wind and indigestion. Milk thistle is protective because of its antioxidant content. It contains silybin and it has been shown to improve glutathione levels6.
My self-care tip: An alcohol survival kit for the skin
We all enjoy a drink from time to time. It's so easy to slip into a daily habit of a drink a day, to relax in the evening or to help with sleep. These are my alcohol survival tips and tricks for clear skin.
Besides making the skin looking parched and puffy, alcohol can drive the ageing process by destroying our ability to absorb antioxidant vitamin C7. Skin needs vitamin C for all of the following8:
Collagen production, the elastic in our skin. Ageing, unfortunately, affects how well we produce it and this is what causes sag.
Wound repair. Vitamin C is necessary to fix all the little bumps and blemishes that come our way, the inflammation and redness.
Protection from damage caused by UV light. Together with vitamin E, vitamin C prevents the ageing effect of sun damage. Studies have shown that it can reduce pigmentation caused by sun damage - good news for those who hate their freckles9.
The alcoholic drinks we choose may be as important as how many, and how frequently we drink. The alcohol industry is not required by law to list its ingredients on the bottle. To use wine as an example, grapes may be grown organically without chemical pesticides or fertiliser; but once they are in the form of grape juice, permitted additives can be included and the resulting wine can still be called organic. There can be huge variations between quality and alcoholic content.
While all alcohol contains acetaldehyde, wine contains far more than beer or spirits. White wine, in particular, carries a far higher risk of skin cancer10. This is possibly because red wine contains an antioxidant called resveratrol, which may negate some of the drink's negative effects11.
Taking a vitamin C supplement seems a sensible measure if you would like to protect your skin from the ravages of your favourite tipple. Drinking less and choosing a low alcohol option makes sense too!
The reason it's called beauty sleep is that much of the body's repair work is done while we sleep. As our biggest organ, if we are under the weather or run down, it will show up on our skin. The complexion will become uneven or look tired and puffy. Chronic alcohol use can cause disruptions to the sleep cycle, our circadian rhythm12. The resulting sleep quality can be poor and it can make it very difficult to fall asleep. Chinese medical practitioners refer to the period after midnight as our 'liver time13.
Body temperature increases during the night when we drink, causing wakefulness and discomfort14. If you get too hot in bad anyway (hormonal ladies!), a glass in the evenings may not suit you at all. Alcohol has also been associated with increased inflammation and poorer immune function. If you add stress or digestive turmoil to the mix, the skin will not recover properly or look well.
To protect and care for your skin, my take home, after all this research on 'wine face', skin and alcohol, is as follows:
Go to bed on time and use Dormeasan Sleep to help with sleep rather than a big glass of wine.
Drink more water and top up with electrolytes if tired and thirsty.
Choose good quality alcohol. When I drink, I'm going to try and find some natural wine that is low in alcohol and red. Alcohol is a fantastic social lubricant and has its values.
Take extra vitamin C when you do drink. Good food sources are fresh fruit and vegetables, berries and green veg in particular.
The body and skin will tell you if it's not coping with alcohol. We should listen.