Is there a connection?
Acne is caused by bacteria, inflammation, and clogged pores. Certain lifestyle habits can make you more vulnerable to developing acne, especially if you have acne-prone skin.
Drinking alcohol doesn’t cause acne. It also doesn’t directly worsen the condition. But it can affect certain bodily systems, such as your hormone levels, that influence acne development.
Read on to learn how alcohol affects your body and how these effects can indirectly contribute to acne.
How alcohol can indirectly cause or worsen acne
You may already know that alcohol is a depressant, but it can affect your body in numerous other ways, too. In terms of skin health, alcohol can affect the way oxygen and other nutrients travel through your skin. Oxidative stress can make acne worse. Here’s everything you should know about oxidative stress.
Alcohol and your immune system
Your immune system is a powerful force in keeping harmful bacteria and viruses at bay. It’s made up of cytokines and other protective cells that keep you healthy.
Alcohol can decrease the number of protective cells in the body, and even destroy them. This may make your body more susceptible to infections.
Take Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes) bacteria, for example. These bacteria are known to cause cysts and pustules. Although P. acnes can infect your skin at any time, you may be more susceptible when your immune system is suppressed.
Researchers haven’t established a direct link between alcohol and P. acnes. But the relationship between your immune system, bacteria, and alcohol is worth considering.
Alcohol and your hormones
Alcohol has wide-ranging effects on your hormone levels. While it’s known that alcohol can lower testosterone levels in men, a small study found that small doses of alcohol could increase testosterone levels in men.
Increased hormone levels can stimulate your oil glands. Increased oil, or sebum, production can clog your pores and result in a breakout.
More research is needed to truly understand the relationship between alcohol and hormonal acne.
Alcohol and inflammation
Papules, pustules, nodules, and cysts are all considered to be forms of inflammatory acne.
There are a number of reasons for inflammation, including:
- increased hormone levels
- certain autoimmune diseases, such as psoriasis
- high-sugar foods and beverages
Your body processes alcohol as a sugar, which can contribute to inflammation. If you have mixed drinks containing sugary juices and syrups, your risk for inflammation essentially doubles.
Participants in a 2014 study saw significant improvement in their acne after eating a diet with a low Glycemic Index (GI) for 10 weeks. People who follow a low-GI diet only eat foods that have little to no effect on their blood sugar level.
Although reducing alcohol is key to a low-GI diet, you’ll likely need to cut back in other areas to really reap these benefits.
Alcohol and dehydration
You already know that water is the best beverage for your health. This also includes the health of your skin. When your skin is properly hydrated, it’s able to balance natural oils and get rid of dead skin cells and toxins with ease.
Alcohol is a diuretic. This means it increases your body’s urine production, flushing out excess water and salt. Unless you’re alternating between water and alcohol, this process will eventually leave you — and your skin — dehydrated.
When your skin is dry, your oil glands produce more oil to make up for water loss. Excess oil can increase your risk of breakouts.
Alcohol and your liver
Your liver is responsible for removing harmful toxins — like alcohol — from your body.
Although drinking a glass here or there shouldn’t have a major impact on liver function, binge drinking can overwhelm your liver.
If your liver is unable to effectively remove toxins, the toxins may be stored within the body or expelled through other channels, such as your skin. This may result in a breakout.
Do certain types of alcohol trigger acne?
Acne is a complex skin disorder. The types of alcohol that can trigger a breakout are just as multifaceted.
One survey reported by the National Rosacea Society found that certain types of alcohol appear to trigger rosacea more than others. About 76 percent of respondents reported that red wine made their symptoms worse.
Alcohol alone isn’t enough to cause any inflammatory skin condition, including acne and rosacea. However, it’s important to know that — as with rosacea — some types of alcohol might trigger your acne more than others.
How each alcohol type affects your skin
Any alcohol you drink can have an effect on your skin. Some of these effects may influence acne development. Others may negatively impact overall skin health.
Clear liquors, such as gin and vodka, are often used in mixed drinks. Clear liquors are often low in calories and in congeners. Congeners are chemicals produced during alcohol fermentation. The fewer congeners in your drink of choice, the less likely you are to develop a hangover.
Moderation is key, though. Drinking large amounts of clear liquor can still lead to dehydration and inflammation.
Dark liquors contain large amounts of congeners. Although congeners enhance the alcohol’s flavor, they also increase your risk of hangover symptoms — like dehydration.
Dark liquors can also raise your blood sugar levels and increase bodily inflammation.
Mixed drinks contain a liquor along with sugary syrups or fruit juices. Even if you opt for low-sugar versions, mixed drinks can still raise your blood sugar and dehydrate your skin.
Beer contains a congener called furfural. It’s a yeast-inhibitor added during the fermentation process. Like liquor, beer can contribute to inflammation and dehydration.
White wine may not cause hangovers as severe as its red counterpart, but it can still dehydrate your skin and increase overall inflammation. That’s due in part to congeners called tannins.
Not only is red wine high in tannins, it can also dilate your blood vessels and make your skin inflamed.
Moderation is key
Having acne doesn’t mean you have to give up drinking entirely. Drinking in moderation is key to enjoying the best of both worlds: a nice glass of red and a fresh complexion the next morning.
Moderate drinking is considered:
- For women, up to one drink per day.
- For men under age 65, up to two drinks per day.
- For men 65 and older, up to one drink per day.
A drink isn’t a full 16-ounce glass of your choice. On the contrary, it depends on the type of alcohol you’re consuming.
A drink is classified as:
- 5 ounces of wine
- 12 ounces of beer
- 1.5 ounces, or a shot, of liquor
You could also apply a special mask or hydrating mist to help minimize the effects of alcohol. Belif’s First Aid Anti-Hangover Soothing Mask can be left on overnight or applied while you get ready the next morning. Spritz on Too Faced’s HangoveRx for some extra soothing hydration.
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