Alcohol is something I think we all really need to understand better. While there isn’t much research available to suggest alcohol causes acne, or if alcohol worsens breakouts, we have a lot of information on how it affects all the other areas of the body. Alcohol is a big part of today’s society, especially around student life, celebrations and the way that it’s used to help make us feel relaxed or more confident, which can really make it hard to keep in moderation.
Alcohol: The basics you need to know.
I’m a firm believer of everything in moderation, and I think alcohol has its place as part of a balanced, healthy lifestyle. But alcohol isn’t something I’d recommend in a food plan to help improve your health. Your body sees alcohol as a toxin, so when you consume alcohol, your body goes through a series of processes to break it down and clear it out ASAP. There are some benefits from low to moderate amounts of alcohol, and red wine does contain polyphenols, but like I said it’s not something I’d actively add into someone’s weekly food plan – there are better foods that give much higher doses of polyphenols without the negative side effects of alcohol (like dark chocolate and matcha).
When you have that first drink (or maybe 2), you start to feel relaxed, more talkative and get that ‘buzz’ – which makes you feel good. But when we start to drink more, it really starts to impact our brain and nervous system, which we see with our not-so-great decision-making, slurred speech and stumbling around. Unfortunately, the effects of alcohol aren’t just short-term, and the long-term effects really can impact our skin.
How alcohol affects your body.
Dehydration & blocked pores.
One of the first things you might notice with alcohol is that you become dehydrated. Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it encourages your body to expel more water than usual. This can leave your skin feeling dry, dull, and prone to flakiness the next day. If your skin is constantly dehydrated, it can start to affect the way our skin naturally exfoliates itself, increasing the risk of blocked pores.
Alcohol, blood glucose and acne
Now, let’s talk about the sugar content of alcohol. Many alcoholic beverages contain a surprising amount of sugar, especially cocktails and sweetened drinks. High sugar intake can wreak havoc on your skin by increasing insulin levels. Elevated insulin levels, in turn, can stimulate the production of hormones that increase sebum, the oily substance that can clog your pores and lead to acne breakouts. As well, the combination of a high-sugar diet and alcohol really puts a strain on our liver function, contributing to fatty liver and cirrhosis. More on that below…
Liver function, hormones and acne
Your liver really takes a hammering when you drink in excess, as it’s the organ that processes majority of the alcohol we drink. Every time you drink alcohol, it causes some damage to the liver cells, which can contribute to a build-up of fat in the liver, inflammation, or cirrhosis – where you end up with scar tissue. Once tissue becomes scarred, it doesn’t function anymore, and this process cannot be reversed.
When you consume alcohol, your liver prioritises breaking it down over other detoxification processes – one of them being related to hormone health. Your liver is responsible for clearing out excess oestrogen and helping to keep oestrogen levels balanced. But when we drink alcohol, clearing out oestrogen isn’t important, so your liver prioritises getting alcohol out of the body instead. This means that if we regularly drink alcohol, it really interferes with oestrogen and can cause levels to rise, which can contribute to hormonal imbalances and inflammation.
Your liver already has around 500 jobs to do (literally). Consistently adding alcohol into the mix gives your liver a harder time, and it will always prioritise alcohol detoxification over those other jobs it has to do.
Alcohol and the gut-acne connection
Alcohol isn’t just affecting your liver; it also has a pretty big impact on your gut health too. When we drink alcohol, it causes an increase in intestinal permeability by breaking down the tight junctions that hold the cells in the gut together (also known as leaky gut); this process can contribute to inflammation as things such as toxins, allergens and bacteria make their way into the bloodstream, which activates the immune system. When the gut lining becomes damaged, it starts to affect how well we absorb the nutrients we need for skin health too. To make it even worse, alcohol also has detrimental effects on the gut microbiome, altering the balance between good and bad bacteria. We know how important a healthy gut is for healthy skin, so being aware of how alcohol is going to impact your gut health is really important.
Alcohol and its effects on mood
The hard thing with alcohol is that it’s often used as a release; you feel stressed, nervous or overwhelmed, and alcohol helps numb those feelings for a bit. Alcohol might make you feel relaxed and carefree initially, but the aftermath can be quite the opposite. Hangovers can leave you feeling tired, irritable, depressed and anxious – I used to suffer with really bad ‘hangxiety’ when I’d drink, which is one of the reasons I don’t drink very often anymore.
If you’re tired and hungover, you’re less likely to engage in healthy habits like eating well, going to the gym, exercising, meal planning and prepping, and sticking to your skincare routine. This can create a vicious cycle where poor self-care habits and low mood exacerbate skin issues.
Another negative around alcohol is that it’s often a trigger for other behaviours and habits you’re probably trying to reduce. For example, if you go out for a few drinks, you might be more likely to socially smoke, eat something rubbish on the way home, or stay up until the early morning hours (maybe you’ll even fall asleep in your makeup – the ultimate sin).
Hydration for healthier skin
I know this wasn’t a very positive message – it’s all quite doom and gloom. But it’s so important to really understand how alcohol is affecting your body in so many ways. I do believe that alcohol can be a part of a healthy, balanced diet – I will still drink occasionally, but not every weekend like I used to. If you’re on the road to reducing your alcohol intake, here are some tips:
If you’re going to be drinking alcohol, always make sure you keep hydrated throughout the day. I will always order water alongside an alcoholic drink to help counteract the dehydrating effects of alcohol.
Load up on antioxidants
Your liver needs a lot of support when it comes to clearing alcohol from the body, so let’s try to support it through food and drinks as much as possible. If you’re eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, you’ll be giving your body a great dose of antioxidants. But, some liver-supporting foods include turmeric, nettle, green tea, garlic, beetroot and broccoli.
Make some swaps
The downside to the non-alcoholic alternatives is that a lot of the time, they either don’t taste great, or they’re super high in sugar. However, you do have some options. I like kombucha as an alternative, as it’s fizzy from the natural fermentation and comes in a load of different flavours.
Finally, prioritise self-care and balance in your life. If alcohol is something that’s in your life more than you’d like right now, try to look at what is contributing to it. Is it stress? Is it that all your social gatherings revolve around alcohol? Find out what the trigger is, and then work from there.
Remember, you don’t have to give up the occasional drink entirely to have clear skin and a healthy life. It’s all about balance and making informed choices. By understanding how alcohol affects your skin, you can take steps to mitigate its negative impact while still enjoying social gatherings and celebrations.