Alcohol consumption can age skin, trigger underlying diseases

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Key takeaways:

  • Ahuva Cices, MD, discussed how alcohol consumption leaves the skin vulnerable.
  • Especially during summer, alcohol consumption can age skin, make it susceptible to sunburn and trigger diseases.

Alcohol does more than affect your liver — it can affect your skin too.

With summer fast approaching, many are making plans to crack open a cold one, lounge on the beach and take in the sun’s golden rays. They may be unaware, however, that not only does consuming alcohol negatively affect your skin, but doing so in the heat can do even more damage.


Alcohol does more than affect your liver — it can affect your skin too. Image: Adobe Stock.

Healio spoke with Ahuva Cices, MD, assistant professor of the Kimberly and Eric J. Waldman Department of Dermatology at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and director of both the cutaneous manifestations of inflammatory bowel disease clinic and cosmetic dermatology for patients with autoimmune disease at Mount Sinai, about how alcohol negatively affects the skin and can cause or exacerbate underlying diseases.

Ahuva Cices

Healio: How does alcohol consumption negatively affect the skin?

Cices: Alcohol is a diuretic, so that means it makes you pee more which can get you dehydrated. In the short term that can make skin dry, a little more dull and sometimes flaky. Additionally, when you are dehydrated from drinking alcohol, it can lead to fluid retention which will give you a little bit of swelling and puffiness. People who are especially sensitive might get some under-eye puffiness or swelling after a night of drinking.

Alcohol is also a toxin, so it increases free radicals and depletes the antioxidants that keep the skin protected which creates a pro inflammatory environment. This can make underlying skin diseases worse and can also contribute to extrinsic aging due to the damage from the free radicals.

Healio: Why does alcohol exacerbate underlying diseases?

Cices: Alcohol causes inflammation which can lead to the flaring of underlying diseases such as acne, rosacea and psoriasis. Rosacea flares are definitely triggered by alcohol as it induces flushing. For other skin diseases, alcohol can cause dryness as well as increase inflammation, including local inflammation in the skin, by producing antioxidants and increasing free radical damage. Additionally, this can affect people differently and all depends on how much a person drinks in addition to their diet.

As far as overall health goes, drinking alcohol interrupts sleep, which is important for staying healthy and can make some of these inflammatory diseases worse. Alcohol is also an irritant in the gut and can cause intestinal inflammation that may produce other systemic effects. As we know, the microbiome does have other effects beyond the gut and it can affect a lot of different diseases.

Healio: Tell me more about how alcohol ages your skin.

Cices: Basically, alcohol increases these bad things in the body that kind of prevent our regular processes. When you have a buildup of these toxic metabolites, the body must spend time detoxifying those instead of doing the good things that we want the body to be doing, such as building collagen and repairing cells that are either senescent or repairing different processes in the body. Over time, that can contribute to aging by causing damage and preventing the body from healing itself.

Healio: How is the skin affected when you drink alcohol in the summer?

Cices: I would start with saying that the heat from the sun and alcohol can both cause dehydration, which, again, can lead to dull skin. While drinking alcohol in the summer, it’s important to stay hydrated because mixing heat and alcohol together can have a compounding effect.

Small preliminary studies have shown that alcohol reduces the amount of sun that causes a sunburn, meaning someone who is drinking outside in the summer may get sunburn sooner than someone who is not drinking in that same instance. And again, this is probably related to the depletion of antioxidants.

So, the sun is damaging the skin, creating more of these free radicals, which is the same thing that alcohol does. So, it’s kind of like a double hit when you’re drinking alcohol and you’re out in the sun.

In addition to that, you’re also more likely to forget to reapply sunscreen if you’re drinking and out in the sun. For one thing, you’re having fun, but you are also more likely to lose track of time. I recommend to my patients that are drinking and out in the sun to set a recurring alarm on their phone for every 2 hours to remind them to reapply sunscreen, because we know that they’re more susceptible to sun damage and also more likely to forget. Again, there’s that “double hit.”

Healio: Can drinking alcohol in the sun increase your risk for skin cancer?

Cices: Any sun exposure can increase the risk of skin cancer, particularly prolonged exposure and sunburns, and we know alcohol can cause all types of cancers. This combination has not been studied specifically, but it is likely that exposure to both increases the risk of skin cancer compared with either alone. UV rays from the sun cause skin cancer by penetrating the skin to damage DNA by oxidizing DNA, creating free radicals that damage the DNA, and mutations to DNA sequences. Some of these free radicals and mutations can be repaired, but not all of them. If you are drinking alcohol, which creates even more free radicals, then your body will be trying to scavenger up all these free radicals to protect itself. However, the body can get overwhelmed by the numerous bad things that are floating around at once. This, in theory, makes you more susceptible to damage from the sun that your body can’t keep up with and repair, ultimately leading to skin cancer.

Healio: Is there anything you’d like to add?

Cices: Alcohol is toxic, but I believe in moderation. I am not saying that you should totally cut out alcohol because I think it’s important to live your life. While alcohol does have harmful effects on the skin and overall health, it does not mean you have to fully eliminate it, but it is important to be aware of these things so that you can have a more balanced approach to alcohol.


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