The Science Behind Alcohol’s Effect On Your Appearance
If you’ve ever gone too hard on the drinking, you know the sheer horror of seeing yourself in the mirror the next day.
Have you been in a fight? Did you wake up 15 years older?
Your face looks swollen, dry, and tired. Carry on like this for too long and it becomes a permanent feature of your appearance. But why?
Let’s nerd out on some science, shall we?
Alcohol is TERRIBLE for your skin.
There are several reasons for this. First, alcohol is a diuretic. It dehydrates your entire body, including your largest organ – your skin.
In the short term, a night full of hardcore partying is going to leave your body severely dehydrated. Your organs are desperately trying to hang on to as much water as possible, which causes tissues to swell, leading to puffiness and redness.
In the long term, it’s much worse.
Why Alcohol Ages You
Subjecting your body to high levels of dehydration, even a couple of nights per week has a cumulative effect on your overall appearance.
Rob your skin of hydration for long enough and you will develop dry skin and wrinkles prematurely. Additionally, alcohol robs your body of essential vitamins and nutrients for that youthful glow we all want and love.
According to skin expert, Caroline Hitchcock, “Alcohol depletes vitamin A, which is essential for cell renewal, leaving the skin with a dull gray appearance, and it can trigger breakouts, and bring on outbreaks of rosacea, eczema, psoriasis.”
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Alcohol has the unique ability to make us look 10 years older with all the lovely skin issues of adolescence.
That’s because alcohol dilates your pores, which leads to an increase in whiteheads and blackheads. Dr. Amy Spizuaco of Greenwich Village Dermatology in NYC goes on to note that repeated heavy drinking can even lead to inflamed skin papules and cystic acne, which can cause permanent scarring.
You might also notice these tiny, web-like red lines across your nose and beneath your eyes. Those are broken capillaries. They are a result of the blood vessels in your face swelling and can be difficult to repair.
Because alcohol robs us of quality sleep, our skin does not receive the necessary cellular turnover to keep our youthful complexion, adding further to our skin woes.
But that’s not all, folks!
That ruddy, redness plaguing heavy drinkers? It’s bad.
Yes, alcohol makes you look terrible, but your appearance is actually an indicator of more nefarious problems beneath the surface.
Having a red complexion is not just unsightly. It indicates inflammation.
When alcohol is broken down by the liver, it releases a byproduct called acetaldehyde, which then stimulates the release of histamine into the body that dilates blood capillaries, causing redness, and inflammation in the body tissues.
Reddening of the skin can also indicate problems in the liver. Skin problems like spider veins have been associated with cirrhosis of the liver. Additional skin problems associated with liver diseases include palmar erythema (red palms), caput medusa (dilated veins around the belly button that look like Medusa’s head of snakes, and jaundice.
Let’s talk about your hair.
The skin shouldn’t have all the fun. Believe it or not, alcohol makes your hair ugly, too. Your hair also becomes dehydrated which means your hair is dry, brittle, and more prone to breakage and split ends.
Because alcohol robs your body of important nutrients like zinc and folic acid, your hair will also become lifeless, flat, and weaker overall. The thing about weaker hair is that it falls out.
These are further signs of malnutrition that come with excessive alcohol consumption. In addition to not getting enough nutrients, long-term drinking actually affects your body’s ability to absorb nutrients that it does get.
It does this by destroying the lining of your digestive tract and increasing acid production throughout your digestive system.
As mentioned previously, alcohol disrupts your sleep, which leads to increased stress levels that can lead to additional hair loss.
It also increases estrogen levels which have been associated with problems with hair growth.
I’ll use myself as an example. On the left, you can see my flushed, red skin, and stringy, lifeless hair. On the right? An even skin tone with fuller, healthier hair.
Before and After Pictures: Drinking vs. Sober
Still not convinced? Look at these before and after pictures from people who drank heavily and decided to give sobriety a go.
Yes, Ted lost 50 pounds, but you can also see that the redness is gone and the general puffy and swollen look of his face has calmed down significantly.
After just one month, this lovely woman’s complexion has brightened and the swelling in her neck and face has gone down.
After 18 months of sobriety, you can see Hannah’s complexion is no longer red and inflamed. Her face looks slimmer with a healthy glow. We can’t really see her hair in the before pic, but it definitely looks shiny and healthy in her after-shot.
Repairing the Damage Alcohol Has Done To Your Appearance
Once you’ve quit drinking, you might (understandably) be pressed to fix the damage your drinking has done to your appearance.
There are no quick fixes, but you can start working on restoring some of the nutritional deficiencies alcohol created in your body.
Please note, none of this really works if you continue to drink. It’s like running an hour every day and then coming home to eat six donuts. What’s the point if you’re not going to address the primary culprit – alcohol?
You need to drink water. The dryness of your skin is not topical. Slather expensive creams on your face and body all day, but if you’re not moisturizing from the inside, I’m afraid you won’t find much success.
Because heavy drinkers are chronically dehydrated, you should consider giving your body an extra boost of hydration via electrolytes. But choose wisely. Sports drinks like Gatorade are full of sugar (32 grams) which is going to do your skin zero favors.
Try supplemental electrolyte powders like Liquid IV. This brand comes highly recommended. In addition to keeping you hydrated, Liquid IV contains vitamin C and all your B Vitamins, which are depleted by heavy drinking.
Just be sure to double-check with your doctor to ensure this is right for you.
2. Replenish your body through diet and supplements.
Alcohol depletes the body of vitamin A. You can get more vitamin A through orange, red, and yellow veggies like sweet potatoes, red bell peppers, and carrots. Other fantastic sources of vitamin A include dark, leafy greens and cooked broccoli.
If you eat animal products, you can also get vitamin A by consuming liver, dairy, eggs, and oily fish.
Because alcohol blocks the absorption of crucial vitamins like thiamin, B12, folic acid, and zinc, you’ll want to ensure you’re getting a healthy dose of those as well.
Taking a multivitamin is just a good health practice. Probiotics will help repair some of the damage done to your digestive system from heavy drinking, and fish oil supplements are another standard go-to that is particularly important for former drinkers as it supports brain health.
Beyond that, you should consult with a doctor about which supplements are right for you. It is possible to overdo it and create more problems for yourself if you start mixing supplements on your own.
3. Get some sleep.
Sleep is when the magic happens.
It’s how our body repairs itself. This is the time when our body is able to do its major restorative work like tissue repair, muscle growth, and protein synthesis. There is a reason it is called beauty rest, folks.
More sleep = more cellular turnover = better looking you.
There are things you can do to promote good sleep hygiene if you’re struggling to get to sleep. The important thing is to make sufficient sleep (7-9 hours) a priority in your new sober life.
Exercise has a powerful effect on our skin. Let’s nerd out a bit, shall we?
When you get your heart rate up, your muscles start pumping out a protein that powers your skin cells’ mitochondria to act younger.
Additionally, exercise helps control blood sugar and reduce stress, which can wreak havoc on your skin. Stress ages skin tissue and damages important proteins like collagen.
Exercise is also a great way to reduce overall inflammation in the body, something recovering drinkers especially need.
Finally, exercise helps improve circulation and cleanse our skin of impurities through sweat – two more things we need for gorgeous, healthy skin.
This ties into exercise, but there are other things you can do to lower your stress levels which helps reduce inflammation in the body, regulate blood sugar, and keep your skin happy.
I highly recommend starting a daily meditation practice. Deep breathing exercises are wonderful at triggering the parasympathetic nervous system which helps the body relax and slow down.
It is also a critical tool in repairing the damage done to our brains by alcohol. Meditation and mindfulness allow us to literally reshape our brains, which helps us become less emotionally reactive, calmer, more focused, and kinder!
Most importantly, do not drink.
Alcohol is a beauty killer. It makes you look old, thirsty, and swollen in addition to making you feel like total shit.
If you’re tired of, well, looking so tired, consider giving up alcohol for good. You have nothing to lose (seriously, you don’t), and everything to gain.
Here’s to your new, beautifully sober life!