How Alcohol Is Sabotaging Your Skin

05/02/2016 3:03 PM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
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Friends drinking beer at urban rooftop party

Oh, alcohol. Just thinking about the swirling of a buttery Shiraz gets us in the mood. But like anything decadent or buzz-inducing, it comes at a price.

While we know that certain types of alcohol have proven medical benefits, unfortunately when it comes to our skin there are no such brownie points.

“The most common skin problems we see related to alcohol is that it causes facial flushing and in people with a condition called rosacea, alcohol will actually aggravate that,” Dr Andrew Miller, senior lecturer in dermatology at the Australian National University told The Huffington Post Australia.

Those who are prone to acne generally have a tendency towards rosacea as well, and Miller warns if you fall into this camp and experience flushing when alcohol is consumed the long-term effects are serious.

“For people that tend to get broken capillaries, bumps, pimples, thickening and coarsening of the skin, if they persist in drinking alcohol over the minor to moderate recommended amount, they will feed that problem and the skin will progressively get worse and more difficult to manage,” Miller said.

However, even if you are not prone to these conditions, once you go over the recommended amount (no more than two standard drinks) flushing is quite common regardless.

“This is caused by a chemical called acetaldehyde that builds up in the body and causes redness and flushing,” Miller said.

Miller said there is a genetic predisposition among those with Asian heritage to flush when alcohol is consumed.

“Many Asian people have a deficient enzyme involved in alcohol metabolism so they get a build up of this chemical that causes them to flush,” Miller said.

While dehydrated skin is often associated with alcohol consumption, Miller explains the skin will actually maintain its level of hydration as it has a barrier layer on the outside of it that traps water.

“But if you are significantly dehydrated (which tends to happen a lot as people forget to drink water while consuming alcohol) you will notice you are dry all over and that’s when your skin won’t look as plump as normal but saggy, wrinkled and limp instead,” Miller said.

The other major problem with alcohol in relation to skin is sugar.

“Alcohol actually tastes pretty horrid, it’s bitter and unpleasant. That’s why humanity has spent so much time over generations adding things to it to make it taste better and more palatable,” Miller said.

The classic example? A cocktail.

Not only does a sweet, sugar-filled cocktail conceal the taste of alcohol -- it also messes with how it is absorbed in the body -- which is why sometimes it feels as though it’s hit you like a truck.

“From the skin point of view, a lot of sugar is not good,” Miller said.

There is an increasing body of science that says people with acne should be careful about refined sugars.

“If you get a lot of refined sugars in your skin, that does tend to seed into acne,” Miller said.

The advantage of drinking alcoholic drinks low in sugar, for example beer, is that you are avoiding that excess sugar load.

“But with any alcoholic drink you need to be careful to stick to the recommended standard drinks (one to two) and you certainly should not be consuming alcohol every day,” Miller said.

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