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Myth Busters

Really, how bad is holiday alcohol for skin?

Posted on: December 21st, 2018 by Dr. Jennifer Herrmann

We make our list and check it twice. In-town friends? Cocktails. College buddies? Craft beer. Family dinners? Spiked eggnog. And of course, bubbly to ring in the New Year. We punctuate our holidays with alcohol, but one thing doesn’t celebrate. Our skin. Yes, you’ve heard it before: alcohol isn’t good for your complexion. But just how bad is it really?


Alcohol acts as a diuretic meaning it’s responsible for more bathroom trips. And it’s hard to stay hydrated when drinking because alcohol also suppresses vasopressin, a hormone that helps us reabsorb water. Dehydration takes a toll on the skin, making it sallow, flat and wrinkly. Strike 1.


Alcohol releases histamine, which causes leaky and dilated vessels. This contributes to puffy skin, especially around the eyes and a feeling of being bloated. Vessel dilation is also responsible for alcohol “flush,” and over time, some vessels can burst creating those pesky broken capillaries. For patients with rosacea, these vasodilatory effects are particularly problematic as they can trigger persistent redness, flushing, and stinging. Strike 2.


Hepatotoxic means toxic to the liver, and alcohol definitely impairs the liver’s ability to function. Why is this important? Because unlike what drugstore detoxes and vitamin drips promise, the liver is our body’s best detoxifier. It filters out and degrades harmful chemicals that would otherwise directly and indirectly damage cellular processes. If damaging free radicals and toxins stay in the bloodstream, some will impact the skin and accelerate signs of aging. Healthy skin depends on a healthy liver. Strike 3.

Added sugars

While peppermint martinis and cranberry cream mimosas may be your holiday drinks of choice, most cocktails are loaded with sugar. Sugars spike insulin, which leads to inflammation and increased oil production. This can contribute to breakouts and an overall poor complexion. Strike 4.

Any benefits?

So, the penalties of alcohol are steep. Bleary-eyed nights just aren’t good for your skin. But, are there any benefits of alcohol? What about red wine?? Is there any truth behind its alleged health benefits?

Red wine contains resveratrol, a polyphenol that possesses potent antioxidant, anticarcinogenic (anti-cancer), anti-inflammatory, as well as antimicrobial properties. It may help explain the so-called French paradox—the relatively low rates of heart disease despite diets of buttery sauces, baguettes, and patisseries. Resveratrol is found in the skins of grapes and its antioxidant properties neutralize free radicals, protecting our cells from inflammation and disease. The process of fermentation helps release these free radical squelchers into wine, which when consumed confers benefits, especially if limited to one or fewer glasses per day. If we want to reap the benefits but not consume alcohol, can we just apply red wine on our faces? Unfortunately no. Because Resverotrol, like other antioxidants is inherently unstable, it’s likely useless when applied as a DIY home mask. Save yourself the mess! But, companies have capitalized on this active ingredient and have incorporated it into topical skin care products. Brands like Caudalie, Skinceuticals, and Dermalogica that have big budgets to spend on making stable formulations all have products with active resveratrol. So, it is possible to reap the red wine goodness without any of alcohol’s drawbacks. Cheers to that!

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