Clinking glasses are a common soundtrack this time of year—in fact, we double our typical alcohol consumption during the holidays, according to a recent poll. And while most of us are pretty familiar with the physical toll this liquid revelry can take, alcohol can also wreak havoc on skin.
The skin side effects of alcohol.
Dryness and puffiness
A potent diuretic, alcohol forces fluid out of our systems, which leads to dehydration inside and out, says Medford, Oregon dermatologist Laurel Geraghty M.D. It seems counterintuitive, but this lack of hydration actually makes us retain morewater, which can cause puffiness in the face and, perhaps most frustratingly, under the eyes.
Lines and wrinkles
When your skin is drier, lines and wrinkles appear more prominently. But that’s not the only way alcohol prods the signs of aging skin. It induces a cascade of inflammation in the body, which can accelerate the aging process. Plus, the high amount of sugar in both the alcohol itself and in any added mixers (that ginger beer in your Moscow Mule can rack up 50 grams of sugar!) contributes to a process called glycation, whereby sugars bind to the proteins within the skin. This causes a buildup of substances called AGE’s (advanced glycation end products) that, says Geraghty, “contribute to damage within the dermis, leading to a breakdown of collagen and elastin”—the structures that make our skin smooth, firm, bouncy, and youthful.
Breakouts and dark circles
The same cascade of inflammation that can contribute to lines and wrinkles is also a culprit behind acne. In addition, drinking alcohol prompts the body to release histamines (compounds involved in the immune response), which then dilate capillaries, prompting dark circles and a redness in skin that can make pimples more obvious (this reddening is why alcohol is “notorious for riling up rosacea,” says Geraghty). Also, drinking can “send your blood sugar on a roller coaster ride,” says L.A. holistic nutritionist Kristin Dahl, resulting in a hormone imbalance that—you guessed it—provokes more pimples. To top it all off, the dehydration the body experiences contributes to breakouts as well: to compensate for the loss of fluids, skin overproduces oil, causing an uptick in clogged pores.
How to keep skin healthy despite the booze
If you’re going for wine, opt for a red that’s organic and biodynamic—these types are free of common additives, rich in antioxidants called polyphenols that can protect against alcohol’s inflammatory effect, and have less sugar than the white variety. In general, however, wines are pretty high in sugar; that’s why Dahl recommends low-sugar options like “tequila and mezcal blended with fresh citrus and soda water instead of sweet mixers or sodas.” You should also keep an eye on what’s on your plate, not just in your glass. “Nourish yourself with a balanced meal before or while you drink, including a mix of fiber, protein, and healthy fats,” says Dahl. This will help prevent the blood sugar spikes that send your hormones spiraling.
Rehydrate inside and out
It seems obvious, but: drink water. Lots of it. Try having a full 8 oz. for every alcoholic beverage you consume, advises Geraghty, to “help the body and skin play catch-up on its fluid balance.” If you’ve really overdone it, Dahl suggests pairing your H20 at the end of the night with two activated charcoal pills, which may help the body expel the alcohol faster. To counter dehydration on the skincare front, slather on a hyaluronic acid-rich serum before you go to bed. Alcohol interferes with skin’s moisture-binding activity; a little extra hyaluronic acid, which binds up to 1,000x its weight in water, can step in to assist. In addition, research has shown that hyaluronic acid has a protective effect on collagen-producing fibroblasts when exposed to the destructive ethanol in alcohol.
Up the antioxidants
This should already be part of your daily routine, but it’s especially important when you drink: “An antioxidant serum can help combat the the free radical damage that occurs when we take in excess alcohol,” explains Geraghty. You can work on this from the inside too, so fill your plate with antioxidant-rich food. Dark, leafy greens make an excellent base for protein, and ginger and turmeric add a beautiful flavor and “can do wonders for bringing down overall inflammation, not to mention soothing the digestive tract,” says Dahl.
It’s probably the last thing you feel like doing after a late night, but a little exercise can be a miracle worker for your body and your skin by encouraging blood flow and lymphatic drainage, which reduces puffiness, says Geraghty. Can’t make it off the couch? Then try treating your skin to some movement: “Massaging your face and body with oil can also aid in stimulating lymph flow,” says Dahl.
Check the Freezer
A bag of frozen peas applied to the eye area for 5-10 minutes, says Geraghty, is a surprisingly effective remedy for puffy eyes and dark circles. For best results, tap on a moisturizing eye serum afterwards to give the area some reparative support (something frozen peas, sadly, do not provide).
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