Life is a game of “Would You Rather?”—from big decisions to small, everything has a potential reward or consequence. Would you rather stay home or move to a new city? Would you rather spend the money or save it? Would you rather have one more glass or… what? Sometimes, the decisions that seem insignificant can have a bigger effect than we anticipated. Embarking on a monthlong journey of sobriety is certainly one of those. For anyone dipping their toe into Dry January, it can feel like you’re venturing into the unknown. Whether you’re doing it as a detox or in pursuit of a more permanent lifestyle change, cutting back might come with some surprises. Especially the effects of alcohol on skin.
Alcohol impacts everything from coordination to judgment and sleep. And while there can be plenty of reasons to hit pause, you might be more motivated to swap out that glass of Pinot for something zero-proof once you get a better idea of alcohol’s effects on your skin.
The Effects of Alcohol on Skin
For many, healthy, glowing skin is an unintended consequence of a dive into sober curiosity. I’m all about this accidental intersection of synergy and satisfaction—the things we find along the journey that remind us why we started it. Most of us know that less imbibing can come with plenty of physical and mental benefits, including improved cognitive function and hormone health, better sleep, mood stability, and balanced blood sugar. It’s invigorating to discover yet another potential benefit of the experiment: a healthier, lit-from-within complexion.
Maybe it’s because I’m motivated by near-instant gratification, but I like seeing results as much as I love feeling them. To learn more about the effects of alcohol on our skin, I reached out to Nutrition Consultant Edie Horstman for answers and insights.
It All Starts in the Gut
Alcohol affects our gut health, which, in turn, affects our skin. It disrupts our gut microbiota balance, leading to an overgrowth of not-so-good bacteria and a reduction in beneficial bacteria. This imbalance can contribute to inflammation and various digestive issues.
Alcohol is dehydrating, causing dry, flaky skin and a dull complexion. It also dilates blood vessels, potentially causing redness in the cheeks, chest, and neck. Chronic alcohol consumption may contribute to inflammation, exacerbating skin conditions like rosacea and acne.
How Drinking Less Can Benefit the Skin
Conversely, because so many of our internal systems work in tandem, it makes sense that the residual benefits of cutting back on alcohol would promote a healthy glow. Horstman cites the following as skin benefits you can expect from drinking less:
- Improved skin hydration
- Decreased inflammation
- Reduced redness
- Fewer fine lines
If you’re sober curious, these are some of our favorite non-alcoholic drinks to stock up on. (Consult our full list of editor-approved, zero-proof drinks.)
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Nutritionist-Approved Tips to Support Your Skin If You Choose to Drink
Though we’re beginning to better understand the negative impacts of alcohol on our health, it’s still present in our world today. Horstman lists the following as key things to keep in mind to promote skin health.
- Stay hydrated. Drinking water and electrolytes between drinks isn’t just good for preventing hangovers. It helps keep your skin hydrated and dewy as well.
- Moderation is key. Moderate alcohol consumption is generally defined as one drink per day for women, but consuming even fewer drinks is better.
- Choose clear spirits (vodka or gin). These have fewer congeners, which are fermentation byproducts that can contribute to skin irritation. Mix with unsweetened sparkling water and citrus instead of sugary mixers.
- Nibble on antioxidant-rich foods. Think berries, veggies, and ginger to help combat oxidative stress and inflammation.
- Keep skin protected. MOISTURIZE and wear sunscreen!
Our Favorite Skincare Products to Combat the Effects of Alcohol
Made of silica from Iceland’s famous blue lagoons, this white clay mask gently draws out impurities. It also helps balance and refresh your skin for an instantly glowing complexion.
Because alcohol is known to dull and dehydrate, we love leaning on this brightening serum that saturates the skin with antioxidants to protect against free radicals.
In wine and skincare, the French know best. This cult-favorite moisturizer nourishes dry skin with soothing niacinamide, glycerin (known to naturally attract water to the skin), and skin barrier-strengthening Ceramide-3. We apply to the face and neck for fast-absorbing protection.
We love the glowy finish this moisturizing SPF leaves on the skin (with zero white cast, of course). Turmeric provides an antioxidant boost, keeping blemish-prone skin clear and protected.