The occasional drink typically does not present a health issue. However, frequent and excessive drinking can lead to several problems with the skin.

Some changes can be benign, such as dry skin or flushing. However, prolonged alcohol use can cause other complications that affect the skin, such as liver disease.

Alcohol can also worsen underlying skin conditions.

This article discusses some of the short and long-term effects that drinking alcohol can have on a person’s skin.

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If a person chooses to drink alcohol, experts recommend the following drinking guidelines:

  • Females: Up to 1 drink per day.
  • Males: Up to 2 drinks per day.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines heavy drinking as follows:

  • Females: More than 3 drinks per day or more than 7 drinks per week.
  • Males: More than 4 drinks per day or more than 14 drinks per week.

Heavy drinking can increase a person’s risk of developing alcohol use disorder (AUD).

AUD is also known as alcohol misuse or alcohol addiction. A person with AUD may be unable to manage their drinking habits and may drink heavily. It can be mild, moderate, or severe.

Many of the long-term effects of alcohol on a person’s skin happen as a result of AUD.

These effects are temporary, and a person can notice them the day after a night of drinking, whether or not they have AUD.

Dehydration

Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it causes the body to make and release more urine. This means that the body loses more water and salt than usual.

Because of this, drinking alcohol can cause dehydration, which may affect a person’s skin.

Effects of dehydration on the skin can include:

Having a glass of water in between each alcoholic drink may decrease the risk of dehydration.

Flushing

Flushing is a common side effect of drinking alcohol.

Alcohol may stimulate the release of histamines, which can cause the blood vessels under the skin to dilate. This can make a person’s complexion look flushed or inflamed.

People of East Asian descent are more likely to be affected by facial flushing relating to alcohol. This is because of a deficient enzyme that is involved in processing alcohol.

Sleep disruption

Although drinking alcohol can cause a person to fall asleep faster, it may cause them to wake up more often during the night.

If a person spends the night drinking, they may also stay up late or not sleep at all.

One to two nights of disrupted sleep can cause temporary changes to a person’s skin, including:

  • darker circles under the eyes
  • paler skin
  • duller complexion
  • more wrinkles or fine lines

Changes to the skin can be more serious and last longer if a person regularly consumes alcohol.

If a person drinks alcohol regularly, the short-term effects, such as dry skin and flushing, are more likely to become a persistent problem.

Prolonged heavy drinking can also increase a person’s risk of more serious conditions, such as skin cancer. It can also cause skin changes resulting from alcoholic liver disease.

Some of the long-term effects of heavy drinking on a person’s skin include:

  • Increased risk of skin infections: Bacterial and fungal infections are more likely to occur in people who drink alcohol excessively. This is because alcohol weakens the immune system and can decrease the body’s ability to absorb nutrients. People are also more likely to get injured while drinking alcohol, which can lead to skin infections.
  • Increased risk of skin cancer: This is also due to alcohol weakening the immune system, lowering the body’s natural defense against diseases. Some evidence also suggests that drinking alcohol can worsen the effects of ultraviolet light on a person’s skin, causing more damage than usual.

Skin changes due to alcoholic liver disease

Prolonged alcohol use can cause problems with a person’s liver, such as hepatitis and cirrhosis. These conditions can cause multiple changes in the skin, including:

Regular alcohol consumption can cause or aggravate several different skin conditions, including:

Rosacea

Rosacea is a chronic skin condition that can cause flushing, irritation, and pimples on a person’s face.

Because drinking alcohol causes facial flushing, it can worsen rosacea symptoms.

In most people, drinking alcohol is not the cause of rosacea. However, according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, drinking alcohol can increase a person’s risk of developing it.

Psoriasis

Psoriasis is an autoimmune inflammatory condition that causes patches of thick, scaly plaques on the skin.

According to DermNet.org, drinking large amounts of alcohol can increase a person’s risk of developing psoriasis. It can also cause psoriasis to become resistant to treatment.

Drinking alcohol can also worsen the condition, which could be because alcohol weakens the immune system.

Seborrheic dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitis is a common skin condition associated with inflamed, greasy patches with white flakes.

Seborrheic dermatitis may be more frequent in heavy drinkers.

Porphyria cutanea tarda

Alcohol consumption is the most common cause of porphyria cutanea tarda (PCT). This condition causes painful, blistering lesions on the skin following exposure to the sun.

Discoid eczema

Also known as nummular dermatitis, discoid eczema occurs more often in people who misuse alcohol, especially if they have liver problems.

To combat the short-term effects of alcohol on the skin, a person can drink water to stay hydrated while consuming alcohol.

According to a 2020 study, applying topical brimonidine to the skin before drinking alcohol may be effective in reducing the appearance of flushing. Brimonidine is prescription-only, and doctors sometimes prescribe it to people with rosacea.

However, for skin conditions related to AUD, liver disease, or excessive alcohol consumption, the best preventive measure is to stop drinking alcohol.

A person should speak with a doctor, close friend, therapist, or local support group to find ways to help give up alcohol.

Here are some apps that can help with quitting alcohol.

Treatment for skin issues related to AUD will typically involve two processes. One is treating the AUD, and the other is treating any underlying conditions that may remain after a person stops consuming alcohol.

There are several different treatments available to a person living with AUD. They include:

  • cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • detox
  • inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation
  • peer support groups
  • medications

While treating AUD and quitting alcohol should help many skin conditions clear, a person may need to continue treating other underlying conditions, such as liver disease. Treatments will vary based on the condition, so a person should speak with a doctor about the best treatment options for them.

People with underlying skin conditions, such as psoriasis and rosacea, will need to continue treatment to prevent flare-ups. A person should speak with a doctor or dermatologist to find the best treatment.

If a person wishes to continue using alcohol frequently, basic treatments such as over-the-counter moisturizing creams may help relieve some of the symptoms of skin conditions, such as dry skin.

For people living with AUD, or people who are worried about their intake of alcohol, help and support are available.

Talking with a doctor may be the first step. A person can also reach out to trusted friends or family members. They may be able to provide emotional support or help with finding solutions.

For others, reaching out to community support groups or online groups proves to be helpful.

Seeking help for addiction may seem daunting or even scary, but several organizations can provide support. If you believe that you or someone close to you is struggling with addiction, you can contact the following organizations for immediate help and advice:

In the short term, drinking alcohol can cause dry skin, flushing, dark circles, and decreased elasticity.

Prolonged alcohol consumption and alcohol use disorder can lead to or aggravate a variety of skin conditions.

Eliminating alcohol from a person’s diet and lifestyle should help the skin to clear up.

However, in some cases, such as psoriasis and rosacea, a person will need to continue treatment even after they have stopped drinking alcohol.

A person who is worried about the amount of alcohol they consume, or has trouble managing their alcohol intake, can contact a doctor or local support group to help with treatment.