Article at a Glance:

  • Alcohol may not directly cause acne, but it does impact your body in a way that can make you more susceptible to skin problems.
  • Alcohol directly affects your skin by causing dehydration and inflammation.
  • Alcohol has several side effects that increase the risk of acne, including causing hormone changes, suppressing your immune system and increasing stress.
  • The sugar in some alcoholic drinks increases the risk of skin damage and skin infections.

Can Alcohol Cause Acne?

Alcohol may not directly cause acne, but drinking can lead to pimples and skin damage. While this might not always be an immediate effect following one night of heavy drinking, it is a possibility that increases the more and the longer you drink.

How Alcohol Affects Your Skin

Alcohol is classified as a hepatotoxin, which is just a fancy way of saying it causes damage to the liver. When you’re drinking alcohol, you’re exposing your body to something that damages the cells responsible for detoxification throughout your body.

  • Dehydration

    If the toxic elements of alcohol weren’t enough, it also dehydrates you, and this can significantly affect your skin. You may notice when you wake up following a night of heavy drinking that your skin looks drier, less plump and more wrinkled. This effect is due to the dehydration that alcohol causes. Consistent dehydration can lead to dry skin, making wrinkles and imperfections more obvious and increasing the probability of skin problems developing.

  • Inflammation

    Alcohol also causes inflammation, which can lead to redness of the skin. If you are a long-term heavy drinker, that temporary redness can become a long-term feature of your skin. Skin inflammation can also make it more likely that pores will become irritated or inflamed, increasing the risk of whiteheads or blackheads.

    Women who drink white wine or liquor have been found to be particularly at risk for developing rosacea, a condition causing redness and visible blood vessels in the face.

Why Alcohol May Lead to Breakouts

Acne may result from things that are out of your control, like your genetics, but environmental and lifestyle factors also influence whether or not you develop acne. Though more research is needed, multiple studies point to diet as a potential lifestyle factor in how likely you are to develop acne.

  • Alcohol changes your hormones, which may lead to acne.

    Alcohol and acne often go hand-in-hand because alcohol can affect the balance of your hormones. An imbalance in certain hormone levels is linked to the development of acne. Hormonal imbalances are well known to affect skin quality and the development of pimples. The hormonal imbalances that occur during puberty are a good example, creating the well-recognized acne experienced by teenagers. Alcohol is unlikely to affect your hormones as much as puberty does, but it still contributes to hormonal imbalances that can worsen your skin’s condition.

  • Alcohol impacts your immune system, which may lead to acne.

    Another way alcohol and acne may be related is via the immune system. Even just one night of binge drinking can suppress your immune system. Research has shown that drinking can cause your immune system to need to work harder to protect you against things like damaging bacteria. It may be easier for your body to develop acne dealing with bacteria on your skin when your immune response is suppressed.

  • Alcohol impacts your stress levels, which may lead to acne.

    Alcohol and acne may also be correlated because of stress. When you drink, it raises your stress hormone levels like cortisol. Stress can put even more pressure on your immune system and lead to outbreaks of whiteheads and other skin blemishes.

How About Sugar-Free Drinks?

Sugar is found in high levels in many types of alcohol, especially in sweet wines or beer. If you’re having mixed drinks, the sugar becomes even higher. Some types of alcohol, such as spirits, will not contain any sugar, and light beers contain low amounts of sugar.  Sugar in alcohol leads to inflammation throughout the body, which can impact skin quality.

Sugar is a key part of bacterial and fungal growth. Alcoholic drinks that are high in sugar may suppress the immune system and create the ideal situation for bacterial growth. These two factors coupled together may increase the risk of skin infections that could further damage the skin.

If you drink heavily and struggle to control your drinking despite negative consequences to your body, you may have an alcohol use disorder. You’re not alone: thousands of people seek help for their alcoholism each year. The Recovery Village’s experienced, compassionate staff can create a personalized treatment plan that addresses your unique needs. Contact us today to start your recovery towards a healthier, alcohol-free life.

  • Sources

    Liu, Stephanie W.; Lien, Mary H.; & Fenske, Neil Alan. “The effects of alcohol and drug abuse on the skin.” Clinics in Dermatology, July 2010. Accessed August 6, 2021.

    Kruszelnicki, Karl S. “Why does drinking alcohol cause dehydration?” ABC Science, February 28, 2012. Accessed August 6, 2021.

    U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Dehydration.” MedlinePlus, April 15, 2016. Accessed August 6, 2021.

    Rachdaoui, Nadia & Sarkar, Dipak K. “Effects of Alcohol on the Endocrine System.” Endocrinology & Metabolism Clinics of North America, September 1, 2014. Accessed August 6, 2021.

    Sarkar, Dipak; Jung, M. Katherine; & Wang, H. Joe. “Alcohol and the Immune System.” Alcohol Research: Current Reviews, 2015. Accessed August 6, 2021.

    Shmerling, Robert. “Does diet really matter when it comes to adult acne?” Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School, August 19, 2020. Accessed August 6, 2021.

  • Medical Disclaimer

    The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

    View our editorial policy or view our research.

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