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Does Alcohol Cause Acne? (+ 6 Ways to Prevent it)

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How Alcohol Affects Your Skin

The link between alcohol and acne isn’t black and white. Drinking isn’t the direct cause of acne, nor does it worsen acne. However, drinking alcohol does affect other bodily systems that can contribute to the development of acne.

Acne is caused by the overproduction of sebum (oil that lubricates the skin and hair). It’s also caused by our skin’s inability to shed dead skin cells and excess bacteria.  

When you drink alcohol, your skin becomes porous and inflamed. This reaction can lead to blackheads and whiteheads forming. 

Although drinking isn’t likely the root cause of your acne, there is evidence to show it does not help reduce acne.

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Does Alcohol Cause Acne?

The short answer is no. Alcohol doesn’t directly cause acne or worsen your preexisting condition. But drinking can wreak havoc on bodily systems linked to acne production. 

Alcohol affects the body in a multitude of ways. Alcohol can affect how nutrients and oxygen travel through our porous skin. It can also increase oxidative stress, lower the immune system, and imbalance hormones.

Oxidation is a normal bodily process. However, oxidative stress can cause an imbalance in free radical and antioxidant activity.

Free radicals help rid your body of pathogens. When you experience oxidative stress, your free radicals can’t do their job correctly. This can lead to excessive pathogens, which may lead to infections.

Does Alcohol Make Acne Worse?

Although alcohol can trigger acne, it doesn’t directly cause it.  There are various negative impacts alcohol has on the body that can indirectly make acne worse. 

Alcohol affects hydration, inflammation, liver processes, and hormonal balance. The more you drink, the more intensified the side effects can be.

What Drinks Cause Acne?

Different types of alcohol have versatile effects on bodily functions. Therefore, to understand the correlation between your drinking and acne, you must consider what drinks you consume. 

Beer

Beer contains a congener yeast-inhibitor called furfural. A congener is a substance produced during fermentation. Furfural is responsible for causing inflammation and dehydration, which can lead to acne.

Red Wine

Red wine contains a high amount of a congener called tannins. Tannins are a naturally occurring compound found in nature. This compound can be found in the stems and skins of grapes used to make wine. 

Similar to furfural in beer, tannins are known to cause inflammation and dehydration. Drinking red wine can lead to dilated blood vessels and skin inflammation.

White Wine

While red wine is widely known to cause hangovers due to its congener content, white wine is no expectation. 

Both red and white wine contain the same chemical byproducts from the fermentation process. These congeners can cause inflammation and dehydration of the skin.

Clear Liquor

Clear liquor, such as vodka and gin, have much fewer congeners than their darker counterparts. The fewer congeners you consume, the lesser your hangover, dehydration, and inflammation. 

However, that doesn’t mean clear liquors don’t impact your skin. The key to avoiding the side effects of alcohol is drinking in moderation. 

Overdoing any alcoholic substance can negatively impact your body and, in turn, your skin. 

Dark Liquor

Dark liquors and red wines have the most congeners of all alcoholic beverages. Although congeners add flavor and depth to a spirit, they also add to the hangover. 

As noted, hangovers can severely dehydrate you. Inflammation is also a common side effect.

Preventing Acne When Drinking Alcohol

There are many ways you can try to offset the harmful effects of alcohol. If you’re struggling with acne but continue to drink alcohol, these steps may help prevent it.

1. Avoid Sugary Mixed Drinks

A high-sugar diet can increase your chances of developing acne. One study shows that drinking five sugary beverages daily can increase your risk of developing acne-prone skin by 50 percent.2

Mixed drinks can be loaded with added sugars from sodas and juices. Instead, try mixing your alcohol with something less sugary, such as seltzer water. 

2. Drink Tons of Water

Hydrating is one of the most important ways to reduce your chances of alcohol-related acne. Try drinking a full glass of water after every drink. Keeping your body full of water can keep your skin hydrated, especially when drinking.

Other drinks like coconut water and Gatorade can keep you hydrated while drinking. Coconut water is packed with potassium and sodium, which helps your body replenish itself. 

3. Avoid Trigger Foods

Drinking can cause people to indulge in greasy, rich, and caloric foods. Unfortunately, poor food choices impact your skin.3 

Greasy foods, in particular, have a high glycemic index. A high glycemic index can have a pro-acnegenic effect. 

In addition, chocolate, sugary foods, and dairy products are proven to be acne-causing.3

It’s important to note that every person’s acne is different and can have unique triggers.

4. Don’t Touch Your Face

Touching your face will spread bacteria, oil, and dirt from your hands onto your face. 

Studies show that it's best only to touch your face with clean hands when cleansing, moisturizing, and applying makeup and sunscreen.4

5. Wash Your Face Before Bed

When you sleep, your skin regenerates and repairs. Therefore, failing to wash your face before bed can leave dirt, oil, and bacteria on the surface, causing acne. 

In addition, falling asleep with your make-up on can also prevent your skin from “breathing,” resulting in clogged pores. 

6. Limit Your Stress Levels

Psychological stress can wreak havoc on your system. Studies show that stress is closely correlated with acne severity.5

When you’re stressed, your body releases certain hormones, such as androgens and cortisol. These hormones increase your skin’s oil production. Unfortunately, the overproduction of oil can exasperate acne. 

Whether you’re drinking alcohol or not, managing your stress levels can improve your skin’s balance.

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Summary

Although alcohol doesn’t directly cause or worsen acne, it can indirectly affect it. Alcohol negatively impacts many bodily functions, which can then affect your skin. 

While there are many side effects from alcohol use, inflammation and dehydration are two of the most common.

Limiting your alcohol consumption and following the steps above may help you manage your acne.

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Updated on October 3, 2022
6 sources cited
  1. Al-Shobaili HA, Alzolibani AA, et al. “Biochemical markers of oxidative and nitrosative stress in acne vulgaris: correlation with disease activity.” J Clin Lab Anal, 2013.
  2. Penso L, Touvier M, Deschasaux M, et al. “Association Between Adult Acne and Dietary Behaviors: Findings From the NutriNet-Santé Prospective Cohort Study.” JAMA Dermatol, 2020.
  3. Meixiong J, et al. “Diet and acne: A systematic review.” JAAD Int., 2022.
  4. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care. “Skin care for acne-prone skin.www.InformedHealth.org, 2013.
  5. Zari S, Alrahmani D. “The association between stress and acne among female medical students in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.” Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol, 2017.
  6. Ayer J, Burrows N. “Acne: more than skin deep.” Postgrad Med J., 2006.

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