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  • Your dermatology provider prescribes your formula

  • Apply nightly for happy, healthy skin

Does drinking cause breakouts? Acne and alcohol, explained

How does alcohol impact your skin? We asked our dermatology experts.

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Curology Team
Mar 01, 2022 · 7 min read

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We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.
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  3. > Does drinking cause breakouts? Acne and alcohol, explained

Ah, that age-old question: is alcohol bad for you? With so many different opinions on the health effects of drinking out there, it seems there’s no simple answer.

Unwinding at the end of the day with a glass of wine or a cocktail may be okay—as long as it’s in moderation and you’re of age (we’re looking at you, under-21-somethings!). But too much drinking can cause serious damage to your health. You may already know what kind of damage alcohol can do inside the body¹—but what about the largest organ of all, our skin?

Oh, and a gentle reminder… we all know that, in the United States, alcohol consumption is only okay if you’re over the age of 21. If you’re an adult, just remember to drink responsibly!

How does alcohol affect the body?

What does alcohol do to your body? In short, studies show it can mess with certain hormones,² just like sugar or stress. Certain types of alcohol (like sugary mixed drinks) can cause your blood sugar to spike. When you consume too much sugar, you can set off a chain reaction that may result in an acne breakout.³ 

Alcohol, dehydration, and your skin

Your alcoholic drink begins to dehydrate your body shortly after you start drinking.⁴ That’s why it’s generally a good idea to have a glass of water in between each serving of beer, wine, or liquor. If you forget, try to at least drink a tall glass of water (or two or three) before bed. Rehydrate those cells!

The effects of alcohol on skin

Can drinking alcohol cause acne? The short answer is yes, it can… sort of. While drinking alcohol—be it wine, beer, or liquor—doesn’t directly cause acne, it can create a hormonal imbalance that might lead to a breakout. Drinking alcohol, especially certain types of drinks, can throw off your blood sugar levels⁵ and set off a hormonal domino effect that can result in acne.

If you are particularly worried about taking care of your skin, treating and helping to prevent acne is easy with Curology. Your dermatology provider prescribes a Custom Formula with a custom mix of active ingredients to help keep your skin clear and looking healthy, no matter what life throws your way.

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How different types of alcohol can affect your skin

Not surprisingly, different alcohols have different chemical makeups, and so they can affect your skin and other organs in different ways. Depending on your specific skin condition, it’s good to know which drinks could cause more impact to your body.

Red wine

Drinking red wine can cause inflammation.⁶ That said, red wine also contains antioxidants,⁷ which are known to have anti-aging properties that help neutralize reactive molecules (often referred to as free radicals) that damage skin cells. Non-alcoholic sources of antioxidants include blueberries, strawberries, but there are  plenty more options.

White wine

White wine is similar to red wine, although it usually contains higher amounts of sugar. White wine drinkers may be more likely to develop rosacea, while red wine may be more likely to trigger a flare-up.⁸ So, you may want to consider skipping the chardonnay, sauvignon, and pinot grigio. 

Clear liquor

One reason many people choose cocktails with clear liquor is because they tend to have fewer calories than other types of alcohol. They might cause less inflammation the following day, too. One study found clear liquors like vodka and gin have lower levels of congeners, a chemical used in the fermentation process. The same study also found liquors with fewer congeners⁹ tend to cause less severe hangovers.

That said? Clear liquor can cause dehydration and inflammation,¹⁰ just like any other type of alcohol.

Dark liquor

Dark liquor, like any alcohol, can cause inflammation and dehydration. (Do we sound like a broken record?) But it may also have significantly higher levels of congeners¹¹ compared to clear liquor. That means spirits like whiskey, scotch, brandy, and cognac may cause more inflammation than clear liquors.

Mixed drinks

Mixed drinks (a beverage in which two or more ingredients are mixed) can be especially hard on your skin for multiple reasons. They typically include hard alcohol, which can cause dehydration and inflammation. They also usually involve some sort of sweet syrup or other mixers that are high in sugar. The base of your favorite cocktail may be a clear liquor like vodka or tequila, but that sugary margarita mix probably isn’t the best for your skin. Remember, dosing your diet with too much sweet stuff can cause your blood sugar to spike, which may lead to a breakout.¹² 

Do sugar-free drinks cause less acne?

Like certain alcoholic beverages, sugar doesn't directly cause pimples, but it can contribute to them. Studies show low-sugar diets have been connected to reduced breakouts,¹³ although results vary from person to person. 

Some alcohols—such as beer and wine (especially rosés)—have higher sugar levels than others, and mixed drinks often contain sugar-heavy syrups. However, distilled liquors like tequila typically have lower sugar levels compared to other alcohols and can be a good alternative if you want to limit your sugar intake.

6 tips to keep in mind if you decide to drink alcohol 

As far as dermatology and drinking alcohol go, remember, everyone's skin is different. That means there's no set rulebook for you to follow. It’s all about learning about your skin and how to best care for it. What works well for some might not be right for you, and that's okay!

That said, when it comes to alcohol, here are a few tips to follow to help care for your skin:

Tip 1: Moderation is key

Responsibly enjoying a glass of wine at dinner or a cocktail now and then isn’t going to destroy your complexion, but keeping your alcohol consumption in check can help you avoid more notable impacts on your skin.  

Tip 2: Watch out for mixed drinks

Mixed drinks often include ingredients like sugar-heavy syrups and juices that can cause inflammation.¹⁴ Cocktails like margaritas, be it blended or on the rocks, can be packed with fructose and salt, so it's not exactly your skin's best friend.

Tip 3: Hydrate

No matter your drink of choice, all alcohol can cause dehydration.¹⁵ The easiest and most effective way to counteract this is actually quite simple: drink plenty of H₂O. Drink a glass of water alongside your alcoholic beverage to stay hydrated, and for good measure, make sure to drink more water after you finish your drink.

Tip 4: Exercise

Keeping fit and active can help improve your overall health, and your skin will thank you for it. Exercise increases blood flow, which can help your skin look and feel fresh.¹⁶ Remember, healthy skin means also caring for what's below the surface. 

Tip 5: Wash your face regularly

Maintaining a consistent skincare routine is key for healthy, clear skin. We know it can be super tempting after an evening out on the town to skip your skincare routine and fall right into bed (and maybe even leave your makeup on). But trust us, come morning, both you and your skin will be thankful that you took a few minutes to wash up regardless of how tired you were the night before.As always, using cleansers regularly can help keep your skin free of excess oil and dead skin cells, which is also a smart way to help prevent blemishes.

Tip 6: Get a good night's rest

Getting your beauty sleep is no joke! A full night's sleep is crucial to give your skin time to rest and rejuvenate, regardless of whether you've been drinking.

What happens to your skin when you stop drinking alcohol?

So, if you read all that, you might be thinking about skipping out on drinks from here on out. If you’re wondering about the skin benefits of sobriety, here are some changes in your skin you may notice.

  • Improved skin hydration (or, at least, none of the dehydrating effects of alcohol will mess with your skin) 

  • Short-term reduction in inflammation, puffiness, and uneven skin tone

Remember, about 24 hours after your last drink, your body has metabolized alcohol, which means it’s no longer in your system.¹⁷ That said, everyone’s body is different! The time it takes your skin to improve can vary depending on your skin’s condition.

Keep calm and put your cream on

All that said, don’t beat yourself up if you enjoy a drink and don’t intend to give that up. If you have a question about alcohol and your skin, you can always message your Curology provider for guidance. Not a Curology member? We’re here to help— with personalized skincare designed by dermatologists. 

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

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With Curology, you get a Custom Formula designed for your skin by your very own dermatology provider. Your first 30 days costs just $4.95 to cover the cost of shipping and handling, and you can add any of our recommended skincare products at no extra cost. 

Sign up for a free trial at curology.com* to try it out and see for yourself. Curology’s got your back!

FAQs

How does alcohol affect the body?

In short, studies show it can mess with certain hormones, just like sugar or stress. Certain types of alcohol (like sugary mixed drinks) can cause your blood sugar to spike. When you consume too much sugar, you can set off a chain reaction that may result in an acne breakout.

What happens to your skin when you stop drinking alcohol?

Here are some changes in your skin you may notice:

  • Improved skin hydration (or, at least, none of the dehydrating effects of alcohol will mess with your skin) 

  • Short-term reduction in inflammation, puffiness, and uneven skin tone

• • •

P.S. We did the research so you don’t have to

  1. Alcohol and Public Health. Alcohol Use and Your Health. Center for Disease Control. (December 29, 2021). 

  2. Jan Gill. The Effects Of Moderate Alcohol Consumption On Female Hormone Levels And Reproductive Function, Alcohol and Alcoholism. (September 2000).  

  3. Laetitia Penso, et al. Association Between Adult Acne and Dietary Behaviors: Findings From the NutriNet-Santé Prospective Cohort Study. JAMA Dermatology. ( 2020, August 1).

  4. Cleveland Clinic. Dehydration. (2021, February 16).

  5. U. S. Department of Health and Human Services. Alcohol Alert: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism No. 22 PH 346 October 1993. National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (October 2000). 

  6. Andreia Oliveira, et al. Alcohol intake and systemic markers of inflammation—shape of the association according to sex and body mass index. Alcohol and Alcoholism. ( 2010, January 18). 

  7. Snopek L., et al. Contribution of Red Wine Consumption to Human Health Protection. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), (2018, July 11).

  8. Suyun L., et al. Alcohol Intake and the Risk of Rosacea in US Women, Volume 76 Issue 6, (2017, June 1).

  9. Damaris Rohsenow and Jonathan Howland, The role of beverage congeners in hangover and other residual effects of alcohol intoxication: a review. Current Drug Abuse Review. (June 2010).

  10. H. Joe Wang, et al. Alcohol, inflammation, and gut-liver-brain interactions in tissue damage and disease development. World journal of gastroenterology, (2010, March 21). 

  11. Damaris Rohsenow and Jonathan HowlandRohsenow, & Howland, The role of beverage congeners in hangover and other residual effects of alcohol intoxication: a review. Ibid.

  12. Laetitia Penso, et al. Association Between Adult Acne and Dietary Behaviors: Findings From the NutriNet-Santé Prospective Cohort Study. Ibid.

  13.  Clara R. Freeman, et al. Impact of sugar on the body, brain, and behavior. Frontiers in Bioscience. (2018, June 1). 

  14. Mayo Clinic. Hangovers. (2017, December 16).

  15. Grant H. Simmons, et al. Changes in the control of skin blood flow with exercise training: where do cutaneous vascular adaptations fit in? Experimental Physiology. (2010, May 20).

  16. Smith R. N., et al. A low-glycemic-load diet improves symptoms in acne vulgaris patients: a randomized controlled trial. The American journal of clinical nutrition, ( July 2007).

  17. Cleveland Clinic. How Long Does Alcohol Stay In Your System?( 2021, December 3). 

This article was originally published on April 20, 2019, and updated on March 1, 2022.

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• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Nicole Hangsterfer Avatar

Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C

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