In pursuit of perfect skin, we try countless serums and creams, book elaborate facials, and chug water religiously, yet there’s a beyond simple fix that has been staring us in the face all this time: giving up (or significantly cutting back on) alcohol—which we’ve long known is no health elixir, but has a perhaps unexpected impact on our complexions in particular. So, what exactly are the effects of alcohol on skin?
“Alcohol is actually one of the worst, most aggressive compounds to destroy your skin,” says New York nutritionist Jairo Rodriguez, who counts designers and Vogue editors among his clients. “I always joke with my patients, ‘If you want to get older, go ahead and drink!’” At a time when many are more sober curious than ever, Rodriguez breaks down the exact effects of alcohol on skin, as well as the benefits of giving up alcohol or imbibing more tactfully.
Dehydration Is the Issue
“Drinking is classified as two drinks a day. There’s a huge amount of damage to the skin that occurs; alcohol affects any mucous membrane, from the pancreas and liver to the skin. The first effect is dehydration, as it actually takes all the fluid out of the skin. If you look at a woman who has been drinking for 20 or 30 years, and a woman the same age who hasn’t at all, we see a massive difference in the skin—more wrinkles from that dehydration damage, which can make you look 10 years older.”
“Alcohol inflames the tissue, and systemic inflammation to the skin caused by alcohol creates a histamine reaction—that creates the redness, the flushing of the skin. At first you think, Oh, [I’m] a little red, not a big deal, but over a period of time—six months, a year, two years—if you continue drinking, it can become a prominent facial redness you can’t get away from.”
You Can Bounce Back—Within Reason
“If you do give it up, the good thing is that your skin, like any other organ, has the ability to regenerate. The body has a fabulous rate of rehydration. But that regeneration depends on how much damage has been done. If you’ve been drinking for 15 to 20 years and stop, I think it’s great, but can you regenerate your skin back to [that of] a normal 50-year-old? Once you destroy the collagen, it is hard to get back.”
Choose Your Liquor Wisely
If you do drink, what’s the best alcohol to choose? “Different alcohols have different effects on the skin, but as a general rule, the clearer, the better: vodka, gin, and tequila get out of your system quicker. If you’re going to drink anything, in my opinion, drink vodka that doesn’t have a grain in it, like a potato vodka. It’s a lot clearer and smoother, so it gets in and out of your body, no problem.”
Drink Every Other Day—Or Less
“When you’re 20 years old and drink, that drink leaves your body in about three hours. When you’re 40 years old, it takes an average of 33 hours. If your transit time is three hours, that means you can drink on Monday and by Tuesday, it’s out of your body. If you’re 40 and you drink on Monday, don’t drink until Wednesday. Minimize to once or twice a week—the lower the intake, the lower the damage to your skin.”
“If you’re going to drink, drink water with it to increase that diuretic effect. I think mothers have been saying that for the last 2,000 years, but nobody listens if your mother says it.”