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Feed Your Face: Is Alcohol Bad for Your Skin?

By Dr Jessica Wu

Many people ask me if drinking alcohol is bad for their skin. The answer is, It depends.

If you have rosacea, for example, alcohol, especially red wine, can increase redness, worsen breakouts, and cause enlarged veins on the nose and cheeks. Similarly, alcohol can aggravate psoriasis and hives. In addition, some people lack an enzyme that's necessary to metabolize alcohol, so they turn bright red when they drink; in severe cases, they may even suffer facial swelling, headaches, and heart palpitations. So if you react badly to alcohol, it’s probably best to abstain. But if you tolerate alcohol just fine, here’s how to minimize any damage:


  • If you flush easily, avoid the worst offenders, like beer and wine -- in particular, red wine -- which contain higher levels of the alcohol by-products that cause flushing. Distilled spirits, like gin, vodka, and whiskey, have fewer of these.
  • If you prefer wine, check the labels to find sulfite-free wines. Sulfites, used as preservatives, can also cause flushing and redness.
  • Avoid mixed drinks and cocktails made with sweet syrups or liqueurs (Kahlua, Amaretto, Baileys) because these are all high in sugar, which can increase inflammation (and worsen acne, wrinkles, and rashes). Also, avoid sugar-rimmed glasses. Instead, choose a mixed drinks made with club soda. For a low-sugar mojito, for example, ask the bartender to skip the syrup (which is sugar water) and use club soda instead of Sprite or 7Up.
  • Drink in moderation, which the American Heart Association defines as one drink a day for women, and one to two drinks for men (depending on their size). And I echo the AHA’s recommendation that you consult your doctor about the benefits and risks of consuming alcohol in moderation.


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