If you are reading this then I’d take a guess that you’ve already experienced the dreaded ‘morning after’ spots and acne flairs that greet you post the ‘awesomest night out that ever was’. This is the question you are probably wondering… was it the alcohol that caused the pimple outbreaks and acne, or was it the late night kebab, followed by the 4 hours of ‘power nap’?
The question I want to answer for you today… Can drinking alcohol cause acne? Well my friend, this is what the science says…
1. Alcohol Causes Inflammation
To know whether drinking alcohol can cause spots and acne, we need to look at what alcohol does once its passed our lips. Hopefully it’s not spending a lifetime on the hips *winks*. When we indulge in a drink or 2, normally we aren’t doing anything too strenuous (probably perched on a sofa or bar stool ‘eh), that’s us on the outside. On the inside our bodies are peddling away like a ducks legs under water.
Alcohol needs to be broken down by our bodies because it’s a ‘toxin’, this is where our filtering livers come in handy. After we drink alcohol, there’s a string of chemical reactions that happen which break alcohol down into something called acetaldehyde. Ironically acetaldehyde is more toxic than alcohol, so after this first step, acetaldehyde gets broken down to acetate and that gets broken down into water and carbon dioxide (hangover *cough* wind anyone *winks*).
Did you know, it’s actually the acetaldehyde that causes your skin to flush that cheery alcohol red? Some peoples bodies are not as speedy in breaking down acetaldehyde. If you are someone that gets rosy red cheeks from alcohol, then this is you my friend.
Alcohol and acetaldehyde are like intruders our bodies didn’t invite in. When our bodies sense that something isn’t right, or there’s been damage caused somewhere that need mending, they send the ‘999 inflammatory response’ crew. It’s like when you get wacked in the leg with a squash ball and 30 seconds later it looks like that squash ball embedded itself into your skin. That swelling where you get a bruise is your body’s inflammatory (healing) response.
Alcohol causes inflammation.
Did you know acne is an inflammatory condition?
Can drinking alcohol cause acne? Drinking alcohol triggers inflammation (like an immune response when you get a bruise), as spots and acne are an inflammatory condition, alcohol can increase your chances of an outbreak.
2. Alcohol Affects Your Hormones
Oh yes, alcohol gets deep down into your body’s biology. Alcohol effects the way we feel ‘eh, and when the way we feel changes, that’s a sure sign that our hormone levels are changing.
There are all kinds of hormonal changes that can be responsible for spots and acne. Alcohol can cause 2 key changes in our bodies hormone levels…
- Changes to our sex hormones (estrogen, testosterone, progesterone), that also impact…
- Changes to our immune regulating hormones
When we drink alcohol, our sex hormones get on a see-saw, our testosterone levels go down and our estrogen levels go up. High levels of estrogen suppress our immune system.
Did you know one of the key factors in a spots growth cycle is bacterial growth? Bacteria feed off of the dead skin left in our pores. When our immune system is lacking in power, the bacteria go un-challenged and they get into ‘collonization’ mode.
The clinical condition of acne, ‘acne vulgaris’ is linked to an overgrowth of a certain bacteria called Propionibacterium acnes, or P.acnes for short (see where it gets its name from ‘eh *winks*).
Immune system down = P.acnes growth up = more spots.
Can drinking alcohol cause acne? Alcohol weakens the immune system which means the body can’t control levels of spot causing bacteria as ‘well as normal’.
— Cheryl Woodman (@HonestyForSkin) 15 June 2016
3. Alcoholic Drinks Affect Your Blood Sugar Levels
The real culprit here is sugar. The alcohol side kick. It might be an alco-pop, a cola-mixer, a sweet wine, or a shandy. Anyone would think we don’t actually like the taste of the alcohol itself ‘eh *winks*.
When we drink a lot of sugar (quickly) our bodies get a blood sugar spike. Spike aren’t good, because they send our body on a constant roller-coaster. Our bodies know this, so they try to control blood sugar changes by releasing hormones (see where this is going?…).
When we have to much sugar in our bodies, our bodies release insulin (a hormone) that persuades our levels back to normal. Insulin is married up to something called an ‘insulin like growth factor’, IGF-1 for short, so when insulin joins the party IGF-1 comes along too.
IGF-1 has been found to…
- Increase incidence & severity of acne
- Increase sebum production (a cause of spots)
- Increase pore size (making it easier for spots to form)
Those 3 things roll out the red carpet and pile on a comfy sofa with a log burning fire for acne. But it doesn’t stop there for sugar…
Sugar also promotes inflammation. Remember that acne is an inflammatory condition? Anything that promotes inflammation also aggravates acne, pimples and spots. it’s the same reason that food intolerances like dairy can also trigger acne.
Can drinking alcohol cause acne? Alcohol is usually paired up with a hit of sugar, it’s the sugar that can promote inflammation and increase sebum production. 2 of the key triggers of acne and spots.
So was it the late night kebab or 4 hour powernap that triggered your acne or was it the alcohol? There’s a strong chance it was the alcohol! The scientific way to find out *winks* have a night out without alcohol, but with the kebab and 4 hour powernap and see what happens to your skin.
Do you suffer from post night out acne?
Cheryl Woodman is a scientist & award winning skincare formulator who’s more friend next door than bow tie wearing professor. As creator of Honesty For Your Skin her aim is to help you care for your skin in the best ways possible. She’s founder of the natural & fragrance free skincare brand Honesty while also hosting 1 to 1 skincare coaching to help you get your best skin yet. Find out more here.