“Why does my skin look so sallow and dull after drinking?”

Written by Morgan Fargo

Because what’s a hangover without dry, tired, sallow skin?

From mulled wine to steaming hot toddies, and multiple thimblefuls of Baileys, the way alcohol affects our skin is undeniable. Whether you wake up with tired, dull, or dehydrated skin (or all three), it’s clear something’s happening in the epidermis – even if you do remember to remove your mascara before you hit the hay. 

Now, I’m not saying you should nix your festive cheer for the sake of your skin, but there are ways to mitigate how much it suffers the next day. From incorporating vitamin C to doubling down on night cream, here’s what the experts suggest. 

What happens in the skin after drinking alcohol?

“Excessive alcohol can cause a spike in cortisol – the stress hormone. This can trigger many reactions in the skin including an increase in oil production which can lead to clogged pores and breakouts,” explains consultant dermatologist and nutrition expert Dr Thivi Maruthappu.

“Alcohol can cause our skin to become puffy, red, dry, and accentuate fine lines and wrinkles due to dehydration. It can also make our skin look dull and lacklustre and deprive our skin of vitamins and nutrients.

“Inflammation is another effect of alcohol due to the high sugar content. It causes redness and flushing due to the vasodilatory effect, which causes blood vessels to open and increases blood flow to the skin, above normal levels. It can also induce flare-ups of inflammatory skin conditions such as acne and rosacea.”

How much does the sugar content of alcohol affect the skin?

“Alcohol with high sugar content causes a quick spike in your insulin. This sudden surge causes a release in androgen hormone which makes our skin produce more oil. This, in turn, can cause blackheads, whiteheads and acne,” explains Sk:n consultant dermatologist Dr Shaaira Nasir.

“As a pro-inflammatory, alcohol also contributes to puffiness and also the worsening of inflammatory skin conditions. As alcohol is a diuretic, it can therefore cause the skin to look dull and increase fine lines. The high sugar content in alcohol also causes glycation – a process that hardens our collagen causing the skin to age faster.

“Alcohol causes flushing and worsens redness in those with rosacea through histamine release. It’s also known to flare inflammatory skin conditions like psoriasis, eczema, seborrheic dermatitis and urticaria (hives). Excess alcohol intake also causes DNA damage causing skin ageing and can lead to an increase in non-melanoma skin cancers.

“Binge drinking causes a sudden surge in sugar in the bloodstream. Your body produces a spike in insulin to break down the sugar, this also causes a raised amount of hormone release called androgen which increases oil production. Alcohol also increases inflammation which also contributes to worsening acne. Increased oil and inflammation cause acne spots to form.”

Why does the skin look more sallow when you’re hungover?

“The skin becomes dry, dull, sallow and fine lines and wrinkles more pronounced as a result of dehydration,” says Dr Maruthappu. “Both fatigue and hangover (which often go hand in hand), have detrimental effects on the skin. Alcohol may be worse due to the chemical, hormonal and inflammatory responses.”

How to mitigate the effects of a hangover on your skin

“It’s really important – no matter how much alcohol you’ve consumed – to stick to your skincare routine before going to bed,” advises Dr Ross Perry, medical director of Cosmedics skin clinics. “Take off make-up by doing a proper cleanse and tone if you normally do to get rid of any excess dirt. Make sure to wear more moisturiser, or night cream, before going to bed.” 

“A vitamin C serum will help hydrate and brighten the skin. It will also treat redness which can occur in some skin types following drinking. Alongside that, it will reduce under-eye circles.

“Finally, don’t go to bed dehydrated – drink a large pint of water to lessen the effects of the following day.”

Main image: Getty

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