Skin Hangover

Its party season and time to eat, drink and be merry. While this routine may be great for your social life, it can take its toll on your health, and this is often seen most profoundly in the skin, with ill effects of excessive alcohol consumption in both the short-term and long-term – the so-called “Skin Hangover“.

  1. Change in skin colour

Redness. Facial flushing and enlarged red capillaries are due to two mechanisms. Capillaries become dilated because of decreased brain control over the vascular tone. Flushing is caused by histamine release stimulated by acetaldehyde, the toxic metabolic breakdown product of alcohol. Chronic excessive alcohol intake, with liver damage is associated with increased oestrogen levels and the development of spider veins and pink palms.

Yellow discolouration from jaundice is only seen in end-stage liver disease.

Pigmentation around the eyes and mouth and on the legs may occur with long term alcohol use for unknown reasons.

  1. Change in skin thickness and texture

Alcohol use is also associated with poor nutrition and low vitamin levels. Dry, rough skin and hair is cause by a lack of Vitamin A, while a lack of Zinc, Vitamin B1, B2 and B3 are associated with a waxy, thinned skin that cracks easily, as well as skin rashes, especially on the hands and lips. A lack of Vitamin C may cause bumps which resemble chicken skin, known as follicular dermatitis.

  1. Changes in skin hydration

The effects of alcohol on fluid and electrolyte balance are complex. A single night of heavy drinking is associated with moderate dehydration, but an appropriate response by the kidneys, with modest electrolyte changes, which are usually reversible.  Long term drinking causes a paradoxical response with chronic dehydration, high sodium and low potassium levels.

Chronic alcohol use may also worsen many pre-existing skin conditions, as well as predispose to skin infections and skin cancer.

The best way to combat the changes after a big night are simple and effective.

The effects of chronic alcohol abuse are difficult to correct and may require serious medical intervention, but the best way to combat the changes after a big night are simple and effective.

  1. Drink plenty of fluid, but avoid excessive salt ingestion. High potassium containing fluids (such as fruit juice) may be beneficial – a glass of water and a glass of fruit or vegetable juice is an excellent start! Additional alcohol ingestion (the “hair of the dog”) should be avoided, and other diuretics, such as caffeine should also be avoided.
  2. Limit simple carbs. Alcohol metabolism competes with carbohydrate metabolism and intake of simple sugars should be limited. Replacement of vitamins is generally unnecessary, as many foods have added vitamins and a healthy diet provides most of these.
  3. Cream it up. Application of a moisturiser to the skin is beneficial but it is important not to forget the sunblock. The use of topical vasoconstrictors (especially in the under-eye area) results in temporary improvement with a rebound worsening later in the day, and are best avoided. It is not advisable to undertake any medical interventions (such as Botox or filler) while suffering the effects of excessive alcohol consumption.

Finally, it is very important to limit alcohol intake in the long term and 50g per day is the maximal limit. The safe limit of alcohol consumption is highly variable and is influenced by many factors and patients are advised to seek a medical opinion if they are concerned about their alcohol intake. Furthermore, it is wise to consider a non-drinking day every 2 days to allow the system time to recover.