Alcoholism and Skin Damage

Alcoholism and Skin Damage Header
Last Edited: December 4, 2023
Andrew Lancaster, LPC, MAC
Clinically Reviewed
Jim Brown, CDCA
All of the information on this page has been reviewed and certified by an addiction professional.

Skin Damage Issues of an Alcoholic: Understanding the Dermatological Consequences

Alcoholism can significantly impact skin health, leading to a range of dermatological issues. Excessive alcohol consumption disrupts the body’s hormone balance and widens blood vessels, often causing facial redness and skin flushing. Chronic alcohol abuse can lead to liver damage, manifesting as jaundice, where the skin and eyes turn yellow. Alcohol’s diuretic effect leads to dehydration, resulting in dry, dull skin. Additionally, alcohol impairs immune function, increasing susceptibility to skin infections and exacerbating conditions like psoriasis, eczema, and rosacea. The nutritional deficiencies common in alcoholism also contribute to poor skin health, further aggravating skin problems.

Facial redness & Flushing

Alcoholism can lead to chronic facial redness and flushing, a direct result of alcohol’s vasodilatory effect, where it causes blood vessels to expand. This effect is particularly pronounced in the facial region. Over time, repeated dilation from frequent alcohol consumption can lead to a persistent flushing and even the development of visible blood vessels on the face, a condition known as telangiectasia. This not only affects one’s physical appearance, causing distress and self-consciousness, but can also be a precursor to more serious skin conditions like rosacea. The persistent redness may also be accompanied by a sensation of warmth or burning, adding to the physical discomfort.

Jaundice & Your Skin

Alcoholism can lead to jaundice, a condition characterized by yellowing of the skin and eyes. This occurs when excessive alcohol consumption causes liver damage, impeding the liver’s ability to process bilirubin, a yellow pigment formed from the breakdown of red blood cells. Accumulation of bilirubin in the bloodstream and tissues leads to jaundice. This is a serious indication of liver dysfunction, often signifying advanced alcoholic liver disease or cirrhosis. Jaundice associated with alcoholism is not just a cosmetic concern; it reflects significant health issues, requiring urgent medical attention to address potentially severe liver problems and prevent further life-threatening complications.

Nail changes sometimes associated Alcoholism

In individuals with chronic alcoholism, distinct nail changes can occur, notably koilonychia and Terry’s nails. Koilonychia, or spoon-shaped nails, is characterized by concave, scooped-out nail surfaces. It often indicates iron-deficiency anemia or liver disease, both common in alcoholics due to poor nutrition and liver dysfunction. Terry’s nails, where most of the nail appears white with a narrow pink band at the tip, are another sign frequently observed in alcoholics. This condition is typically linked to liver cirrhosis, a severe consequence of long-term alcohol abuse. These nail changes are not just cosmetic issues; they signify underlying health problems requiring medical evaluation and intervention.

Porphyria cutanea tarda

Porphyria Cutanea Tarda (PCT) is a condition characterized by blistering skin lesions and heightened sensitivity to sunlight. It primarily affects areas exposed to the sun, such as the hands and face. PCT is often associated with liver dysfunction and is linked to the accumulation of porphyrins, natural chemicals in the body that become toxic in high concentrations. Alcohol consumption can exacerbate PCT, as it aggravates liver damage and hinders the liver’s ability to process and remove porphyrins. In individuals with PCT, even moderate alcohol intake can trigger or worsen symptoms, highlighting the need for alcohol abstinence as part of the management and treatment plan.

Skin cancer & Alcohol Abuse

Research has increasingly shown that alcohol abuse is linked to a heightened risk of certain types of skin cancer, including melanoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Alcohol acts as a photosensitizing agent, making the skin more susceptible to damage from UV radiation. This interaction amplifies the harmful effects of sun exposure, a major risk factor for skin cancer. Additionally, alcohol metabolites can generate reactive oxygen species, leading to oxidative stress and DNA damage in skin cells, further increasing cancer risk. Chronic alcohol consumption also impairs the immune system, reducing the skin’s ability to repair UV-induced DNA damage, thereby contributing to the development of skin malignancies.


Rosacea is a chronic skin condition characterized by facial redness, visible blood vessels, and sometimes acne-like bumps, primarily affecting the central face. While the exact cause of rosacea is unknown, it’s known to be exacerbated by various triggers, including alcohol consumption. Alcohol, particularly red wine, can induce rosacea flare-ups due to its vasodilatory effects, causing blood vessels in the face to widen and leading to increased redness and flushing. Over time, frequent alcohol-induced flare-ups can worsen rosacea symptoms, making them more persistent and harder to manage. Avoiding or moderating alcohol intake is often recommended as part of rosacea management strategies.


Psoriasis is an autoimmune skin condition characterized by red, scaly patches that can be itchy and painful. It results from an accelerated skin cell production process, leading to the buildup of skin cells on the surface. Research indicates a link between alcohol consumption and increased severity of psoriasis. Alcohol is thought to exacerbate psoriasis by influencing the immune system and inflammatory processes, which are central to the development of psoriasis. Furthermore, alcohol can interfere with the effectiveness of psoriasis treatments and may increase the risk of side effects from certain medications. Reducing or abstaining from alcohol is often advised to manage psoriasis effectively.

Seborrhoeic dermatitis

Seborrhoeic dermatitis is a common skin condition that causes red, scaly, and itchy patches, often on the scalp, face, and other oily areas of the body. While its exact cause is not fully understood, it’s believed to be linked to an inflammatory response to Malassezia yeasts that naturally inhabit the skin. Alcohol abuse can exacerbate seborrhoeic dermatitis. Alcohol consumption, particularly in excess, can trigger inflammatory responses and weaken the immune system, creating a more conducive environment for these yeasts to thrive. Additionally, alcohol’s dehydrating effects can disrupt the skin’s barrier function, further aggravating symptoms of seborrhoeic dermatitis. Reducing alcohol intake can help manage and reduce flare-ups of this condition.

Nummular dermatitis

Nummular dermatitis, also known as discoid eczema, is a chronic skin condition characterized by distinctive coin-shaped, itchy, and inflamed lesions. It typically occurs on the arms, hands, legs, and torso. While the exact cause of nummular dermatitis is unclear, factors such as dry skin, environmental irritants, and poor blood flow are known contributors. Alcoholism can exacerbate this condition. Alcohol consumption, particularly chronic and excessive intake, can lead to dehydration and poor nutrition, worsening dry skin and thus potentially triggering nummular dermatitis flare-ups. Furthermore, alcoholism can impair circulation and immune system function, both of which can negatively impact skin health and exacerbate dermatitis symptoms.

Dangers of Alcoholism

Alcoholism, a chronic condition characterized by an inability to control or abstain from alcohol, has far-reaching consequences beyond skin issues. Physically, it can lead to severe liver damage, heart disease, brain damage, and increased risk of cancers. Mentally, it is associated with an increased incidence of depression, anxiety, and other psychiatric disorders. Chronic alcohol abuse impairs cognitive functions and decision-making abilities. Socially, alcoholism can strain relationships, leading to family conflicts, and workplace issues. It also heightens the risk of accidents and legal problems, including DUIs. The societal impact is profound, encompassing elevated healthcare costs and decreased workplace productivity, emphasizing the need for effective intervention and support systems.

Symptoms of Skin Damage from Alcoholism

Symptoms of skin damage due to alcohol abuse include persistent redness or flushing in the face, yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice), increased bruising or bleeding under the skin, dry or itchy patches, and in severe cases, swelling or changes in skin texture. Alcohol-induced skin conditions like psoriasis, eczema, or rosacea may worsen. Unusual nail changes, such as white nails or spoon-shaped indentations, can also indicate underlying issues. If you notice these symptoms or any sudden or severe changes in your skin’s appearance, it’s crucial to seek medical help. Early intervention can prevent further damage and address potential underlying health issues related to alcohol abuse.

Note: This article should be considered a starting point for understanding the dermatological impact of alcoholism. It is important to consult healthcare professionals for personalized medical advice and treatment.