Alcoholism and Skin Damage

Alcoholism and Skin Damage Header
Last Edited: December 18, 2020
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

“Alcohol is actually one of the worst, most aggressive compounds to destroy your skin,” says nutritionist Jairo Rodriguez. It causes dehydration, inflammation, depletion of antioxidants, weakened immune system, and blood vessel ruptures.There are over 200 health issues associated with Alcohol abuse critically affecting the body’s major systems. Excessive consumption of Alcohol causes skin damage, reduces the size of the brain and exterminates critical brain cells, which cause cerebral disorders and compromises physical functioning. It makes the heart more susceptible to disease and strokes, while liver damage and cirrhosis can lead to the need for a liver transplant.With the skin being the body’s largest organ and its first line of defense against outer vulnerabilities, tolerance for Alcohol and skin damage is of great concern. Some of the functions of this organ include governing overall temperature and housing pain receptors. Building a tolerance to Alcohol includes an increased amount and rate of consumption which speeds up the skin damage process that drinking causes. Exorbitant, long-term drinking can produce irreversible deterioration to this important body system. Essentially it’s the ultimate form of Alcohol poisoning.

Facial redness & Flushing

Transient flushing is also a common side effect of alcohol, particularly in heavy drinkers. It is due to acetaldehyde, the main breakdown product of alcohol. Acetaldehyde is thought to cause flushing by stimulating release of histamine.

Jaundice & Your Skin

The skin and sclera of the eyes often turn yellow in patients with alcoholic liver disease. The colour, known as jaundice, is due to bilirubin, a product broken down from haem derived from red blood cells. The metabolism of bilirubin is impaired in acute and chronic liver disease. Jaundice lessens as liver function improves.

Nail changes sometimes associated Alcoholism

Nail changes associated, but not specific to alcohol-related liver disease include: Clubbing, Koilonychia, Terry nails, Muehrcke nails and Red lunula.

Porphyria cutanea tarda

Porphyria cutanea tarda (PCT) results in photosensitivity, skin fragility, blistering, erosions, crusts, milia, scleroderma and increased hair growth (hypertrichosis) on sun-exposed sites such as face and hands.

Skin cancer & Alcohol Abuse

Along with increasing the risk of liver, pancreatic and breast cancer, alcohol increases the risk of skin cancer including squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Alcohol is also associated with an increased risk of oral cancer.


Alcohol induces vasodilation and facial flushing in people who have rosacea. However, alcohol is not the cause of the skin disease in most people.


High intake of alcohol is a risk factor for new onset of psoriasis. The distribution of psoriasis has been observed to be particularly prominent on the fingers and hands of heavy drinkers. People who have psoriasis and drink more than 80g of alcohol per week have been found to have more severe treatment-resistant psoriasis, including erythrodermic psoriasis. The reasons for the association may be relative immune suppression induced by alcohol and/or that it induces proinflammatory cytokines.

Seborrhoeic dermatitis

Seborrhoeic dermatitis has been observed to be more frequent in heavy drinkers.

Nummular dermatitis

Nummular or discoid dermatitis occurs more frequently in alcohol abusers, particularly in those with abnormal liver function tests.

5 Skin Damage Issues Alcoholic’s Face

The negative effects of Alcohol consumption on the skin are present immediately after one night of drinking and worsen as Alcohol abuse continues. Not only does Alcohol consumption agitate healthy skin, it also aggravates typical skin conditions such as rosacea and psoriasis.Another typical skin condition exacerbated by Alcoholism is urticaria or hives. Hives can be a painful condition that consists of unsightly reddish welts on the skin. Very few treatments are available to relieve the discomfort of hives.“One of the worst, most aggressive compounds to destroy your skin is drinking Alcohol.” says nutritionist Jairo Rodriguez. It causes dehydration, inflammation, depletion of antioxidants, weakened immune system, and blood vessel ruptures.

1. Alcoholism & Skin Dehydration

Drinking Alcohol can be confusing when it comes to the body’s level of hydration. It may feel as if the body is getting plenty of fluid however, the effects of Alcohol are blocking the possibility of hydration.To clarify, frequent urination after Alcohol consumption does not indicate adequate hydration as it could for water consumption; in fact, while drinking Alcohol increases one’s urine production, it decreases his or her water absorption. This is because Alcohol disrupts crucial vasopressin production.Vasopressin is a hormone that aids in the reabsorption of water from the kidney. As water is washed through the body causing frequent urination and Alcohol blocks the body from retaining what it needs, dehydration easily sets in.Skin quickly shows the symptoms of dehydration. Dehydrated skin from Alcohol appears ashy and becomes sensitive to the touch; it can itch and pores enlarge. Wrinkles and small lines also begin to appear. It may not be one’s best look and most importantly; it hinders the skin’s ability to protect the body from some viruses and bacteria.

2. Skin Inflammation with Alcoholism

Alcohol abuse tends to set off a relentless inflammation cycle in the skin. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), “Alcohol and its metabolites can trigger a persistent systemic inflammation, mediated by pro-inflammatory cytokines released from activated Kupffer cells in the liver and from monocytes in the circulation.”Meanwhile, this inflammation releases histamine, adding to the appearance of the red hue under the skin. Histamines are a composite released by cells in response to the inflammation, which causes the smooth muscle to contract and the capillaries to increase in width.The redness appears when these capillaries are open so widely that blood is flowing closer to the surface of the skin, often bursting. In both cases, the redness can last for a few days while the body heals this damage. If the cycle of inflammation occurs on a continual basis for a long period of time, this redness could become permanent.The sugar content in Alcohol further compounds the issue of skin inflammation. High sugar consumption prompts a rapid rise in insulin levels, a further advocate for skin inflammation. Dr. Sam Bunting, a cosmetic dermatologist says, “Alcoholic drinks frequently represent a sugar load, which causes insulin levels to spike, and this creates an environment that promotes skin inflammation – so common conditions like acne can flare up.”

3. Alcoholic’s Skin Depletes of Antioxidants

The body is constantly creating new skin cells and expunging old ones. New skin cells are plump and square; as they get older they flatten and eventually flake off. The body eliminates about 35,000 dead skin cells daily and the skin completely regenerates the body’s 20 million skin cells about every 30 days.The skin relies on Vitamins A, B3, and C for the generation and regeneration of cells. Vitamin A is especially crucial for cell renewal. It’s also responsible for battling against free radicals to avoid depletion in the moisture layer of the skin.Alcohol consumption seriously damages these skin antioxidants and promotes deterioration of lipids.

4. Alcoholic’s Skin Won’t Protect the Body

As the skin is the outside barrier for bacteria and viruses, maintaining skin health and suppleness is crucial in preventing fungal and bacterial infections. When skin is dehydrated, it breaks down and cannot protect against infections that could take root in the older, damaged layers on top of the skin. This leaves the drinker at a greater risk of several skin disorders and infections.Perhaps secondary but worth noting; the nature of Alcoholism also exposes the skin to greater risk of infection as the Alcoholic often neglects regular grooming and hygiene activities. Alcohol puts the skin at risk for damage from the inside to the outside.

5. Blood Vessels Rupture in the Skin of an Alcoholic

Many view rosy cheeks as a charming facial characteristic. When redness is due to Alcohol consumption, what’s going on under the surface may not be so delightful. Flushed cheeks are one of the most common signs of recent and prolonged drinking.Alcohol causes blood vessels to dilate creating the opportunity for the blood flow to increase and travel closer to the surface. Often, these blood vessels burst, creating ectasia, or spider veins. In addition, the damage that has been done to these tiny blood vessels compromises their structure, allowing liquid to penetrate the skin, which creates a swollen complexion.

Does a Heavy Drinker Experience Less Skin Damage than an Alcoholic?

While it’s widely understood that Alcohol isn’t harmless, it may not be widely fathomed just how bad it can be. For example, one’s immune system is lackluster for 24 hours after a night of drinking and it takes days for the redness of the skin to dissipate.Skin damage takes effect after a couple of drinks and gets worse with routine drinking. Routine drinking is classified as roughly two drinks per day: a glass of wine for women and 2 beers for men. Risks for Alcohol-induced skin damage is significantly multiplied for Alcoholics.Alcoholics have a dependence on Alcohol that makes brain functioning essentially impossible without it.The brain adjusts its neurotransmitters to accommodate the regular intake of Alcohol, but these adjustments prohibit the brain from sending appropriate signals to the body unless it’s operating on an adequate supply of it. This often causes confusion for an individual, as he or she tends to feel guilty for drinking, but finds it seemingly impossible to stop.

There’s Hope.

Making the decision to get sober can be intimidating. For a brain addicted to Alcohol, the path to a sober and fulfilling life is difficult to anticipate. For many, the fear that a life without Alcohol is synonymous with a life without contentment is staggering. Once the addicted brain is free from the grips of Alcohol, many begin to understand that the life they always meant to have is still within their reach.Treatment for Alcoholism begins with detox in a medical facility allowing the management of withdrawal symptoms. Vital signs will be closely monitored and your comfort level will be maintained at the highest possible level. After detox is complete, cognitive treatment begins.Cognitive therapy consists of a combination of approaches tailored to the characteristics and needs of the individual. Group therapy allows one to share his or her experiences while listening to those of others on the same path. Physical activity and nutrition are also addressed to ensure that health is restored.While some of the skin damage Alcohol consumption causes can be reversed, it will continue to rely on a balanced diet and exercise to maintain its supple condition. Therapies provide nutrition education, strength training, new social skills and life coaching. A therapist will develop a strategy to utilize the most effective therapies for your long-term success.Continuing in group therapy after treatment lowers the chance of relapse significantly and encourages one to look toward the life they want by setting goals to get there.