Do You Have Alcohol Skin?

By Hannah Betts

Sometimes, when I was drinking, my skin would look good – for a while. The next morning, my complexion would boast a fetching plumpness. My lips would be pertly swollen. And, given how these things so often pan out,
I might have had a post-coital glow. I came to regard this as a pickled prettiness.

‘Wow,’ I’d think, ‘things could be a lot worse.’ Give it
a couple of hours and they invariably were. The plumpness would have given way to a bloated greyness, my pout deflated into bleeding cracks, a parched yet acne-threatening stubble rash emerged, and jet rings set in around my hollowed eyes.

And it happens for a reason, says Dr Jairo Rodriguez, New York-based nutritionist to the fashion pack. ‘Alcohol is one of the worst, most aggressive compounds in destroying your skin. I always joke with patients, “If you want to get older, go ahead and drink!”‘ Only the older a boozer gets, the less funny this is.

London dermatologist Dr Michael Prager tells me: ‘Alcohol is basically sugar, with 50% more calories. A gram of fat has nine kilocalories, carbohydrates have four-and-a-half, and alcohol has seven. Sugar causes
glycosylation (the attachment of sugars to proteins), ageing cells and tissues through higher levels of insulin, changes in the DNA and tissue oxidisation. This impacts upon cells in a multitude of ways: it can cause free radical damage, and reduce cell proliferation and collagen production, slowing everything down.

‘Alcohol is also a diuretic: it dehydrates you. You absorb nutrients less successfully and crave salt. In women it changes their hormones, creating higher levels of testosterone, leading to things such as spots and the taking on of a masculine guise, with a diminished waist, barrel-like middle, a bloated face, skinny legs and hair loss.’ Nice.

Dr Prager sips green tea even when at London’s Dukes Bar, home of the martini. ‘So many women come and see me in their thirties to ask my advice about ageing,’ he eye rolls. ‘I point out that drink is sabotaging their looks. Then, in their forties, they come back in a panic. There are things that I can do [Dr Prager is known as the ‘Karl Lagerfeld of injectables’]. However, the damage is done.’

According to LA dermatologist Dr Harold Lancer, complexion guru to Scarlett Johansson, Victoria Beckham and Kim Kardashian, it can take our skin up to a month to get over a single hangover – bad news as the party season lurches into gear. ‘When you have a hormonal jolt caused by a sugar fest – let’s say, a pizza party – there’s salt, dairy, carbohydrates and alcohol,’ he explains. ‘It will take about 30 days for that to calm down.’

‘Celebrities don’t have chefs to control their weight – they have them to control their skin. When they’re on active filming, there is zero alcohol. Does this mean you can’t periodically have a glass of red wine? No. It means you can’t have three glasses.’ Meanwhile, he says of the traditional post-hangover fry-up: ‘You might as well paint blemishes on your face.’ Small wonder that those with serious skin goals choose to renounce booze.

Personally, after a lifetime of resplendent carousing, I stopped drinking two years ago because I couldn’t sleep. Then, I realised I had an alcohol problem. However, the only thing other people noticed was the effect on my skin. Despite drinking ‘only’ the half-bottle-a-night that many women consider normal – more, obviously, when I was on a roll – the impact was seismic.

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