How Alcohol Consumption Impacts Skin, Hair, and Nails

How Alcohol Consumption Impacts Skin, Hair, and Nails

Last night's Girls' Night Out was just what the doctor ordered, right? It felt great to get out and let your hair down with your friends and you really needed some stress-relief. But oooooh, that headache. Now you're wondering if you really needed to have that one last drink.

While an occasional drink when you're out with your friends won't affect you very much, alcohol abuse will show on your face the next morning, and continued abuse will cause long-term effects. (By the way, doctors consider a "heavy drinker" as one that has more than one drink per day).

Alcohol causes a myriad of side effects all over the body, but can really show up in the skin, making you look tired and, well, hungover. It'll do a number on you, making your skin look dry, dull, and patchy. Here we'll detail what this looks like and why.

Blotchy & Red



Everyone's aware of the cartoon figure of the drunk with the flushed cheeks and pink nose. The reality is, that's not so far off from the truth. According to Clinical Psychologist Michaele P. Dunlap, alcohol can cause broken capillaries in the face, resulting in a blotchy appearance.  Alcohol is a vasodilator, which opens up blood vessels, but if they over-dilate, they can burst, leading to those spider veins (spider telangiectasia).

With persistent drinking, a person's face can remain red from enlarged blood vessels (telangiectasia). This is the result of the brain's failure to regulate the vasculature. Temporary flushing can be a common side-effect, too. Acetaldehyde is the main byproduct of alcohol breakdown, and it's thought to stimulate the release of histamine from cells, resulting in the red, blushing appearance.

People suffering from rosacea should really consider abstaining or at least minimizing their intake. "A majority of rosacea patients say that alcohol is the number-one trigger of their rosacea," Dr. Bowe says.

Extraorbital Hyperpigmentation

 Extraorbital hyperpigmentation is the technical term for raccoon eyes. These aren't the raccoon eyes that occur when you cry your mascara into oblivion, but rather the ones that appear after you've been on a bender. This can be the result of the lack of sleep that goes along with a night out on the town. Even one poor night of sleep causes changes to the pigment around your eyes.

For heavy, regular drinkers, it can be an indicator of chronic liver disease. Experts aren't clear of the reason behind this.


Alcohol is a diuretic in that it pulls water out of the cells and extracellular space and forces the kidneys to get rid of it. By the time you're fighting with yourself to ‘not break the seal,' it's already too late. "Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it causes you to pee more," says NYC-based dermatologist Whitney Bowe, MD. "But it also hinders the production of the hormone vasopressin. That hormone helps you reabsorb water. So alcohol is kind of a double whammy, in that it's forcing out water and making it harder for your body to rehydrate itself."

Blood vessels in the skin become restricted and stop delivering enough oxygenated blood, so your skin doesn't stay hydrated. It'll look tired and sallow, with more visible pores. Frequent drinking will leave your skin susceptible to wrinkles and laugh lines because it's undernourished and starving for hydration.AlcoholImpacts-VitaminAAlcohol robs the body of vitamin A, which is one of the antioxidants "important for cell renewal and cell turnover, and it gives you a healthy glow," says Dr. Bowe. When your skin can't effectively fight free radicals, damage may be done to the lipid layer of your skin. That's the layer responsible for maintaining moisture.


Excessive drinking may cause excess hormones in the body that can activate sebaceous glands, causing your skin to overproduce oil. That, coupled with the decreased ability for a damaged liver to detoxify can result in breakouts. If you're concerned about your skin's clarity, the American Academy of Family Physicians warns against excessive drinking.

In addition, people make some really poor diet choices while they're drinking. The excessive sugar, salt, and polyunsaturated fats you consume at the bar or while walking home from dancing contributes to pimples. It also leads to an excess of free radicals floating around causing damage to your collagen and elastin, resulting in wrinkles.


 Drinking depletes your body of vitamin C, which is necessary for fast recovery and healing. You may be prone to more bruising when consuming excessive amounts of alcohol. Dehydrated skin is also less likely to cushion you against injuries when you get bumped.


 Poorly metabolized substances left hanging around can stimulate nerve endings in the skin, irritating them and causing pruritus (itching). This could be from any number of substances like bile salts, histamine, and corticosteroids.

Hair Loss

While drinking won't directly cause hair loss, the side effects from chronic drinking can. Dehydration can lead to dry and brittle hair, making it prone to breakage. Depletion of zinc and iron can lead to the condition, telogen effluvium, in which hair prematurely enters the resting stage of the growth cycle, and lies dormant for three months before shedding. If continued mineral deficiency occurs, severe hair loss can result, since it never leaves the resting phase.

You Nailed It

AlcoholImpacts-BrittleNailsYour nails are a specialized extension of your skin; therefore, where there's skin trouble, there's nail trouble, too. You're likely not going to see any changes to your nails with an occasional slip-up, but chronic alcohol abuse leading to liver damage will manifest itself in the nails, as well. Strong, healthy nails rely on balanced nutrients and plenty of water. If you're seeing brittle, pale, and peeling nails, that could be a sign that you're drinking more than you should.

Changes can be seen from a number of problems secondary to liver disease, such as reduced nail bed capillary flow, low blood protein, iron deficiency, and vasodilation. They can be seen as changes in nail coloring such as with Terry's nails, muehrcke, and red lunula. They can also show up as changes in the nail shape, as is the case with koilonychia or clubbing.

The great news is that most of your skin functions will start to return to normal once you're no longer drinking and you start to rehydrate. "The texture of your skin is going to look healthier. Your pores will look like they're getting smaller again," Dr. Bowe says. "You'll also see your under-eye bags start to de-puff as your blood vessels go back to their normal size."