There are plenty of reasons to cut down on your drinking or give up alcohol — too many hangovers, a potential DUI and the risk of developing an alcohol use disorder loom large. Here is another one. Did you know that drinking alcohol can add years to your face and body? A new research study indicates that alcohol even ages you biologically at the cellular level, putting you at higher risk for age-related illnesses like diabetes and dementia — and the more you drink, the more your cells age. This revelation appears to contradict previous research that indicated moderate drinking might reduce the risk for these conditions. Adding insult to injury is the fact that alcohol is hepatotoxic — damaging to the liver, which inhibits the cells that detoxify our bodies. This affects our skin. Also, because alcohol is fermented, it contains chemical substances called congeners that are the main cause of hangovers, and the reason why we look bad the morning after drinking. So, if drinking ages us at multiple levels, how exactly do these effects manifest? Here are six ways alcohol ages you:
- Depletion of vitamin A and other healthy nutrients – Alcohol can impact your nutrition levels by depleting healthy nutrients that help carry oxygen throughout your body. Alcohol depletes vitamin A levels in particular, and this vitamin is a crucial antioxidant for your skin and body as it aids in the formation of new cells. Vitamin A is also crucial for the production of collagen — a depletion of which can result in premature wrinkles.
- Loss of collagen and face fullness – Reduced levels of collagen lead to a loss of elasticity and fullness in your skin, which are essential to keep it looking young and supple. Less collagen equals less tautness and tone. If you drink too much or too frequently, you speed up the aging process by accelerating collagen loss. Skin is already delicate and vulnerable to the elements — wind, smog, smoke and the sun. When you drink, you are hastening the aged, weathered look of your skin.
- Dehydration – Alcohol is very dehydrating because it acts like a diuretic. The more you drink, the more dehydrated you will be. This means your skin will appear less plump and fresh the morning after and, over time, will appear dry and wrinkly. (It is a good idea to drink lots of water in between alcoholic beverages to hydrate yourself and help avoid a hangover.)
- Redness, puffiness and swelling – Alcohol works as a vasodilator, widening the blood vessels that bring blood to your face. This leads to puffiness or swelling and redness. If you consume a lot of alcohol over time, the blood vessels will steadily enlarge, leading to permanent redness and blotchiness like rosacea. The blotchiness can be compounded by broken capillaries or vessels that burst under the skin’s surface, typically around the nose and eyes. The excess sugars in beer and wine are most likely to cause these effects.
- Weight gain – A few extra pounds around the middle and through the jowls can add years to your appearance. Alcohol can cause you to pack on an extra 10 pounds or so. Because alcohol is a sugar source, it raises insulin and triggers fat storage by increasing fatty deposits in the liver, leading to fat storage around the stomach, manifesting as a “muffin top” or “beer belly.”
- Sleep disruption – It’s no secret that dark circles or puffy bags under your eyes make you look old and tired. Because alcohol messes up your sleep cycles, drinking before bed makes it more likely that you’ll wake up during the night and get less deep sleep. Even if alcohol makes you doze off quickly, you’re still likely to wake later in the night. You need those deep stages of sleep for healthy, restorative rest to help you look good and also to maintain good cognitive function, say experts from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
Moderation and Cocktail Menu Choices Are Key to Slowing the Clock
It’s not just the amount and frequency of your drinking that matters, it is also what you drink. Less alcohol is best, of course, but the negative effects of any alcohol are multiplied if there are additives in your drinks. For example, extra sugar, salt and various mixers can wreak havoc on your looks. Skin experts advise that your complexion won’t suffer quite as much if you stick to straight, clear liquor like gin or vodka. For your skin’s sake, avoid darker liquors like rum, whiskey and tequila, which contain more congeners and other fermentation byproducts that are hard on the skin. For the sake of your looks and overall health, experts always advise drinking in moderation. What would be considered moderate drinking? According to the U.S. Government Dietary Guidelines, a moderate drinking level is up to one drink a day for women and up to two drinks a day for men. A drink is either 5 fluid ounces of wine, 12 fluid ounces of beer, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled liquor. Sources: How fast can alcohol age you? Jodi Sawyer. The Doctor Oz Show, 2012. Here’s How Alcohol Wrecks Your Skin … And How to Choose the Least Damaging Drink. The Huffington Post, October 2013. How Alcohol Messes with Your Sleep — and What You Can do About It. Abigail Cuffey. Healthy Living, The Huffington Post, July 2017.