In a recent interview with Man Repeller‘s Leandra Medine, Gwyneth Paltrow shared that she “drinks a lot,” yet still maintains healthy skin. When Medine asked how Paltrow manages to look so great while still enjoying a regular cocktail or two, Paltrow swears she owes her appearance to her Goop skincare line. “[It’s] because of my products!” she exclaimed to Medine. “I swear by them. I’m not kidding.” That’s one business-savvy response! “This is such great news. You can drink a lot and still look like Gwyneth Paltrow,” Medine replied. The topic does raise some real questions—I mean, just how much does drinking alcohol impact your skin?
First off, it’s important to distinguish between casual, moderate drinking and heavy drinking. (If you’re wondering whether your drinking habits are considered excessive, take a look at the guidelines laid out by the CDC and the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.) Aside from people with rosacea (who may experience redness or flushing while drinking), social drinking is unlikely to cause longterm skin problems. That said, alcohol can still have some frustrating effects on your complexion.
“Drinking alcohol dehydrates the skin, which leads to tired, sallow looking skin with more pronounced fine lines, wrinkles and pores,” New York City dermatologist Whitney Bowe, M.D., tells SELF. Alcohol dehydrates the skin in two specific ways. “One, is that it acts as a diuretic which forces water out of the body. Second, it interferes with the hormone vasopressin, which is responsible for telling your kidneys to reabsorb some of the water that is about to leave your body. Alcohol hinders the production of vasopressin, so it doesn’t allow your body to reabsorb the water that it needs.”
Heavy alcohol use may also decrease Vitamin A levels. “Vitamin A is a powerful antioxidant that is responsible for cell turnover, fighting off free radicals and giving your skin that healthy glow,” Bowe explains. Lower levels of Vitamin A can make your skin look more dull and tired.
Again, if you’re drinking moderately, you don’t have much to worry about—it’s heavier drinking that causes more serious damage. (And of course, damage from heavy drinking can go far beyond your skin: Excessive drinking can lead to increased risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, certain types of cancer, alcohol dependency, and other issues.) “Chronic alcoholism can cause many skin problems,” Hilary Baldwin, M.D., dermatologist and medical director of the Acne Treatment and Research Center in New Jersey, tells SELF. “Often, on the internet, we see claims that these issues apply to casual drinking as well, but there is little evidence to back this up.” You may find yourself with dull or puffy skin for a few hours after casual drinking, but the effects aren’t likely to last long. “Twenty-four hours later, well-hydrated and well-slept, there is no data suggesting that there is permanent skin damage from our night out.”
Not all drinks are created equal, so if you’re concerned with temporarily losing your glow at the bar, choose red wine over a cocktail. “Avoid mixed drinks, as they often contain large amounts of sugar and salt, which can lead to bloating, under eye bags and inflammation,” Bowe says. “Instead, opt for a glass of red wine which contains resveratrol, a powerful antioxidant that contains anti-aging benefits.” You may also want to avoid salt-rimmed margaritas, which Baldwin says can add to the dehydration.
It’s also important to consider how alcohol-induced eating and sleeping habits can impact our skin. “We have to realize that an evening of drinking does not exist in a vacuum,” Baldwin says. “It is more often than not associated with overeating, excess salt intake, and little sleep. Thanks to the alcohol, what sleep we do get is not as restful as usual. We wake up dehydrated, pasty and bleary-eyed.” Consider drinking a glass of water between alcoholic drinks, as well as sipping on a glass just before bed and first thing upon waking up the next morning. Top the evening off by getting as much shut-eye as possible. “Go home early,” Baldwin advises. “Your appearance in the morning will thank you.”
Overall, it’s perfectly fine to enjoy a few drinks in moderation without worrying about your skin’s health. “In the absence of actual data to the contrary, enjoy the occasional cocktail without longterm skin concerns,” Baldwin says. So kick back, pour yourself a glass of wine, and say “cheers.”