7 Signs Alcohol Affects Your Physical Appearance
Nov 01, 2022
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Alcohol can have temporary and long-term effects on your physical appearance. The severity of these changes usually depends on how long and how often you drink.
For men, heavy drinking is defined as four drinks a day or more than 14 drinks a week. For women, it’s defined as three drinks a day or more than seven drinks a week (1). Moderate drinking is defined as 14 or fewer drinks per week for men, and seven or fewer drinks per week for women.
Alcohol can change the appearance of your mouth and the skin on your face.
Drinking alcohol removes water from your body and makes you dehydrated. Prolonged dehydration from heavy drinking can cause chronic dry mouth that leads to problems with your oral health.
The saliva in your mouth protects your teeth, gums, and tongue from germs that can cause infection (2). Without saliva, you’re more likely to experience:
- Mouth sores
- Bad breath
- Tooth decay
- “Hairy” tongue from bacteria overgrowth
Alcohol can cause your face to become temporarily red and flushed (3). This occurs when your body breaks down alcohol and creates acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde makes your body release histamine, which enlarges your blood vessels (known as vasodilation). In turn, this creates the red and warm feeling on your skin.
The dehydration that causes dry mouth can also lead to face and body bloating. Bloating happens because your body is trying to hold on to all the fluids it has to make up for the hydration it’s missing.
Besides bloating, alcohol can also cause weight gain. Alcoholic drinks are high in calories and have no nutritional benefit to your body.
Alcohol can increase the chances of certain skin conditions developing, such as:
- Bacterial skin infections
- Seborrhoeic or nummular dermatitis
However, these conditions can also develop in people who don’t drink at all (5).
There is a connection between drinking alcohol and your risk of skin cancer (6). Experts have several theories for this:
- Acetaldehyde (the chemical thought to cause face flushing) is considered a carcinogen, or cancer-causing compound.
- Alcohol can impair your immune system and prevent your body from getting the nutrition it needs. This makes it harder for your body to protect itself.
- Alcohol can make you more sensitive to the sun’s ultraviolet radiation.
Long-term alcohol misuse can lead to liver disease (7). Liver disease can cause several skin conditions, including:
- Palmar erythema
- Generalized pruritus
- Caput medusae
Alcohol can cause premature skin aging. One study found that women who consumed eight or more drinks a week perceived themselves as looking older than those who didn’t drink (8).
The same study found a correlation between drinking wine and the visibility of blood vessels in the cheeks.
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One study found that different types of alcohol can cause under-eye puffiness (8). Just like in your skin, alcohol can cause the blood vessels in your eyes to enlarge (9). This can make your eyes turn red and appear “bloodshot.”
Because alcohol affects your sleep, you may also notice under-eye circles the day after drinking (10).
After an episode of heavy drinking, your liver processes some of the alcohol you consumed. The rest of the alcohol will leave your body through your sweat and breath. This can make your body smell like alcohol (11, 12).
Because dehydration from drinking can cause dry mouth, bad breath the day after drinking can also occur (2).
As mentioned earlier, heavy drinking can prevent your body from getting the nutrients it needs. This can eventually cause your hair to become thin and brittle.
Drinking alcohol may make you more likely to develop certain skin conditions, such as psoriasis, rosacea, and seborrhoeic or nummular dermatitis.
These conditions don’t have a cure, but treatment can help make symptoms more manageable and have less of an effect on your appearance.
Liver disease caused by alcohol use can cause hyperpigmentation, palmar erythema, jaundice, generalized pruritus, and caput medusae.
Liver disease isn’t reversible, but you can treat some of the skin conditions it causes to help make symptoms less noticeable.
Drinking alcohol can make you dehydrated, which can cause temporary bloating until your body gets the hydration it needs.
Alcoholic beverages also have a lot of calories, so heavy drinking over time can lead to weight gain. Depending on how your body stores fat, heavy drinking may make you gain weight in your face.
Heavy drinking over a period of time can cause a physical dependence on alcohol. If you suddenly stop drinking, your body will often experience withdrawal. Withdrawal symptoms include sweating, shaking, nausea, and anxiety.
Heavy drinking can make it difficult for your body to absorb the nutrients it needs. Without the proper nutrients, your hair can become brittle and may fall out.
Alcohol can make it difficult for your body to get the proper nutrients it needs. Malnourishment can make some people who are heavy drinkers appear thin.
Liver disease caused by heavy drinking can cause jaundice and hyperpigmentation, which will give the skin a darker appearance.
Alcohol can cause dehydration. This can make your face bloat. It is also very high in calories. Heavy drinking over time can cause weight gain, which might result in the appearance of a double chin.
About The Author
Emily is a writer and editor based in Seattle.
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