Most of know how heavy drinking can damage our internal organs – namely our liver, pancreas, heart, and digestive system. But the effects of alcohol go beyond the internal – and can often be seen on our skin – due to toxins, dehydration, and even the appearance of blood vessels.
In addition, there are a myriad of other ways that alcohol abuse can affect our appearance, both temporarily and permanently. For example, alcohol and skin cancer may be more closely related than you think.
Alcohol contains congeners, which are chemicals produced during the fermentation process. They are what gives liquors their unique tastes and smells. These chemicals are one of the main causes of hangovers, and we all know how we look when experiencing one of these.
Of course, alcohol is dehydrating on every level. One effect of dehydration is a lack of fluid in the skin. After a night of heavy drinking, skin may appear less plump and more porous.
Over time, less hydration may = more wrinkles. Excessive consumption of alcohol and skin dehydration (dryness) go hand-and-hand.
Vitamin Deficiency And Skin
Heavy drinking also deprives the skin and body of vital nutrients. Nutritional deficiencies occur when alcohol replaces food in the diet, and/or the liver and digestive system can no longer process food efficiently. This results in malabsorption – without good calories or protein, the skin becomes drier and begins to lose elasticity.
Vitamins are essential to maintain healthy looking skin:
- Vitamin A deficiency results in dry skin and follicular hyperkeratosis (rough follicles).
- Vitamin B1 (thiamine) deficiency results in waxy skin. This deficiency is more common in chronic alcoholics.
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) deficiency presents with angular cheilitis (cracked corners of the mouth) and a rash on the face that resembles seborrhoeic dermatitis.
- Vitamin B3 (niacin) deficiency (also known as pellagra) presents with dermatitis on areas exposed to the sun, as well as cheilitis.
- Vitamin C deficiency (scurvy) results in swollen gums and follicular hyperkeratosis.
- Zinc deficiency causes a condition known as acquired acrodermatitis enteropathica with dermatitis around the mouth, hands, and feet.
Inflammation, Redness And Vascular Effects of Alcohol
Alcohol is an inflammatory substance. It can create a histamine reaction – this reaction causes enlarged blood vessels, redness, and flushing of the skin.
The main component that causes flushing is acetaldehyde, which is a by-product of alcohol and one of the reasons why it’s so toxic.
While this may begin as temporary, over time, the presence of facial redness and blood vessels (called telangiectasia) near the surface of the skin may become permanent. This is also known as rosacea.
Blood vessels appear because the brain’s regulation of vascular control begins to fail after chronic alcohol intake. Thus, excessive use of alcohol and skin redness have a close association.
Damage To Liver = Damage To Skin
Because alcohol damages the liver, it’s basically a poison to detoxifying cells in the body. An easy way to tell the effects of this is to look at someone who is experiencing acute or chronic liver failure – they typically look sallow, pasty, and cold.
Spider angiomas are blood vessels that branch out from a central vessel. They often found on the face, neck, chest, arms, hands, and abdomen. Large numbers of these vessels are associated with liver cirrhosis (scarring) due to elevated levels of estrogen. However, this condition may also be enhanced by the vasodilating effects of alcohol, as well.
Caput medusa is described as high pressure with the venous system in the liver, which leads to high pressure in the venous system in other parts of the body, including the belly button. The appearance of the dilated veins is said to look like the head of Medusa.
Jaundice occurs in patients with alcoholic liver disease. The liver cannot metabolize the orange-yellow bilirubin effectively, and result is the skin and sclera of the eyes taking on a yellowish tint.
Pruritus is itching of the skin, and can occur due to the buildup of ineffectively metabolized substances that stimulate nerve endings, such as bile salts and histamines. Scratching itchy skin can result in rashes and other cosmetic damage. Dry skin caused by dehydration can contribute to skin itchiness, as well.
Alcohol consumption increases the risk of many cancers, including skin cancer – namely, squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma, and melanoma.
Excessive consumption of alcohol and skin cancer are associated in a number of ways:
- Alcohol suppresses the immune system and impairs nutrition, thus reducing the body’s natural defenses.
- The breakdown product of alcohol, acetaldehyde, is a carcinogen (cancer causing) and produces free radicals and damages DNA.
- The effects of ultraviolet radiation may also be enhanced by the photo-sensitizing byproducts of alcohol.
Can You Repair The Damage?
Yes – within reason. Like any other organ, the skin can regenerate. But just as skin regeneration slows as we get older, alcohol consumption destroys collagen, and thus, drinking over longs periods of time can cause irreversible damage.
But yes, depending on how long and how much you have been drinking, quitting will probably result in skin rehydration and the delivery of more nutrients – thus, you may very well see improvements. If you have rosacea, you may also see a decrease in skin redness due to less inflammation.
And of course, quitting drinking reduces your risk for liver disease and many types of cancer, including skin cancer.
Getting Treatment For Alcohol Abuse
Treatment typically begins in our medical detox center, where patients are supervised 24 hours a day for several days. During this time, pharmaceuticals may be administered to relieve many of the worst symptoms of withdrawal.
Following detox, patients are urged to enter one of our long-term treatment programs, which include residential and partial hospitalization formats. Both types of programs feature behavioral therapy, individual and family counseling, holistic practices such as meditation and yoga, and participation in 12-step group support programs.
If you or your loved one is suffering from Alcohol addiction, we encourage you to seek help as soon as possible. Call us today and discover how we help those who need it most overcome active addiction and foster the happy, Alcohol-free lives they deserve!