Alcohol is Abusive to Your Skin, Find Out Why

We all know the damage excessive alcohol consumption can have on the liver and brain cells. But, have you ever thought about the impact it can have on your skin?

Several studies have shown that excessive and prolonged alcohol consumption can directly cause or aggravate several skin conditions. In particular, alcohol misuse is implicated in the development of psoriasis, as well as the increased susceptibility to skin infections. This article reviews the evidence concerning the influences of alcohol in skin conditions with a focus on psoriasis.

Skin Changes Indirectly Caused by Alcohol

The majority of skin changes associated with excess alcohol use are indirectly caused by the impairment of different organ systems.

Liver dysfunction caused by chronic alcohol abuse impairs estrogen and bile salt metabolism, resulting in the development of spider angiomas, itchy skin and reddening of the palms.2,3,5 A strong increase in estrogen production and decrease in testosterone production has been observed in male alcoholics.2 This can cause the abnormal development of mammary glands, resulting in breast enlargement.2

Skin infections, including bacterial and fungal infections, represent another health problem found to be more prevalent in alcoholics.2-4 The higher incidence of infections is likely attributable to multiple factors, including alcohol associated nutritional deficiencies in combination with immunodeficiency. Most notably, zinc and vitamin C deficiencies lead to poor wound healing, weakened stomach lining, and altered immune defenses with increased risk for infection.

Excess alcohol use can also result in a difficulty absorbing nutrients from food. This can produce an array of skin abnormalities such as Angular cheilitis, inflammation of the tongue, bleeding gums, and skin discoloration caused by the escape of blood into the tissues from ruptured blood vessels.

Skin Changes Directly Caused by Alcohol

Alcohol impairs the part of the brain that regulates blood pressure, and can induce a widening of the blood vessels.2,3 It has been suggested that this may amplify the common symptoms of rosacea,2,3 such as redness and flushing.

Alcohol can also cause facial redness and flushing in people who don’t have rosacea through a genetic deficiency involving an alcohol metabolism enzyme. This phenomenon is most commonly recognized in Asians, as studies have shown that 50% lack the ability to make this specific enzyme, leading to an accumulation of acetaldehyde (a chemical compound linked to hangovers) after alcohol consumption.2

For individuals who suffer from the skin disorder PCT, alcohol use can lead to acute flare-ups.3,6 Common characteristics of a PCT attack include skin blistering and erosions on sun exposed areas2,3 that result in residual scarring and the appearance of small puss-filled cysts.

The Role of Alcohol in the Development of Psoriasis

Psoriasis is a common chronic inflammatory autoimmune condition, affecting approximately 2% of the population in North America.3 It is characterized by the accelerated production and subsequent accumulation of skin cells, which leads to red, scaly and sometimes itchy patches of skin.

Extensive evidence demonstrates a link between excessive alcohol consumption and psoriasis.3,4,11,12 The amount of alcohol consumed and the type of alcoholic beverage have both been shown to allow the most risk for development and/or exacerbation of plaque psoriasis.12

A recent prospective study following 82,869 women for 14 years showed that consumption of more then 2.3 alcoholic beverages per week was a significant risk factor for new onset psoriasis.12 The same study also found that consuming non-light beer appears to be an independent risk factor for developing psoriasis in females.12 Similarly, in males, excess alcohol consumption (at levels higher then 100g/day) appears to be a risk factor for the development and increased activity of psoriasis.11,13

Studies have also shown that alcohol use can cause the body to build up a resistance to treatments for psoriasis.2,13,14

An interesting correlation was also discovered during the course of these studies. The distribution of psoriasis in heavy drinkers tends to predominantly affect the skin on top of the hands and fingers, which is also commonly seen in patients with compromised immune systems, such as those with HIV.2,4 This distribution highlights the potential role of alcohol induced immunosuppression in the development of psoriasis.

An overwhelming amount of evidence suggests a significant link between alcohol and psoriasis. Not only may alcohol contribute to the development of psoriasis, it can also result in a more extensive and treatment-resistant disease.

Needless to say, if you have a skin condition such as psoriasis, and are a regular drinker, you may want to take into consideration the effects alcohol may have on the health and appearance of your skin.

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