how not to f*ck up your face

What Happens to Your Skin on Booze?

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photo: Getty Images

This column first ran in Valerie Monroe’s newsletter, How Not to F*ck Up Your Face, which you can subscribe to on Substack.

Q: I recently heard you raving about Jennifer Lopez’s skin. She’s a lifelong teetotaler and I’m wondering about your thoughts on drinking alcohol and aging.

A: I’m racking my brain trying to remember when I was raving about Jennifer Lopez’s skin. (I don’t often find myself talking about J.Lo. Was it on the terrific Everything Is Fine podcast?) I did have dinner with her once. Clarification: I had dinner across the table from her at a beauty event where she was launching something — could’ve been a fragrance. I remember Ben picked her up (it was their first round together) and seemed as casual and relaxed in a room full of beauty editors as he might’ve been with his family.

Anyway, my dinner with J.Lo was like the worst blind date imaginable. I knew nothing about her except that she was a … singer. Naturally, she knew nothing about me except that I was a… person. Since we had nothing to say to one another, I spent a lot of time staring at her face, which remained implacable for the entire evening. And so utterly gorgeous it seemed I was seeing her through a perfecting filter (which in a way I was — makeup).

As to your question, I didn’t know J.Lo was a teetotaler. And now I wish I could tell you I watched her throw back a dozen tequila shots. She didn’t — though I imagine we both spent some of the evening wishing we could. But I doubt that not drinking alcohol is the primary reason for the lovely condition of her skin. It’s likely due to a combination of genetics, diet, intense exercise, minimal sun exposure, and whatever dermatologic treatments she’s had — including neurotoxin, filler, and who knows what else. (No matter what she claims about using only olive oil or her own skin-care products.)

There is evidence, though, that a complexion under the influence is not a pretty picture.
Besides being dehydrating, alcohol can be especially troublesome if we’re prone to flushing or rosacea, said dermatologist Orit Markowitz when I recently saw her for my annual skin-cancer check (have you had yours?). If you’re prone to flushing, you already know how quickly a glass of wine can trigger it.
In a study about the impact of smoking and alcohol use on facial aging in women, research showed that drinking alcohol can increase the severity of under-eye puffiness, volume loss in the midface, and blood vessels on the cheeks. Among moderate imbibers — one drink per day for women — only midface volume loss and under-eye puffiness were associated with drinking. (As if that weren’t enough.)

Interestingly, significant associations between facial aging and the type of alcohol consumed were only seen for under-eye puffiness, which was associated with drinking a combination of beer, wine, and spirits — another good reason not to mix your grain and grape — possibly because those who reported drinking a combination of beverages might have consumed more alcohol overall.

A study of twins showed that avoidance of alcohol was significantly associated with a younger appearance, though other larger studies have found no association between alcohol use and perceived age or wrinkling score. But alcohol impairs the skin’s antioxidant defense system, among other things, leaving it more prone to sunburn and the aging effects of ultraviolet light, and possibly increasing a vulnerability to skin cancer.

Bottom line, as you probably already know (or at least guessed), consuming alcohol isn’t great for your overall health. As I’ve gotten older, my tolerance has plummeted; have you noticed that halfway into a second glass of wine you start to feel a little woozy? You might be grateful for that: If one and done is your drinking game now, your skin is probably winning.

Valerie Monroe was beauty director at O, The Oprah Magazine, where she wrote the monthly “Ask Val” column for nearly 16 years. Now she writes the weekly newsletter How Not to F*ck Up Your Face. Her goal continues to be to shift our thinking in the beauty arena from self-criticism to self-compassion and to learn how to be loving witnesses to ourselves and one another as we age.

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