London - We all worry about the effect an extra glass of wine has on our waistline — but what about on our skin? To find out if ditching alcohol can improve your complexion, we challenged Laura Hogarth, a 40-year-old mother-of-two from Falkirk, to spend a month without consuming a drop of booze.
Before this, Laura drank about 15 units of alcohol a week — which equates to around five large glasses of wine and is just one unit a week above the recommended national guidelines for women.
Many modern women enjoy a drink with an evening meal or have a glass of wine at home to unwind after a busy day, with large numbers of women exceeding the British government’s daily drinking guidelines of two to three units a day. But would many cut down if they knew that, as well as affecting their health, alcohol could also damage their looks, making them look years older than their age?
As Dr Nick Lowe, a professor of dermatology based in London and Los Angeles, says: “Alcohol does several things to our bodies, none of them good.
“One of the main effects is a chemical reaction that causes our peripheral blood vessels to expand and widen, so allowing more blood to flow through our skin.”
Here, he and Laura give their week-by-week verdicts on how a month without alcohol transformed her life — and looks.
Laura says: “Urgh, this picture looks horrific. I look awful. My skin is red and flushed, all the way down my decolletage. My forehead and nose are shiny and there are rough, dry patches across my cheeks.
“More worryingly, I don’t remember thinking my skin actually looked this bad.
“As a full-time mother to Callan, 11, and Amy, seven, I have little time to worry about my appearance — I’m too busy rushing them to school, after-school clubs and doing the housework.
“I can get half-way through the day before realising I’m not wearing any make-up. Even though I’m not vain, I am aware of my skin’s failings. It’s dry, not just on my face but all over my body, and — as you can see — red and flushed.
“I’ve had broken, red veins around my nose since I was a teenager and, in spite of the dryness, a greasy nose and forehead.
“I don’t think I drink an awful lot, but if giving up alcohol helps my skin, especially the redness, it’s worth it. Even more so if it can help me lose weight!
“Within days of giving up drinking, my skin has improved dramatically. The redness has lifted, although the thread veins around my nose are still visible and my forehead and neck are a little rosy. Most excitingly, my eyes are brighter — it hadn’t even occurred to me they looked dull before.”
Dr Lowe says: “Alcohol makes skin look red or flushed, which is more obvious in paler complexions like Laura’s. In both the ‘before’ picture and the ‘after one week’ picture her face looks red. It can take weeks of no drinking for the blood vessels to constrict fully and redness to disappear altogether.
“If you drink regularly over a number of years — and especially in larger quantities — small peripheral veins can become permanently enlarged after being repetitively expanded, causing thread veins and permanent skin damage.”
Laura says: “What a miracle! I’m sleeping for longer in the mornings and getting up less frequently during the night.
“Before, I might have woken up once or twice — whether I’d had a drink or not — but now I am sleeping like a baby. It might have helped that it was also the school holidays, so the children were sleeping in as well, but I am definitely waking up feeling brighter and more alert.
“I’ve also noticed that in the evenings I’m not snacking as much. Normally I’d crave crisps with my usual glass of wine, but sipping a glass of lime and soda means I don’t feel like junk food. The urge just isn’t there.
“This week also saw our 13th wedding anniversary. My husband Euan took me out to a lovely restaurant overlooking the River Forth. When he ordered a tall, cool beer, I had real cravings for a glass of rosé. It got worse when the table next to us started popping corks. I ordered a pink lemonade instead to distract myself. At least Euan was happy, as there was no discussion over who was driving home!”
Dr Lowe says: “Laura’s cheeks look puffy and swollen and there’s a lingering redness still — although it’s less obvious now. The spider veins remain on her lips and nose, but these might take longer to go, if at all. Facial puffiness is caused by the gentle leakage of fluid from enlarged blood vessels.
“During the night, when we lie flat for a number of hours, this fluid tends to accumulate around our eye-lids and cheeks. This is because lying down helps gravity push it in that direction, but also because this is where the skin is loosest and therefore has the most room to accommodate excess fluid.
“During the day, as we stand up and move about, the trapped fluids are released back into circulation, so the facial swelling reduces. After a period of time without alcohol, our blood vessels constrict, so less fluid will accumulate in the first place and skin will look less swollen after a night’s rest.”
Laura says: “By now I’m noticing a difference in my skin’s dryness, and not just on my face. It sounds unpleasant, but when I used to take off leggings or trousers I often noticed dry flakes of skin left behind. Now there’s hardly anything.
“Equally the backs of my hands are looking less dry and — unless I’m imagining it — marginally less wrinkly.
“When my mother visited this week, she said how less blotchy I was looking — success! A friend also said my skin tone looked more even.
“Euan and I have noticed less of a difference day-by-day. That’s probably because it’s such a gradual change, but friends and family are noticing the improvement in my appearance which has given me a real thrill.
“This has made me feel braver and more confident. I left my hand-mirror at home for a weekend camping trip this week and only took a couple of face wipes and a small pot of moisturiser — and still I got compliments. I did miss having a glass of wine around the camp fire, but the nice comments more than made up for that.”
Dr Lowe says: “There’s a significant reduction in facial redness, even around Laura’s nose and lips. She looks healthier, less puffy and slimmer, especially around her cheeks and jowls.
“Stopping drinking alcohol means you reduce your calorie intake. There are up to 185 calories in a large glass of wine. Not only that, alcohol has the secondary effect of stimulating appetite, so I’m not surprised Laura isn’t snacking as much.
“Drinking alcohol also makes the skin dry because increased blood flow though the skin speeds everything up and stimulates skin cells to renew and shed quicker.
“Studies have shown high levels of alcohol consumption can also exacerbate dry skin conditions such as psoriasis and facial eczema.”
Laura says: “While Euan hasn’t noticed my mood changing, by week four I’m feeling invigorated and so much better in myself.
“I’m getting fewer headaches and have much more energy. My lips are less dry, too — I usually get a cold sore almost every week — but since ditching the booze not a single one has appeared.
“Better still, I’ve lost 3lb and my face definitely looks slimmer. I have to admit, it’s been far easier to abstain from alcohol than I’d feared. I said no to a few barbecues, just in case I was tempted, but I’ve enjoyed feeling healthier and brighter, especially in the mornings.
“On the whole, the month has sailed by. I’m going to try and stick to the no drinking rule — or at least cut out alcohol during the week. I’ve only had one major lapse since the end of my booze-free month. It was the very first night after the experiment and I went out with a group of friends to celebrate.
“We drank far too much, and guess what? When I woke in the morning I looked red as anything and noticed a small dry patch of skin had re-emerged. It just goes to show alcohol does a lot worse than just give you a hangover!”
Dr Lowe says: “Although the changes between the final two weeks are subtler, this last photo shows a much improved Laura. Her eyes are more open and brighter. This, again, is because of the increased blood flow caused by alcohol. If more blood passes through the eye’s surface, it looks duller and more bloodshot.
“After four weeks without alcohol, the blood vessels have constricted and her eyes are bright white once more. By now the redness across her cheeks and neck has vastly diminished and the thread veins around her nose have largely disappeared.
“This is a classic example of what I’d hope to see for someone who has given up alcohol — and if she sticks to it, she’ll only feel and look even better.” - Daily Mail