Could your alcohol intake be affecting your acne?

If you have acne, you probably try to avoid foods that are commonly believed to potentially trigger or worsen your acne like chocolate or fried foods. Though the evidence for any food actually affecting acne is questionable, alcohol is probably not something you might have considered. There are a number of indirect ways that alcohol could potentially be involved in triggering or worsening acne.

First, in men, there is evidence to show that alcohol intake increases testosterone levels (Sarkola T 2003) (Jensen TK 2014). We know that hormones play a major role in causing acne. That’s why most of us will first start getting spots in our teenage years, when we start producing more hormones. Androgens, including testosterone, are the specific hormones that are thought to trigger acne in both men and women. Both low dose one-off intake as well as chronic consumption of alcohol increases testosterone levels, this could be potentially one controllable factor in managing acne.

Second, after a night of drinking, some of the alcohol comes out in your sweat and it could potentially be food for a bacterium that lives on your skin called cutibacterium acnes (formerly Propionibacterium acnes) (Smith KE 2000). This bacterium lives mainly deep in the pores on your face. It is a normal commensal on and in the skin but when it is fed the bacteria replicate. They can damage the lining of the hair follicle which leads to an inflammatory response to the damage cells and the metabolic debris and this results in the development of acne vulgaris.

Finally, long-term chronic alcohol intake suppresses your immune system which can allow bacteria to grow and multiply and this can disrupt the normal balance of microbes on the skin, thus leading to the development of acne (Szabo G 2015).

Before you quit alcohol entirely purely for the sake of your spots, it is important to emphasise that the true impact of alcohol on acne is still unknown since there are no proper clinical trials proving causality yet – so the link between alcohol and acne is still hypothetical. But it’s never a bad idea to perhaps reduce your intake of alcohol in general if it is a little bit on the high side for your health in general and if it helps your acne improve, that’s just an extra bonus.