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Does Alcohol Affect Your Skin? I Gave Up Wine for 2 Weeks to Find Out

And honestly, wow.

When I left behind the celebrity-fueled city of Los Angeles earlier this year in favor of the isolated desert town of Joshua Tree, California, I expected to find ~enlightenment~. But instead, I found wine. Lots of wine. So much wine. Sure, life in the high desert was charming and idyllic at times, but it was also kind of boring, leading me to spend most nights curled up on the couch, sipping on a glass (or two, or three) of cabernet sauvignon.

At first, I was fine with it; it was just a little indulgence, right? But after a few weeks of my nightly ritual, I noticed that my body wasn’t feeling particularly great anymore. In fact, after a month in my new living situation, it became clear that my sensitive and acne-prone skin was way drier, itchier, and more inflamed than usual. I couldn’t help but wonder: Was this "little indulgence" ruining my skin?

I mean, sure, we all know a boozy-night out doesn’t exactly leave you with a plump and radiant face the next morning, but what about a nightly glass of wine? That's gotta be harmless, right? And that’s when I started reading Sober Curious, a new book by author Ruby Warrington about the concept of mindful drinking—i.e. living a life that doesn’t involve guzzling two glasses of wine out of habit, especially if they make you feel shitty. The benefits of a sober-curious life can include better sleep, greater focus, and yes, even happier, glowier skin—AKA all the things that my Netflix-and-chilled-rosé lifestyle was lacking.

So, in the spirit of better skin, I devised a little self-imposed challenge: I’d cut alcohol out of my routine for 14 days, document the whole thing in #selfies, and see if the sober-curious life was really the key to excellent skin. And if it worked…well, I guess I’d have to find a new hobby in Joshua Tree.

 

The Actual Experiment

Obviously, refraining from drinking for two weeks isn’t some impressive feat for most people—but considering I had worked my way up to a few drinks every single night, I was slightly nervous that my challenge might reveal that I was, as Warrington puts it, “probably kind of just a little bit addicted to booze.” Or, more accurately, a little mentally dependent on it. Would I feel left out when my husband ordered a drink at our town’s single dive bar? Would I crave wine? Would I cave?

I shouldn’t have worried. As it turns out, I’m vain enough to give up just about anything if clear, glowing skin is waiting at the finish line.

 

Days 1-3

The first few days of the challenge flew by without note. I still had a handful of deep, cystic bumps lingering on my chin and cheeks, and I didn’t see or feel any real changes. Except for the lonely cry of my empty wine glasses.

By day four, however, I did notice a difference—just not in my skin. The quality of my sleep was definitely better. I typically wake up two or three times in the middle of the night and fight to get back into REM cycle. But for the first time in a while, I slept for seven hours straight. It’s a bit of a paradox: Wine makes us sleepy (I have one friend who has a glass every night before bed for precisely this reason), but it also “interrupts our natural sleep cycle,” says Warrington (and doctors everywhere). Without the pre-bedtime booze, my sleep was better than ever.

 

Days 4-7

With my sleep schedule back on track, I noticed an unexpected bonus: My usual dark circles and puffy eyes had practically disappeared in under a week. The only negative? I was also having a serious and constant urge to eat chocolate, probably because my body was craving the sugar I usually fed it in the form of wine.

Despite indulging in some Sour Patch Kids to take the edge off (hey, the challenge was about wine, not candy), I realized my stomach looked slightly less bloated than usual. Warrington experienced the same when she gave up alcohol. “Since I quit drinking, my IBS has completely gone away—and I still eat cheese and gluten,” she says. “I believe this is directly related to my improved gut health.”

 

Days 8-11

Finally, I started seeing the light at the end of the acne-ridden tunnel around day eight or nine. Most of my inflammation was down; where there used to be raised bumps, there was now just lingering redness. Not only that, but my face felt perma-moisturized—the patches of dry, flaking skin I had when the challenge began had pretty much disappeared.

 

Days 12-14

By the final few days, I couldn’t deny that my skin was better—not loads better, but better. Some of the subtle changes I saw: reduced inflammation, fewer pimples, brighter eyes, more hydrated skin, less bloating, and better sleep. The results of my experiment, while not necessarily groundbreaking, were enough to convince me that my skin (and body, in general) was better off without my nightly booze.

 

Cool, But Does It REALLY Work?

Considering I’m not a scientist, and that my experiment was limited and uncontrolled, I went to the experts to see if my results were a blissful coincidence or a medical reality. Thankfully, it was the latter. “Alcohol triggers inflammation in the body, so it’s not surprising that avoiding it affected how your skin looks,” says dermatologist Jennifer Vickers, M.D., of Sanova Dermatology in Texas.

In case you need a refresher, “inflammation” leads to the fun stuff you hate, like acne, dermatitis, and redness—all of which are especially heightened in anyone with rosacea or psoriasis. And, since alcohol causes dehydration, it’ll also affect your fluid retention in the form of puffy skin and under-eye bags, as well as lead to a drier skin barrier, which can make fine lines more pronounced.

But wait! There’s more! “On a cellular level, there’s evidence to suggest that alcohol can also cause advanced aging of our cells—including skin cells,” she says. So you can go ahead and add premature wrinkles and age spots to that side-effects list, too. Yay!

 

WTF! This All Sucks!

Yes, it does. But, hey, I’m not your mom, and neither is Dr. Vickers (probably)—who, for the record, says there’s likely no harm in “one night or weekend out on the town,” or, in my case, out on the couch—so drink whatever you want, whenever you want. But as for my nightly wine? It’s a no-go, unless I want to deal with the skin and health effects.

Which, honestly, I might. The results of my experiment weren’t stunning enough to convince me to skip wine indefinitely, but they were promising enough to make me want to cut back a bit. Though, based on Dr. Vickers’ feedback, I’ve learned that two weeks probably wasn’t enough time to fully understand alcohol’s effects on my acne. It was, however, enough to prove that half a bottle of wine every night isn’t doing me any favors. And that’s almost as good as meditation, right?