Does Alcohol Cause Acne?


Acne is a common skin condition that affects people of all ages. While acne is most often associated with teenagers and hormonal changes during puberty, many adults continue to struggle with breakouts well into adulthood. This has led many acne sufferers to question what causes and exacerbates their pimples, hoping to gain better control over their complexion. One common culprit that often gets blamed for acne is alcohol.

So does drinking alcohol really cause acne? Keep reading to learn the truth about the association between alcohol consumption and acne.

Does Alcohol Cause Acne

How Are Acne and Alcohol Connected?

Many people are quick to point the finger at alcohol when it comes to acne breakouts. After a night of drinking leads to a crop of new zits, it seems like an obvious cause and effect. But is alcohol consumption really to blame for exacerbating acne? Or could other factors be at play?

The relationship between drinking alcohol and acne is complicated. There are a few different ways that alcohol may negatively impact acne, but alcohol itself does not directly cause pimples to form. However, alcohol consumption can worsen and prolong acne in some individuals.

Alcohol and Inflammation

One way that alcohol can exacerbate acne is by triggering inflammation. Acne lesions form when pores become clogged with excess oil and dead skin cells. This provides the ideal environment for p. acnes bacteria to multiply and cause inflammation.

Drinking alcohol, especially in large amounts, causes inflammation throughout the body. This systemic inflammation can further inflame pimples and make them larger and more painful.

Alcohol, Blood Sugar, and Hormones

Consuming alcoholic beverages causes spikes and crashes in blood sugar levels. It also increases some hormone levels while decreasing others. These fluctuations can overstimulate oil glands and increase acne flare-ups in some people.

Alcohol and Sleep

Alcohol consumption affects sleep quality by altering sleep architecture. Drinking before bed makes it more difficult to fall into the deeper, regenerative stages of sleep. Poor sleep is associated with worsening acne, according to research. Lack of quality sleep leads to increased inflammation and higher stress hormones, both of which contribute to breakouts.

Alcohol and Dehydration

Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it causes the body to lose more fluid than it takes in. Dehydration negatively affects all skin types, leaving the complexion looking dull and promoting new acne lesions.

What Types of Alcoholic Beverages Are Most Likely to Cause Acne?

Not all alcoholic beverages affect the skin in the same way. Some drinks are more comedogenic (pore-clogging) and more dehydrating than others. Here's a look at which types of alcohol are most problematic for acne-prone skin:

  • Beer - Beer is full of simple carbs and sugars that cause blood sugar and hormone fluctuations. The yeast and gluten in beer can also promote inflammation.
  • Sugary mixed drinks - Pre-mixed cocktails like margaritas and daiquiris are loaded with sugar. The high sugar content leads to surges in insulin and androgen hormones, which increases oil production.
  • Dark liquors - Dark spirits like bourbon, rum, brandy, and whiskey have a high congeners content. Congeners are volatile compounds that cause inflammation and hangover symptoms.
  • Dry wines - Dry red and white wines tend to be lower in sugar and carbs than beer or mixed drinks. They also contain antioxidants like resveratrol that combat inflammation.

In general, clear liquors like vodka, tequila, and gin are less likely to worsen acne than darker drinks. But this also depends on what mixers are being added to cocktails. Simple combinations like vodka soda or gin and tonic are better options for clear skin.

How Much Alcohol Causes Acne?

Moderate alcohol intake is unlikely to cause major acne flare-ups in most people. Those who already deal with frequent breakouts may find that any amount of alcohol makes their acne worse. This varies greatly on an individual basis.

Binge drinking and heavy alcohol consumption does promote inflammation and hormone changes that exacerbate acne. Limiting alcohol intake to 1-2 servings 1-2 times per week is unlikely to significantly worsen acne in the majority of cases.

Here are some general guidelines on alcohol amounts that could trigger acne breakouts:

  • Women: More than 4 drinks in a single day or 8 drinks per week
  • Men: More than 5 drinks in a single day or 15 drinks per week

Of course, individual factors play a major role. Genetics, lifestyle habits, diet, stress levels, and skin type can all affect how much alcohol consumption aggravates acne. Pay attention to how your own skin reacts after drinking different amounts of alcohol.

Many people don't want to give up drinking altogether to keep their skin clear. Here are some tips to prevent alcohol-fueled acne flare-ups:

  • Stick to clear liquors - Vodka, gin, silver tequila, and other distilled spirits are less likely to cause breakouts than beer, wine, or dark liquors.
  • Avoid sugary mixers - Skip the sugary juices, sodas, and syrups in mixed drinks. Opt for soda water, tonic, or lime juice as mixers.
  • Alternate alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks - Have a glass of water between each alcoholic beverage to stay hydrated.
  • Limit yourself to 2 drinks max - Consuming more than 2 servings of alcohol at a time can trigger increased oil production and inflammation.
  • Take a probiotic supplement - Probiotics can help counteract the gut microbiome disruptions caused by alcohol.
  • Cleanse skin and hydrate before bed - Remove makeup and wash face thoroughly before bed after drinking. Apply a nourishing night cream.
  • Load up on antioxidants - Eat plenty of antioxidant-rich fruits, veggies, and foods with vitamin C to fight inflammation.

Being mindful of how alcohol affects your skin and taking preventive steps can help keep acne-prone skin clear. But if breakouts persist, it may be necessary to cut back or eliminate drinking altogether.


Can drinking alcohol cause acne breakouts? The relationship is complex, but there does appear to be a connection between alcohol consumption and exacerbated acne.

Drinking alcohol leads to increased inflammation, blood sugar fluctuations, hormone changes, and dehydration - all of which can worsen acne. Binge and heavy drinking is more likely to trigger breakouts than moderate intake.

While alcohol alone does not directly cause acne, it can aggravate preexisting acne in prone individuals. Pay attention to how your own skin reacts to help determine if alcohol is a contributing factor to your breakouts. Take steps to prevent alcohol-related acne by choosing clear liquors, staying hydrated, and limiting overall consumption.

While alcohol may play a role in acne flares for some, acne ultimately forms as a result of multiple internal and external factors. Don't blame every pimple solely on your drinking habits. Instead, take a holistic approach to acne treatment that addresses diet, lifestyle, genetics, stress, and more. Work with a dermatologist to develop an acne-fighting regimen tailored to your unique needs.

With a proper skincare routine, healthy lifestyle choices, and natural or prescription acne remedies, you can enjoy clear skin with the occasional drink if you so choose. Alcohol doesn't have to be a dealbreaker for your dream complexion.

Frequently Asked Questions About Alcohol and Acne

Does drinking alcohol cause more acne breakouts?

Alcohol alone does not directly cause acne. However, alcohol consumption can worsen existing acne in some people due to increased inflammation, blood sugar fluctuations, hormone changes and dehydration caused by drinking. Binge and heavy drinking has a stronger link to acne flares.

Why do some people break out after drinking alcohol?

Alcohol raises levels of androgens, insulin, and inflammatory markers for some individuals. This can overstimulate oil glands, lead to extra sebum production, and cause inflammation. People prone to acne are more likely to experience breakouts after drinking.

Does the type of alcohol matter when it comes to acne?

Yes, certain types of alcoholic drinks are more likely to worsen acne due to their carbohydrate, sugar, and congeners content. Beer, sugary mixed drinks, and dark liquors like whiskey tend to be the most comedogenic options. Clear liquors like vodka and gin or dry wines are less likely to cause acne.

Is wine or beer worse for your skin?

Beer is generally more acnegenic than wine, as it contains more carbs, yeast, and gluten. However, dry wines are better options than sweet wines for acne-prone skin, due to their lower sugar content.

Can rubbing alcohol help treat acne?

No, rubbing alcohol should never be applied directly to skin. It can dry out skin excessively, cause irritation and inflammation, and worsen acne overall. Always use acne products formulated for face application.

Does alcohol consumption cause acne scars?

No, scarring occurs as acne lesions heal, not directly from drinking alcohol. However, alcohol can worsen inflammatory acne lesions, which do increase the risk of permanent scarring. It's important to treat acne properly to avoid scarring.

Should you avoid alcohol if you have acne?

It's not necessary to avoid alcohol completely if you have acne, but moderation is key. Limit intake to 1-2 drinks maximum per day, choose clear liquors, stay hydrated, and pay attention to how your skin reacts. Avoid binge drinking.

What's the best way to prevent acne after drinking?

To help prevent alcohol-related breakouts, stick to clear liquors like vodka and gin, avoid sugary mixers, alternate alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, drink plenty of water, take probiotics, and maintain your regular acne skincare routine.

Will cutting out alcohol get rid of acne?

Eliminating alcohol may help improve acne for some people, but other factors like genetics, diet, stress and hormones also play a role. For moderate drinkers, cutting out alcohol alone is unlikely to resolve acne entirely. A combination approach is best.

Should you stop drinking alcohol if you're taking isotretinoin?

Yes, you should avoid alcohol completely while taking isotretinoin due to the medication's liver toxicity. Combining isotretinoin and alcohol raises your risk for severe liver damage. Always follow your dermatologist's recommendations.

Can alcohol cause acne later in life or as an adult?

Yes, acne persists past the teenage years for many people. Hormonal fluctuations, inflammation, and other factors can trigger adult acne flares related to alcohol consumption in those who are prone to breakouts.

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