Those who abuse alcohol or are alcohol dependent are much more likely to develop an alcohol-related skin rash or skin condition.
Skin rashes caused by alcohol are usually not dangerous. However, several different factors can cause a person to develop a rash during alcohol use. These factors are key to determining whether an alcohol-related rash is a potential health risk or not.
If you or a loved one suffer from a skin reaction when you drink alcohol, looking at your drinking patterns and other possible contributing factors can help you decide whether or not it is something you need to seek help for.
This article looks at the various types of skin reactions and skin conditions that can occur during alcohol use, other factors that can contribute to a rash developing during alcohol use, and which of these alcohol-related skin reactions are a serious cause for concern.
Alcohol consumption can sometimes lead to skin reactions like:
- Skin redness
- Skin flushing
Causes of alcohol-related skin rashes and skin conditions
Abusing alcohol and drinking excessively can affect the appearance of your skin in many ways, and not in a good way!
Skin conditions that can be triggered or worsened as a result of excessive alcohol use include:
- Spider veins
- Bacterial skin infections
- Fungal skin infections
- Premature ageing of the skin
- Generalised pruritus
While skin conditions can be caused by other factors such as genetics, environment, and food intolerances, alcohol’s toxins have been shown to destroy good bacteria and adversely affect many bodily functions essential for healthy skin. 9
Causes of alcohol-related skin reactions:
Genetics can affect how the body processes alcohol. Facial flushing after drinking alcohol is particularly common in people with East Asian ancestry.
● Alcohol & Interactions with medications
Many medications do not mix well with alcohol and can cause adverse effects, including skin rashes and facial flushing. Metronidazole is a commonly prescribed antibiotic and can cause very unpleasant side effects when mixed with alcohol, including skin rash, facial flushing, stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhoea.
Disulfiram is a type of medication prescribed to support abstinence from alcohol use in those who suffer from an alcohol use disorder. Mixing even a small amount of alcohol with Disulfiram is very dangerous and can cause extreme vomiting, diarrhoea, stomach pain, sweating, dizziness and skin rashes.
● Alcohols ingredients
Aside from ethanol, different alcoholic drinks contain many different ingredients, impurities and preservatives. If a person is allergic to or intolerant of an ingredient in a certain type of alcohol, they will experience an allergy-type reaction that includes skin flushing and rashes. If you know that you have an allergy or an intolerance to a specific ingredient, always check the ingredients within alcohol before consuming.
Alcohol and skin flushing
Some people experience temporary flushing of the skin when they drink alcohol. This usually happens in the face but can also spread to the neck and chest. This is generally not a problem unless it frequently occurs, which can be a sign of alcohol abuse.
Flushing of the skin when a person drinks alcohol is caused by a chemical by-product called Acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde is produced as the body breaks down alcohol and is thought to stimulate the release of histamines, which in turn causes facial flushing.
Transient flushing is usually due to a person’s individual biological make-up and is not a cause for concern. The redness will usually fade as alcohol leaves the body.
Alcohol can also increase a person’s heart rate, body temperature and blood pressure, especially when abused. This, in turn, can cause facial flushing by enlarging the blood vessels in the face.
Experiencing a ‘red face’ when drinking is generally not a problem unless it remains when you are not consuming alcohol or is accompanied by a racing heart.
A persistently red face is one of the early signs of alcohol abuse and is caused by constantly enlarged blood vessels in the face and broken capillaries. Up close, you will be able to see the presence of thin red capillaries underneath the skin’s surface. This condition is known as Telangiectasia and can be caused by factors other than alcohol. However, If you suffer from telangiectasia or persistent flushing, you may want to evaluate your alcohol consumption to ensure drinking is within safe limits.
Alcohol and Psoriasis
Excessive alcohol consumption can cause the development of a new case of Psoriasis or cause the worsening of an existing Psoriasis condition.
Psoriasis can develop at any point in a person’s life and affect different parts of the body, including arms, torso, scalp, face, genitals and fingers.
Psoriasis is particularly prominent on the hands and fingers.
Those with alcohol-related psoriasis are also more complex to treat, as many of the effective medications prescribed to treat topical resistant psoriasis cannot be safely taken with alcohol.
It has also be found that people who develop psoriasis in response to a high alcohol intake are also more prone to depression.
Alcohol and Eczema
Alcohol can cause ‘flare ups’ of an existing eczema condition. Alcohol dehydrates the body and suppresses the immune system for several hours after use. This alone can be enough to trigger a flare-up of eczema.
Eczema presents as very itchy, red and inflamed discs or patterns of dehydrated skin and can affect anyone at any point in their life. However, it has been found that males suffering from chronic alcoholism are more prone to developing alcohol-related eczema.
Discoid eczema, which presents in raised round discs of intensely itchy skin, is often associated with abnormal liver function resulting from alcohol abuse.
Image of Discoid Eczema – Discoid eczema can be caused or worsened by alcoholism and impaired liver function.
Immunosuppressant medications that would normally be prescribed for treatment-resistant eczemas, such as Methotrexate, increase the risk of liver damage. When immunosuppressant medications are combined with alcohol, the risk of sustaining alcohol-related liver damage is vastly increased.
Chronic alcohol use also prevents the absorption of essential vitamins, including B vitamins and vitamin C. These vitamins are important for skin health and the immune system. Not getting enough vitamin C and B vitamins would worsen any existing skin condition and contribute to developing a new skin condition.
Alcohol and Rosacea
Researchers also found that the risk of developing Rosacea increased with the amount of alcohol consumed. Women who drank white wine or spirits were at higher risk of developing Rosacea.
Whilst drinking excessively can increase your risk of developing the facial skin condition Rosacea, it is important to note that not all sufferers of Rosacea drink or drink to excess.
A skin rash can indicate liver damage.
Liver damage can be sustained through prolonged and heavy drinking as the liver suffers damage through repeated exposure to alcohol’s toxins.
If you drink heavily and develop any of the following symptoms, please see your doctor immediately and get help to stop drinking.
Skin rashes that are signs of liver damage:
- Severe itching in one particular spot
- Developing ‘spider veins’
- Brown patches – hyperpigmentation
- Patches of dehydrated skin
These symptoms may also be accompanied by yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes and abdominal pain and swelling.
Ignoring the signs of liver damage can be fatal. You must seek medical and professional help if you think your liver may be damaged as a result of drinking.
Alcohol Skin Rash Pictures
If you are experiencing a skin reaction to alcohol, you may be interested to know what kind of skin reaction it is. The following images are typical skin conditions that can be triggered or worsened by excessive alcohol use.
A doctor should see any rash that occurs when you drink alcohol to gain a correct diagnosis and treatment.
Alcohol can cause some people to experience hives – red, itchy, inflamed bumps on the skin. This type of skin reaction is more associated with alcohol intolerance.
Picture of alcohol-related Psoriasis rash – When abused or used excessively, alcohol can increase the likelihood of developing psoriasis. It can also make an existing condition worse.
Alcohol abuse, alcohol dependence and alcohol addiction can lead to liver cirrhosis. As your liver becomes unable to process alcohol’s toxins effectively, this will show in your skin. Your skin may become spotty, bumpy, and itchy; it may also turn yellow due to liver damage. Liver cirrhosis cannot be cured and can be fatal; it can only be prevented from getting worse by giving up alcohol.
Picture of Spider veins’ – Spider angiomas and other Telangiectasias – Excessive alcohol abuse can cause spider veins to develop. This is a warning sign that your liver is not coping, and you should seek immediate help to stop drinking.
Picture of alcohol-related Rosacea – Excessive alcohol use can cause a skin condition characterized by redness and broken capillaries on the face. It can also cause an existing Rosacea condition to worsen.
Picture of Liver palms – Redness and itchiness of the palms of the hands and soles of the feet can indicate alcohol-related liver damage or gallbladder problems. If you suffer from this and drink heavily, you should seek immediate help to stop drinking and consult your doctor.
Picture of alcohol-related Eczema – Excessive drinking can trigger the onset of eczema. It can also trigger eczema flare-ups and make an existing eczema condition worse and more complex to treat.
Source: Everday Health
Alcohol and skin cancer
The Cancer Prevention Committee of the American Society of Clinical Oncology has recommended minimizing drinking alcohol, as it is thought to be a “modifiable risk factor for cancer”. Alcohol is estimated to be responsible for 3.5% of all cancer deaths that occur in the United States.
Whilst it is recommended to keep within the safe drinking guidelines to keep the risks of skin cancer to a minimum, there have been varying results from the mountains of scientific research conducted over the years.
It is worth noting that one particular study on alcohol and cancer found a 20% increase in skin melanoma in drinkers (compared to those that drank occasionally or not at all). The same study showed that for those that consumed the equivalent of 5 or more beers a day, there was a 55% increase in the risk of developing skin cancer.
With these kinds of statistics, and the fact that Cancer Research UK estimates that as many as 1 in every 2 people will develop a form of cancer during their lifetime, is it really worth adding a potential risk?!
When to see a doctor about an alcohol skin rash
Suffering from a rash from drinking alcohol is a cause for concern and is not something you should ignore. Likewise, if you repeatedly experience rashes that come and go with consuming alcohol, this is also something to get checked out medically.
Suffering from an alcohol use disorder, accompanied by a worsening skin condition, could well indicate that your liver isn’t coping. If this describes you or someone you love, we urge you to seek help for your drinking and see your doctor.
If you have concerns regarding your drinking and need professional help to stop, call Detox Plus UK today for a free alcohol treatment assessment and expert advice.
Alcohol rashes can be mostly harmless. On the other hand, they can be a visual indicator of something more sinister going on. It is always recommended to speak to a medical professional.
References and sources:
- What is Telangiectasia? – https://dermnetnz.org/topics/telangiectasia/
- Acute alcohol sensitivity. (2018).
- Alcohol and Cancer: A statement of the American Society of Clinical Oncology .https://ascopubs.org/doi/full/10.1200/JCO.2017.76.1155
- Is there a link between alcohol and cancer? https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/loose-link-alcohol-skin-cancer-2017120812861
- Alcohol intake and treatment responsiveness of psoriasis: a prospective study.Gupta M, Schork N, Gupta A, et al. J Am Acad Dermatol 1993;28:730-2.
- Spider Angiomas in Patients with Liver Cirrhosis: Role of Alcoholism and Impaired Liver Function Li CP, Lee FY, Hwang SJ.. Scand J Gastroenterol 1999; 5: 520-523
- The effects of alcohol and drug abuse on the skin – Clinics in Dermatology 2010; Liu SW, Lien MH, Fenske NA. 28: 391–399.
- Does drinking cause Rosacea? https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/rosacea/insider/drinking
- Cutaneous effects of alcohol https://dermnetnz.org/topics/cutaneous-adverse-effects-of-alcohol/
- Asian Flushing – Genetic and Sociocultural factors of alcohol https://journals.lww.com/gastroenterologynursing/Abstract/2014/09000/Asian_Flushing__Genetic_and_Sociocultural_Factors.3.aspx
- Metronidazole – information leaflet https://dailymed.nlm.nih.gov/dailymed/drugInfo.cfm?setid=26f27760-6e13-4c6c-929a-5e13371da92a
- Disulfiram – https://bnf.nice.org.uk/drug/disulfiram.html
- Hepatitis C. (2017). https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/liver-disease/viral-hepatitis/hepatitis-c