Alcohol and Your Face: Why Do You Get Puffy or Red After Drinking?

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It’s well-documented that alcohol can cause serious health problems. But it’s not only your liver, heart, brain, and other internal organs that suffer. Heavy drinking also has a negative impact on your skin and face.

You may notice redness, puffiness, increased acne and wrinkles, and other unpleasant side effects. Long-term heavy drinking causes premature aging and the dulling of your complexion, too.

Read on to learn how and why alcohol damages your physical appearance, and what you can do about it.

Why Do Excessive Drinkers Have Red Faces?

man looking in mirror while shaving
Photo by Supply on Unsplash

Among the many ways alcohol affects your skin, a persistently red face is one sign you’re drinking too much. But why does this occur?

Alcohol triggers inflammation throughout the body, including the skin. It can also cause your blood vessels to dilate or even break, giving your face a redder appearance even when you aren’t drinking. Alcohol can even cause or increase the appearance of spider veins on your face, and worsen conditions like rosacea.

A study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology noted that alcohol consumption increases the risk of rosacea in women. Rosacea is a chronic skin condition that causes redness and/or small, red bumps on the face. For those who already have rosacea, drinking alcohol frequently triggers flare-ups.

Does Alcohol Make Your Face Bloated?

Sometimes, people also develop a puffy face from drinking too much alcohol. Alcohol causes bloating for several reasons.

As mentioned above, drinking large amounts of alcohol results in inflammation throughout the body. Alcohol often leads to weight gain as well. Most types of alcohol are calorie-dense, and are often combined with mixers containing sugar. Depending on what you drink, just one beverage can hold anywhere from fifty to hundreds of calories.

Alcohol also dehydrates you. As a result, your skin and organs try to hold on to as much water as possible, creating a puffy appearance. This is commonly known as edema, and it can often affect your appearance the morning after.

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Why Does My Face Turn Red When Drinking Alcohol?

It’s not only long-term heavy drinking that can cause a red face. Sometimes during a night of drinking alcohol, you may notice that your face appears flushed. This is called alcohol flush reaction, and can mean that your body is somewhat alcohol intolerant.

Alcohol flush reaction usually happens due to a genetic deficiency in an enzyme called aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 (ALDH2). This enzyme helps break down acetaldehyde, a toxic substance produced when your body breaks down alcohol.

When your body doesn’t have enough ALDH2, acetaldehyde can build up more quickly in your body, causing symptoms like flushing. You may also experience nausea, vomiting, a headache, and a rapid heartbeat.

In the moment, this reaction may simply be unpleasant and not cause any serious harm. But it is worth noting that those with ALDH2 deficiency may be at higher risk for head, neck, and esophageal cancer from drinking. Flushing when you drink alcohol may be a sign that you’re best off not drinking.

How To Get Rid of Puffy Face From Alcohol

woman covering her face with her hand
Photo by Lucia Macedo on Unsplash

Since puffiness is largely caused by dehydration, drinking plenty of water can limit bloating. It’s best to drink water before, during, and after drinking alcohol. This helps combat bloating in both your face and stomach. It also reduces alcohol’s inflammatory effects on the body.

Carbonated beverages and beer make bloating worse, so it’s best to steer clear of these drinks if puffiness is a concern. You might also eat and drink more slowly, get regular exercise, and limit salty foods.

How To Get Rid of Red Face From Alcohol

It’s difficult to get rid of long-term facial redness from drinking, especially if it’s due to rosacea or spider veins. Your best bet is to limit the damage by quitting drinking. If that’s not an option, you can cut back on your consumption of alcohol.

Temporary flushing, on the other hand, can be limited with certain medications. These include H2 blockers like Zantac, Pepcid, and Tagamet. Topical creams used to treat rosacea, like brimonidine and oxymetazoline, can also help.

Still, the only way to completely prevent facial flushing from alcohol is to drink less or stop drinking entirely. And considering the increased risks for ALDH2-deficient individuals, this is a wise course of action.

Alcoholic Nose

You may also have heard the term “alcoholic nose,” sometimes called “bulbous nose.” The technical name for this condition is rhinophyma, and it refers to a nose that is large, red, and bumpy in appearance.

Recent research suggests this condition is similar to severe rosacea, and not linked to excessive drinking as widely thought. However, alcohol can aggravate and worsen symptoms of this condition. Heavy drinking dilates blood vessels, causes flushing, and can make rhinophyma more apparent.

Summary: What Alcohol Does To Your Face

Overall, excessive consumption of alcohol affects your face in several ways, including:

  • Puffiness and bloating
  • Redness/flushing
  • Development of spider veins
  • Early aging due to dehydration
  • A duller complexion, also due to dehydration
  • Breakouts, especially if you consume drinks that are high in sugar (e.g. cocktails and white wine)

And because alcohol weakens your immune system, heavy drinking may make it more difficult to control existing skin conditions like eczema and rosacea.

In summary, it’s not just the inside of your body that takes a hit when you drink to excess. If you want to stay physically healthy from the inside out, limiting your alcohol use is key. Ria Health offers new options for controlling your drinking—100 percent online. Our telehealth program has already helped thousands of people cut back or quit using alcohol, all without having to put their lives on hold.

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Written By:
Ashley Cullins
Ashley Cullins is a writer with a passion for creating engaging, understandable content on complex topics like addiction and mental health. She has over five years of experience writing for healthcare websites and publications. Having experienced addiction first-hand in her family, Ashley deeply connects with Ria Health’s mission to make treatment easier and more accessible. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her daughter, reading, and cooking.
Reviewed By:
Evan O'Donnell
Evan O’Donnell is an NYC-based content strategist with four years’ experience writing and editing in the recovery space. He has conducted research in sound, cognition, and community building, has a background in independent music marketing, and continues to work as a composer. Evan is a deep believer in fact-based, empathic communication—within business, arts, academia, or any space where words drive action or change lives.
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