Wine may not be the first thing you consider when you think about skin care, but your favorite beverage can play an important role in both the appearance and health of the body's largest organ. From alcohol's dehydrating effects to beauty products infused with wine polyphenols, Wine Spectator rounded up recent research and consulted experts in the field to explore the ways in which wine and skin health are related.
When you wake up after a night of drinking, you might not feel your freshest. This is often due to dehydration, one of the leading side effects of alcohol consumption. While some of the more obvious signs of dehydration are thirst, headaches and dizziness, it can show up in your skin as well.
"Drinking alcohol dehydrates the body and dehydrates the skin," Dr. Debra Jaliman, a New York–based dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, said via email. "This can make the skin look more wrinkled and dry. It can also make you look puffy and bloated." (The sugar in wine and other alcoholic drinks can exacerbate dehydration, too.)
Alcohol is a vasodilator, meaning your blood vessels widen when you drink. This, combined with water retention due to dehydration, can lead to puffiness in certain areas of the body, as well as darkness in places where the skin is thin, such as under your eyes.
Another common concern for drinkers is redness, which can manifest for a few different reasons. The most prominent is that some people, especially those of East Asian descent, lack an enzyme called aldehyde dehydrogenase 2, and are therefore not able to process one of the byproducts of metabolizing alcohol, acetaldehyde. The buildup of acetaldehyde results in a red flush.
There's also a small group of people whose bodies react to different components of a wine, including sulfites, histamines and allergens used as fining and clarifying agents such as egg whites (though there’s no significant evidence that these agents remain at the end of the winemaking process). People with these intolerances should consult with their doctors about how to avoid or treat their symptoms.
According to Jaliman, alcohol-related redness is also common for people with rosacea, a common skin disease with symptoms that can come and go, including ruddy cheeks, acne-like bumps and broken blood vessels. Though scientific research on the topic is limited, the National Rosacea Society lists red wine as the leading alcohol trigger for flare-ups in people who have the disease. However, a study published last year in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found that white wine and spirits were associated with a higher risk for developing rosacea, not red wine. Further investigation is necessary.
Of course, not everyone experiences every skin symptom, and according to Dr. Tara Rao, a New York–based dermatologist, many of the symptoms come from overconsumption. "If you're drinking in moderation, it's not often that you'll see a lot of side effects in the skin, especially for people who are healthy—people that are drinking enough water every day, eating clean, working out, going to see their doctor, getting their physicals, managing their blood pressure and any cardiovascular risk factors that they have," Rao said. "For some people, [the effects are] just temporary; when they go back to a more modest lifestyle, that kind of fades away."
Looking Ahead: Slowing Aging and Identifying Cancer Risk
Some effects of wine are more than just skin-deep. If it's not nipped in the bud, repeated dehydration from alcohol consumption can intensify aging, causing more fine lines and deeper wrinkles. That said, the body is able to rehydrate quite quickly, so regularly applying moisturizer and drinking water in between glasses of wine can help keep this issue at bay.
In fact, red wine is actually believed to possess anti-aging properties, thanks largely to resveratrol, the polyphenol found in grape skins and red wine that has become well-known for its health benefits. When it comes to the skin, resveratrol's top benefit is its ability to fight free radicals, the unstable molecules that come from things like pollution and sun damage. These molecules create oxidative stress in the body, which can lead to lines, bigger wrinkles, sunspots, dryness and roughness.
As an antioxidant, resveratrol is able to fight oxidative stress and mitigate the damage it causes in the body. Though a glass of wine a day isn't going to fend off your body's natural aging process on its own, it could help when combined with a healthy lifestyle and proper skin care.
Another byproduct of sun exposure? Skin cancer, the most commonly diagnosed type of cancer in the United States. A study published in 2016 found a link between melanoma and alcohol, specifically white wine, though the researchers did not find a reason for the link.
"There is a lot of confusion in the world of skin cancer as it relates to alcohol," Rao said, pointing out that the study's results "are just correlations; they're not causations at all," meaning that there are many explanations for why white wine could have appeared to pose the highest risk—some as simple as lifestyle choices like drinking white wine while out in the sun. Currently, the American Cancer Society does not list alcohol of any type as a risk factor for melanoma.
On the flipside, past studies have looked at resveratrol's ability to fight against many different types of cancer. Specifically, it has been shown to reduce the growth of skin melanomas in petri dishes, and mitigate damage caused by ultraviolet rays in mice. But while resveratrol's cancer-fighting properties are promising, more research is needed.
Skin Care and Self-Care
Don't roll your eyes: Though certainly a trendy topic as of late, self-care has become a mainstay in the health and wellness world, and a big part of that includes dealing with stress. Cortisol, known as the "stress hormone," can affect the skin in numerous ways, including aggravating acne, speeding up aging and triggering other skin conditions, such as eczema, rosacea and psoriasis. The simple act of drinking wine is known to be a calming practice at the end of a stressful day, and that alone may help lower cortisol levels in some people.
And recent studies have shown that red-wine compounds such as resveratrol, dihydrocaffeic acid (DHCA) and malvidin-3’-O-glucoside (mal-gluc) may be able to fight against mental-health issues stemming from stress. This, in turn, may protect the skin from those common stress-related issues.
The cosmetics industry has embraced the beauty of wine, as well. Vinotherapy—therapeutic spa treatments using wine and grape products—has been practiced for centuries, but in the past few decades, it has hit the mainstream, thanks in large part to Caudalie, the skin-care company and spa founded by Mathilde Cathiard-Thomas, daughter of Bordeaux's Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte owners Florence and Daniel Cathiard. The spa offers treatments such as Merlot body wraps for relaxation, hydration massages with fresh grapes, and a "Premier Cru" anti-aging facial featuring the company's patented active ingredients. Other companies around the world have caught on, too; you can now have a "wine bath experience" (featuring a tub filled with non-alcoholic grape concentrate) in New York City for $450.
But you don't need to splurge on a luxurious spa weekend for your skin to absorb the benefits of wine- and grape-derived compounds. Caudalie and many other cosmetics companies offer a wide range of topical skin-care products that boast resveratrol, grapeseed oil, grapevine sap and other compounds.
Angela Caglia, a Los Angeles–based celebrity esthetician and owner of an eponymous skin-care line, told Wine Spectator that while using wine- and grape-derived compounds in products can be costly, they are excellent natural alternatives to chemicals such as dimethicone and butylene glycol; they also possess benefits that other ingredients don't.
"Resveratrol is a powerful antioxidant and it protects our own barrier function," Caglia said, referring to the outermost layer of the skin that keeps moisture and nutrients in, and bacteria and irritants out. "Also, grapeseeds are an excellent source of vitamins C and E … which improve the skin's texture and reduce the signs of aging. Research has shown that when grapeseed extract is applied to the skin prior to UV exposure, the compounds have sort of a sunscreen effect, which can help reduce the redness and damage to the cells."
Dr. Joshua Zeichner, the director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital, agrees with Caglia. "Topical antioxidants are a mainstay of treatment for aging skin," he said via email. "Antioxidants are like fire extinguishers that put out inflammation caused by free-radical damage. I typically recommend applying them in the morning layered underneath your sunscreen." He also added that oral resveratrol supplements "can be of benefit as well by preventing free-radical damage to the skin from the inside out."
Of course, these products should not replace traditional skin care and sun protection—just as wine should not replace water—and patients with specific skin-health questions should speak with a doctor for personalized advice. That said, for most people, having a glass of wine while putting on resveratrol-infused moisturizer isn't going to hurt—and, combined with proper skin care and other healthy lifestyle habits, it might actually give your skin an added boost.
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