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A Sobering Look at How Alcohol Changes Your Face

Even just a few weeks off the sauce can reduce wrinkles, redness, puffiness and lots of other evidence of all those weekend benders

There are many health benefits to not drinking, or cutting back on alcohol consumption. Staying away from the sauce can reduce your risk of cancer, improve your cardiovascular health and even prevent the hippocampus in your brain from withering away. But if working on the inside isn’t enough to inspire a healthy lifestyle change, perhaps the prospect of being more attractive might help. 

After four days off of booze, a 26-year-old student took to the r/stopdrinking subreddit to ask for motivation about just that. They received a number of responses. “I have lost 25 lbs and look 10 years younger. Stuff is poison. Wish I had quit decades ago,” commented vulnaviawrick, who says they’re 1,192 days alcohol-free. 

“It’s nice to be able to actually look in the mirror and be okay with what I see. My skin is clearer, and my double chin is less double-y,” boasted partyboychrispontius on a similar thread. “My eyes aren’t as bloodshot, and my cheeks don’t make me feel like a puffer fish.” 

Given that one light beer is 150 empty calories and most drinkers aren’t having just one, it makes sense why abstaining from alcohol would lead to weight loss for those who are used to catching a buzz on most nights. But some people have found that taking a break from drinking has fundamentally changed how their faces look. And if you don’t believe them, a few redditors have provided photo evidence to prove it. 

They may be onto something, too. A study of more than 3,000 women found that eight or more drinks a week was “associated with increased upper facial lines, under-eye puffiness, oral commissures, midface volume loss and blood vessels.” Unfortunately, the study didn’t look at men, but the same premise applies to them as well, says dermatologist Enrizza Factor.

Such facial changes largely occur because alcohol dehydrates your body, and dehydration can sap your skin of moisture and elasticity, leading to sagginess, dryness and wrinkles. Essentially, alcohol use can make you look old. “Moreover, the older you get, the more likely you are to be dehydrated,” Factor says.

From there, alcohol’s impact on sleep can also make your face look bloated and puffy. One study determined that just two drinks a day for men, and one for women, can decrease sleep quality by up to 24 percent. “As soon as you give up alcohol, it’s amazing how fast your appearance will change,” Factor tells me, noting it takes about a week for any noticeable improvements to appear. “You’ll look more vibrant, in shape and healthy and also experience less puffiness, less bloating, clearer eyes and smoother skin.”

That said, there’s a difference between taking a break from drinking and coping with an addiction while trying to get sober. And although a more superficial incentive may be helpful for some, the focus on appearance could aggravate others’ anxieties further. Ultimately, like most matters of health and wellness, it comes down to finding what works best for your own individual situation. 

It’s just that the change in how you look may be particularly sobering.