Complexion Change from Alcohol and Winter Damage

Dr. Patricia Yarberry Allen is a collaborative physician who writes a weekly “Medical Monday” column for Women’s Voices for Change.  (Search our archives for her posts, calling on the expertise of medical specialists, on topics from angiography to vulvar melanoma.)

This week, Dr. Pat turns to a frequent Medical Monday contributor,  Anetta Reszko, M.D.,  Ph.D., a dermatologist and dermatologic surgeon in New York City,  for advice on how to rejuvenate skin that has become dry, rough, and flaky after long exposure to winter winds and warm, dry interiors. Dr. Reszko offers seven tips.


Dear Dr. Pat:

My complexion is a testament to the long brutal winter we had here in the northern Midwest.  I thought something resembling spring would never come, in spite of a seasonal calendar alert that spring had arrived March 21. I am quietly looking for a new job and as a woman in her late 40s who is competing with younger people in their 20s who ask for less money, have less experience but look fresh and energetic, I need to do something to look fresher. I must admit that I have been drinking more than I should this winter due to work stress, and I think this has affected my complexion as well. I have given up alcohol totally and at least that bloated look I saw in a photograph has disappeared. Now I need to do something about  those capillaries on and around my nose. My complexion is dry and I have red, smooth, flat areas on the surface of the skin as well. I have fair skin, and I never know what product to buy or try. I have been saving my money for a makeover but don’t know where to start.

What do you suggest?



Dr. Pat Responds:

Dear Joan,

Join the worn-down-winter-complexion club! I am of  Irish-American ancestry and have that genetic gift of a too delicate complexion.  No matter how often I promise myself that I will dress more warmly and keep the home and office heat at a lower temperature, I seem to end up with high heat and forget to buy that bedside humidifier. The winter wind that attacks my facial skin and my hands adds insult to injury.

I am glad to hear that you realized the impact that alcohol has on the complexion and for this and other health reasons decided to take a booze break. I can walk up and down Madison Avenue and recognize who is having that wine or two at lunch and more in the evening. The complexion of women who drink too much is more wrinkled, drier and often has lots of capillary growth, making the face look redder, especially on and around the nose. Alcohol is one of the worst, most aggressive substances that cause damage to the skin.  Alcohol affects not only  mucous membranes from the esophagus, pancreas and liver but also the facial skin.  The first effect is dehydration, since alcohol  actually takes much of the fluid out of the skin. Alcohol inflames the tissue and systemic inflammation by alcohol creates a histamine reaction that affects the skin, creating redness and flushing of the complexion. Alcohol is also a known trigger for rosacea, a common skin disease that often begins with a tendency to blush or flush more easily than other people. Often the redness will slowly spread beyond the nose and cheeks to the forehead and chin with flushing, visible blood vessels and acne-like breakouts.

First see a competent dermatologist to make sure that you don’t have rosacea since this may impact the treatment choices available for you. If you are lucky and the alcohol redness and bloating of your face that you described is temporary, there are many things that you can do to create a spring fresh complexion.   Many patients expect that the first treatments for months or years of complexion neglect will be miraculous. The change in your complexion didn’t happen overnight and the results won’t be evident immediately. You may want to choose a dermatologist who is a specialist in cosmetic dermatology and has an interest in complexion restoration. Dr. Anetta Resko, a dermatologist and dermatologic surgeon who is the director of the New York Skin Institute, will discuss the questions you have raised. She is a clinical assistant professor of dermatology at Weill Cornell and has an interest in both skin cancer diagnosis and treatment as well as a special interest in complexion rejuvenation. We are fortunate that Dr. Resko is a member of our Medical Advisory Board and a member of the Board of Directors of Women’s Voices for Change.

Remember to avoid alcohol until your complexion recovers. Than make a decision about what is more important: your face or a drink.

Dr. Pat

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  • AA May 1, 2017 at 2:44 pm

    Thanks Dr Reszko ! Always good to revisit skin care every season. Hydrate hydrate hydrate!!

  • hillsmom May 1, 2017 at 11:15 am

    A friend of mine in her late seventies or early eighties, has a problem with dry crepey skin especially on arms and legs. It may be from sun damage long ago…? What can be done if anything, or is it too late. No one of an age expects to look 20 or even 60, for that matter, any suggestions greatly appreciated.

  • Julia May 1, 2017 at 9:46 am

    I’m glad you bring up rosacea. My husband’s nose had changed considerably since his teen years–gotten lumpier and red–I know people assumed it was alcohol-caused, but when he discovered it was rosacea and started treatment, it got a little bitter and certainly didn’t get worse.