Many people diagnosed with eczema (also called atopic dermatitis) consider whether different foods and beverages, such as alcohol, have an impact on their skin. Dietary and lifestyle changes can sometimes play a critical role in managing symptoms and preventing flare-ups. Some people with eczema have asked whether drinking alcohol causes flares or makes existing flares worse.
This article provides research findings to highlight five ways alcohol might affect your eczema symptoms and treatment. Ultimately, the decision of whether to consume alcoholic drinks is up to you. Knowing the possible effects may help you make the best decision for your body and your eczema.
Alcohol can be a trigger for eczema, even for those who don’t drink excessively. Research has suggested that eczema may develop in people who have food allergies or an intolerance to a substance (allergen) in an alcoholic beverage. These reactions may explain why some people find that only certain drinks trigger their eczema symptoms.
Alcoholic beverages also dilate the blood vessels and dehydrate the skin. These effects can cause existing eczema to redden and become more itchy and uncomfortable.
In the journal PLOS One, a 2012 study from Copenhagen, Denmark, found that people with a history of asthma who consumed alcohol during pregnancy gave birth to children who were more likely to be diagnosed with eczema. This finding suggests a cause-and-effect link between alcohol and eczema, although just why this occurs remains unknown.
Several MyEczemaTeam members have described how alcohol triggers their flare-ups. One member shared, “If I drink red wine, my skin gets really hot, itchy, and inflamed. Alcohol consumption and eczema, I have found, are not a good mix for healing the skin.” Another stated, “I had too much alcohol last night. It started a flare-up.”
The strongest connection between eczema and alcohol is seen in those who drink chronically (long-term) and excessively. One 2013 study of nearly 550 people, half of whom had alcoholism, found a strong relationship between alcohol misuse and a type of eczema called discoid eczema (nummular dermatitis).
In particular, excess alcohol consumption and abnormal liver function have been associated with discoid eczema. Because alcohol impairs the body’s immune response, it’s been suggested that excessive consumption may put a person at higher risk of developing secondary infections (infections that occur later) seen in people with discoid eczema.
Other studies have suggested similar connections. Eczema and other inflammatory skin disorders and conditions, such as psoriasis, are more common in people with alcohol disorders. It is unclear, however, if having a skin disorder leads a person to drink alcohol excessively.
Drinking alcohol can also cause physical changes that may make eczema worse. For instance, you can become dehydrated, which makes your skin dry and intensifies eczema symptoms.
Excessive alcohol use can also deplete your body of vitamin B and make it harder to absorb vitamin C. A lack of these nutrients can have negative effects on the skin and make flares worse.
Stress is another major trigger for eczema flare-ups, and drinking alcohol can be a result of stress — and the cause of even more stress. When a person drinks because they feel stressed, it can lead to a vicious cycle that puts their body under more stress. For example, many people don’t sleep well after consuming alcohol, and a poorly rested body experiences stress more acutely.
Chronic alcohol use can also cause or worsen anxiety, a known eczema trigger. In that case, alcohol might be considered an indirect contributing factor. If stress seems to make your eczema worse, cutting out or reducing your alcohol intake may help lower your stress levels and thus reduce flares. Alternative stress relievers with no ill effects, such as meditation, may help instead of drinking.
Alcohol can have negative interactions with certain medications commonly taken by those diagnosed with eczema.
People with eczema who take antihistamines to prevent or limit flares should not drink alcohol, especially if their antihistamine makes them sleepy. Some medicines used for eczema may be metabolized (processed) by the liver, so combining them with alcohol may be damaging to the liver.
If eczema leads to an infection, a doctor or dermatologist may prescribe an antibiotic. Alcohol may limit the effectiveness of certain antibiotics or lead to side effects, so it should not be used during treatment. When your doctor prescribes an antibiotic, ask about the safety of drinking alcohol while taking it.
Some people with severe eczema may be given biologic drugs to help their immune systems function better. There are very few studies on how biologic drugs interact with alcohol, so people taking them are often advised that if they drink, they do so at their own risk.
The best way to find out what triggers your eczema is to keep a journal. Track what you eat and drink, what you wear, and other potential triggers, then note when the condition flares up. You may find that alcohol triggers your eczema, or you may conclude that it has no effect on your skin. You can then decide whether to drink at all — and, if so, how much and when.
It’s also important to have open discussions about your alcohol consumption with your health care team. They will be able to alert you to any potential interactions between your eczema medications and alcohol, and they can help you approach alcohol consumption safely. Be honest with your doctors about your habits and preferences. Your dermatology team wants to work with you to make your symptoms as manageable as possible, not judge or shame you.
As you decide how alcohol may fit into your life with eczema, also consider factors such as the type of alcoholic beverages you drink, your other risk factors, and your dermatologist’s recommendations specific to your medical history. Pay attention to how you feel when you drink. Most importantly, be willing to talk openly and honestly about this topic with your doctor and the other important people in your life.
Some people may find that they:
These may be signs that it’s time to question the value of alcohol in your life. If you feel as though you can’t limit how much you drink, or if you continue drinking even though it’s hurting you or those around you, it’s time to talk with someone like a mental health practitioner or your doctor.
Whether you decide to continue, reduce, or eliminate your alcohol intake, it’s crucial that you listen to your body. It’s also important to have open conversations about these considerations with your health care team. They are your best resource for medical advice when it comes to limiting any negative effects alcohol has on you and your life.
If you have been diagnosed with eczema and have questions about drinking alcohol or anything else related to the condition, it can help to talk with others who understand.
MyEczemaTeam is the online social network for people with eczema and their loved ones. More than 46,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their experiences with others who understand life with eczema.
Have you noticed new eczema flare-ups after consuming alcoholic beverages? Does alcohol seem to affect your eczema? Have you made adjustments to your alcohol intake to benefit your eczema? Share your thoughts in the comments below, or start a discussion on MyEczemaTeam.