Many people diagnosed with eczema (atopic dermatitis) work hard to figure out what causes their condition. For some, making dietary and lifestyle changes can play a critical role in managing their symptoms and preventing eczema flare-ups. This process often leads to the question of whether drinking alcohol causes eczema flares or if it makes existing flares worse.
In this article, we’ll consider research on the potential effects of alcohol on eczema symptoms and treatment. Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to consume alcoholic drinks is up to you. Knowing the effects of alcohol may help you make the best decision for your body and your eczema.
There are several ways that alcohol may affect or play a role in eczema symptoms.
Alcohol can be a trigger for eczema, even for those who do not drink excessively. Research has suggested that eczema may occur in people who have allergies or intolerance to one of the substances found in an alcoholic beverage. These reactions may be why some people find that alcoholic drinks trigger eczema symptoms, while others do not.
Alcoholic beverages also dilate the blood vessels and dehydrate the skin. These effects can cause existing eczema to darken and become more itchy and uncomfortable.
In the journal PLOS ONE, a 2012 study from Copenhagen, Denmark, found that pregnant women who consumed alcohol during pregnancy gave birth to children who were more likely to be diagnosed with eczema. This finding indicates there may be some causal connection between alcohol and eczema, although the exact way it might occur remains unknown.
Several MyEczemaTeam members have shared their experiences with alcohol as a flare-up trigger. As 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 symptoms and alcohol consumption is seen in those who drink chronically and excessively. One study of nearly 550 people (half alcoholics and half nonalcoholics) in the British Military Police Force found a strong correlation between alcohol abuse and discoid eczema (nummular dermatitis). In particular, excess alcohol consumption and abnormal liver function have been found to correlate with a type of eczema called discoid eczema. Because alcohol impairs the body’s immune response, it was suggested that excessive alcohol consumption may put a person at higher risk of developing the secondary infections seen in people with discoid eczema.
Other studies have suggested similar connections. Eczema — as well as other inflammatory skin disorders and skin conditions like psoriasis — has been found to be more common in people who are also diagnosed with alcohol disorders. It is unclear, however, if having a skin disorder leads a person to drink excessively.
Alcohol can also cause physical changes that may make eczema worse. For instance, alcohol can result in dehydration, which can make your skin dry and intensify eczema symptoms. Excessive alcohol can also deplete the body of vitamin B and make it harder to absorb vitamin C. Too little of these nutrients can have negative effects on the skin and thus aggravate flares.
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 alcohol when they feel stressed, it can lead to a vicious cycle in which they put their bodies under more stress. For example, many people don’t sleep well after having consumed alcohol, and poor sleep leads your body to experience stress more acutely.
Chronic alcohol use can also cause or worsen anxiety, and anxiety is 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 alcohol or reducing your 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 people diagnosed with eczema.
Some people with eczema take antihistamines to prevent or limit flares. People taking antihistamines should not drink alcohol, especially if their antihistamine makes them sleepy. Some medicines used for eczema may be metabolized 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 to clear the infection. Alcohol should not be used when taking certain antibiotics, as the alcohol may limit the efficacy of the antibiotic or cause side effects when combined. When a doctor prescribes an antibiotic, ask them 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 to drink 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 see that it has no effect on your skin. Once you know what effect alcohol has on your body, you can make decisions about whether to drink at all — and, if so, how much to drink and when.
It is also important to have open discussions about your alcohol consumption with your health care team. They will be able to alert you of any potential interactions between your eczema medications and alcohol, and they can help you approach your 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 to judge or shame you.
As you decide how alcohol may fit into your life with eczema, there are many factors to consider, such as the type of alcoholic beverages you drink, your other risk factors, and your dermatologist’s recommendations specific to your medical history. Monitor how you feel when you drink alcohol. And, most importantly, be willing to have open and honest conversations about drinking with your doctor and with the other important people in your life.
Some people may feel that they can’t control their drinking, have negative feelings when they don’t drink, or generally feel that their alcohol consumption is affecting their life for the worse. These may be signs of alcohol use disorder. 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 to your doctor.
Whether you decide to continue your current alcohol intake, reduce your alcohol consumption, or eliminate alcohol altogether, it’s important to listen to your body. And it’s very important to have open conversations about such considerations with your health care team. They are your best resource for medical advice when it comes to limiting the negative effects alcohol has on you and your life.
If you’ve been diagnosed with eczema and you have questions about drinking alcohol or anything else related to the condition, it can help to talk to others who understand. MyEczemaTeam is the online social network for people with eczema and their loved ones. More than 43,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their experiences with others who understand life with eczema.
Have you noticed eczema flare-ups appearing after you’ve had alcoholic beverages? Does alcohol seem to affect your eczema in any manner? Share your thoughts in the comments below, or start a discussion on MyEczemaTeam.