Take one look in the mirror the morning after drinking too many glasses of wine, and the proof that alcohol isn’t good for your skin will be staring you right in the face. But one of the less obvious places it can impact, according to Rebecca Kazin, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Maryland, is your hair.
Research has shown that excessive alcohol consumption can cause vitamin deficiency, tissue damage, disruption of inflammatory responses, and decreased collagen production. It also impairs your complexion’s antioxidant defenses, which means it isn’t as well-prepped to protect itself from environmental stressors. Considering your scalp is skin, too, it makes sense that these factors can have a negative effect on your hair.
First, too much booze on a regular basis can weaken your hair and lead to breakage. Alcohol can “inflame your scalp, so if you have any scalp-related issues, it exacerbates them,” says Gregorio Ruggeri, a hairstylist and trichologist in New York City. “It chokes the follicle of the hair, which prevents it from living to its full life expectancy. It strangles it, and your hair then becomes really fragile and thin.”
Next, there’s the dehydration factor. “Alcohol can dehydrate you just in general,” says Dr. Kazin. “And so if you’re overall dehydrated, potentially that could cause dehydration of your skin. Since the scalp is skin, just covered by a lot of hair, that could potentially cause dehydration and dryness there, too.” A dry scalp can get uncomfortably flakey, itchy, and sensitive due to a lack of natural oils, and the hair growing out of it will likely lack elasticity and shine and be more prone to breakage.
Finally, if you’re drinking sugary cocktails, additional issues may arise. “Any sugary thing will spike your insulin,” says Dr. Kazin. “And insulin spikes can affect inflammation… It is also a hormonal spike, so hormonal shifts can affect inflammation.” Inflammation of the scalp can lead to a whole host of issues, including redness, flaking, and itching, and while alcohol is one of the less-common causes behind it, Dr. Kazin notes that it can still contribute.
One more thing to keep in mind: Even if you aren’t drinking alcohol often or in excess, too much of either right before a chemical process can cause issues. For example, too much red wine the night before a coloring session can lead to problems with color adhesion. “Sometimes, when we try and cover gray hair, I can’t get the color to blend as much as I would normally do,” says Ruggeri. “And sometimes I will say to my clients, ‘Did you drink last night at all? Because the color that we are normally using on you is not really working so much.'”
This doesn’t mean that everyone who drinks alcohol needs to stop ASAP for the sake of their scalp and strands. “In general, some people are more affected by what they ingest than others,” says Dr. Kazin, adding that certain individuals may not experience any of the above issues at all. But if you know your alcohol intake has increased and you’re also noticing redness, irritation, and-or flakiness of the scalp, your drinks could be the culprit. In general, drinking in moderation (and stacking your hair routine with moisturizing, scalp-nourishing products) will always be your healthiest bet.
Learn how a dermatologist takes care of her scalp:
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