By Hannah Betts
Sometimes, when I was drinking, my skin would look good – for a while. The next morning, my complexion would boast a fetching plumpness. My lips would be pertly swollen. And, given how these things so often pan out,
I might have had a post-coital glow. I came to regard this as a pickled prettiness.
'Wow,' I'd think, 'things could be a lot worse.' Give it
a couple of hours and they invariably were. The plumpness would have given way to a bloated greyness, my pout deflated into bleeding cracks, a parched yet acne-threatening stubble rash emerged, and jet rings set in around my hollowed eyes.
And it happens for a reason, says Dr Jairo Rodriguez, New York-based nutritionist to the fashion pack. 'Alcohol is one of the worst, most aggressive compounds in destroying your skin. I always joke with patients, "If you want to get older, go ahead and drink!"' Only the older a boozer gets, the less funny this is.
London dermatologist Dr Michael Prager tells me: 'Alcohol is basically sugar, with 50% more calories. A gram of fat has nine kilocalories, carbohydrates have four-and-a-half, and alcohol has seven. Sugar causes
glycosylation (the attachment of sugars to proteins), ageing cells and tissues through higher levels of insulin, changes in the DNA and tissue oxidisation. This impacts upon cells in a multitude of ways: it can cause free radical damage, and reduce cell proliferation and collagen production, slowing everything down.
'Alcohol is also a diuretic: it dehydrates you. You absorb nutrients less successfully and crave salt. In women it changes their hormones, creating higher levels of testosterone, leading to things such as spots and the taking on of a masculine guise, with a diminished waist, barrel-like middle, a bloated face, skinny legs and hair loss.' Nice.
Dr Prager sips green tea even when at London's Dukes Bar, home of the martini. 'So many women come and see me in their thirties to ask my advice about ageing,' he eye rolls. 'I point out that drink is sabotaging their looks. Then, in their forties, they come back in a panic. There are things that I can do [Dr Prager is known as the 'Karl Lagerfeld of injectables']. However, the damage is done.'
According to LA dermatologist Dr Harold Lancer, complexion guru to Scarlett Johansson, Victoria Beckham and Kim Kardashian, it can take our skin up to a month to get over a single hangover – bad news as the party season lurches into gear. 'When you have a hormonal jolt caused by a sugar fest – let's say, a pizza party – there's salt, dairy, carbohydrates and alcohol,' he explains. 'It will take about 30 days for that to calm down.'
'Celebrities don't have chefs to control their weight – they have them to control their skin. When they're on active filming, there is zero alcohol. Does this mean you can't periodically have a glass of red wine? No. It means you can't have three glasses.' Meanwhile, he says of the traditional post-hangover fry-up: 'You might as well paint blemishes on your face.' Small wonder that those with serious skin goals choose to renounce booze.
Personally, after a lifetime of resplendent carousing, I stopped drinking two years ago because I couldn't sleep. Then, I realised I had an alcohol problem. However, the only thing other people noticed was the effect on my skin. Despite drinking 'only' the half-bottle-a-night that many women consider normal – more, obviously, when I was on a roll – the impact was seismic.
For my first week on the wagon, I was a not-so-hot-mess: red faced, spots sprouting, my nose shiny with detoxing gunk. I got conjunctivitis, my tongue was permanently furred and my eyelashes fell out. However, compliments about my skin started pouring in after seven days.
By day 10, I was happy to answer the door sans slap. Two weeks in, my cheekbones looked supermodel sharp. Three days later, a man at a party mistook me for 19 (19!) years younger. After a month I glowed, my face had lost its booze bloat, and even my nails were stronger. I also ditched the stone-and-a-half I had put on in six weeks after a spectacularly boozy summer.
At this point, I happened to run into Dr Prager, who took one look at me and declared: 'My God, Betts, you've stopped drinking!' Renouncing the mother's ruin was the best thing I have ever done for my appearance. Other than hopping into a time machine and
preventing a lifetime of sun exposure, nothing is ever going to have the same impact. No serum, no facial, no superfood. (Sorry.)
Going on the wagon may be standard in La-La Land.› Here in boozy Britain, it continues to be viewed as a puritanical move too far. Government guidelines released in January this year proposed no more than 14 units a week – the equivalent of about seven 175ml glasses of wine*. Experts also suggest a three- or four-day gap between bouts to give the system a break.
Skin-salve-wise, Harley Street dermatologist Dr Sam Bunting, heroine of YouTube channel Dr Sam In The City, counsels: 'However excessive the night, try to remove make-up, even if that means micellar water on a cotton pad. Then use a retinoid, which will lessen the effects of alcohol by stimulating skin to renew and repair, leading to a brighter, glowier complexion than you deserve.
'Intensify hydration in the morning by applying a moisturising sheet mask – the occlusion effect encourages the ingredients to penetrate more effectively. If used straight from the fridge, it will have the added benefit of reducing redness. Keep make-up light and dewy, apply brightening eye drops, and you may just get away with it.'
My personal kit – based on 30 years' hard partying – featured water, liver-easing milk thistle tablets, and face wipes by the bed in the hope I had some motor control. Next morning, I'd whisk my trusty Clarisonic Aria (£155) over my skin, plus Bobbi Brown's Soothing Cleansing Oil (£32). If this was too much effort, I'd apply a mask of Origins Never A Dull Moment Skin-Brightening Face Polisher with Fruit Extracts (£26); the fruit enzymes exfoliate even if you lack the energy to scour. I'd then deploy
a Sisley Eye Contour Mask (£81.50) for
a hydration hit. The Guerlain Midnight Secret Late Night Recovery Treatment (£69) – 'sleep in a jar' – worked its magic, although I used it pre-make-up, not the night before. Becca Shimmering Skin Perfector Liquid (£34) supplied faux-dewiness, panda eyes were concealed with Bobbi Brown's Creamy Concealer (£19.50), and a constant lip balm supply was always to hand. Where a hangover once 'needed' flat Coke, now it wants coconut water, which is rich in electrolytes. Nutritionist Vicki Edgson advises: 'Being hydrated is the key to skin repair. Drink water and avoid excess caffeine, which dehydrates it further. Have cinnamon or cayenne pepper in hot water – these are antioxidants, which can protect the organs and immunity.
'Olive, walnut, pumpkin- and hemp-seed oils are rich in omega-3, -6 and -9
to help repair skin-cell damage. Avoid red meat – fish and eggs are the best
animal proteins for reducing drink damage, being rich in choline that supports the liver.'
Dr Bunting favours wholegrain toast and honey as her morning-after restorative. She also proposes 'an antioxidant-rich green juice containing leafy spinach, stomach-settling ginger and vitamin A-rich carrots.' And, no, you're not allowed a vodka shot in that.