I love drinking. I know how that sounds, but it’s just a part of my life. I live within walking distance of a hundred bars. All my friends drink whenever we’re together. I work at an office where the fridge is constantly stocked with craft beers and chilled wines and a daily 4pm beverage is the norm. My weekdays end with extended happy hours and my weekends are always a blur of late nights and boozy brunches. My life is fun!
But at some point a few months ago, it stopped being so fun. Not to get too personal online (jk, ask me literally anything), but I had a rough summer. I was burned out from financial stress, dating Bad Men, and the general traumas and triggers of living in the Trump Era. Real talk: I was drinking too much.
Emotionally, mentally, financially — I was feeling Gone Girl levels of volatile. On top of all that, alcohol was making me less cute. Yikes.
Fact: Alcohol isn’t good for you. Of course, I always gleefully click on any story about how red wine actually helps you live longer and I ignore the part about how it’s “the occasional glass” of red wine that’s beneficial and not “the occasional carafe.”
Besides being generally unhealthy, drinking doesn’t exactly make you hotter. After a few months of heavier-than-normal drinking, my face felt bloated and redder than usual. The bags under my eyes had become statement pieces. The breakouts I’m prone to on my cheeks and jaw were claiming squatters’ rights.
I reached out to Dr. Joshua Zeichner, MD, Director of Cosmetic & Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital, to find out exactly how alcohol keeps us from achieving our true cuteness potential.
Dr. Zeichner told me that alcohol is, of course, a dehydrating force. Drinking also lowers antioxidant defenses in your skin and that makes your pretty little face more susceptible to things like sun damage and free radicals, which are byproducts from chemicals and substances like cigarette smoke.
I was ready for a booze-free month. I planned to begin on the first day of October — Octsober, if you will. I stocked my fridge with boxes of La Croix and embarked on a journey to become a Better Version of Me.
No makeup, just moisturizer and my signature blank stare.
Let’s start with this photo of my face the day Octsober began. As you can see, it’s not so bad. My breakouts were minimal but my skin felt very dry no matter how many expensive serums I applied. I felt dull and colorless overall.
The first week was hard. When my coworkers started grabbing beers in the late afternoon, I wanted one too. When I got home from work, all I really wanted was a glass or four of wine. I made plans to meet up with a friend one night and all I wanted to do was down a few tequila and sodas. I drank an herbal tea.
After a few days, the cravings became easier to resist. Sure, I started drinking Diet Coke after giving it up years ago but it wasn’t Diet Coke and whiskey, so I felt OK about it.
Are you there, God? It me, stress acne.
Week two is when things started going haywire, both in my personal life and on my face! I found out I had to find a new apartment and move very quickly, so that sucked. Some other stuff in my life started going downhill. I felt like everything was going wrong. I was very stressed! I wanted a drink so badly!
Thanks to stress, a lack of sleep, and, um, eating popcorn for dinner three nights in a row, week two threw my face into a bit of a tailspin. I started breaking out in a way I haven’t broken out in years. I knew it was the stress and my diet, but of course, I started whining as if abstaining from alcohol had caused my acne.
A few people I talked to even backed up my unsubstantiated theory that a lack of alcohol was ruining my face. “Your skin is PURGING! It’s normal,” they told me. When I asked Dr. Zeichner about this “skin purge” theory though, he pretty much nixed it. There’s no proof that your skin has to rid itself of leftover alcohol by breaking out. He did tell me that a sudden change in my gut bacteria (ew) could directly affect my skin. Alcohol has a pretty severe effect on your gut flora so that could explain my woes!
*Carrie Bradshaw voice*
But then I got to thinking, if I had been drinking heavily enough that my gut was accustomed to a certain level of alcohol, that’s not great. It’s just more proof I needed this break.
Just wearing eyebrow, lash, and lip product here. There’s still some activity on my jaw and cheeks, but it was healing.
By the end of week three, my skin had started to clear up a little again. My breakouts had been pretty severe but now they were quarantined mostly to my jawline. When I started this experiment, I had planned to keep my skincare routine the same as it had been before I quit drinking. After my skin started flaring up like the surface of Mars though, I added way more moisturizing products to the ol’ routine. Moisture is the essence of wetness and also imperative for scar prevention!
My skin was in worse shape than when I had started but in most ways, I felt better overall. Despite the massive amount of stress the month had brought me, I felt more capable of handling it and less like emotionally spiraling. Sure, I still had moments of sadness and aggravation (hello, Atlanta traffic) but my mood, in general, was much better. Maybe my parents weren’t lying all those years they warned me alcohol is a depressant.
After moving into my new apartment, my skin almost immediately calmed down. Still a bit red but overall so much better. By week four, any inclination I had to drink was far outweighed by the pure smugness I felt at having made it almost a month without any alcohol. I was proud of myself and rightly so. I was also incredibly ready for a glass of wine in just a few days.
Despite the red marks still lingering, my skin overall felt more hydrated and firmer than it did before. I do feel like I have more of a natural “glow” than I did when I was boozing on the regular. My lips feel less chapped, my eyes feel less sunken, and my skin has a better coloring than I did a month ago.
OCTSOBER IS OVER (IF YOU WANT IT)!
A few days after the end of #Octsober. My skin still isn’t 100% but it’s calm and hydrated AF, which is all I ever want to be as a person.
I’ve given up meat, dairy, and processed sugar before for long stretches but giving up alcohol was more difficult than any of those. There’s a social factor involved when you’re not drinking. I still went to some parties, but I always ended up leaving early. I have a new level of respect for those who stay sober around us inebriated fools all the time. I mostly passed on happy hours and brunches, opting instead to just stay home or head to a quiet coffee shop.
Would I recommend it though? Absolutely. After just a month without a drink, I felt like I was in a remarkably better place mentally. In the past when my skin’s gotten bad, I’ve let it deride my entire sense of self-worth. This time around, whether it’s due to the maturity that comes with age or the clarity that comes with teetotaling, it barely made a blip in my sense of self-esteem. Sure, I didn’t LOVE breaking out (who does?) but I was able to simply ride it out like the space cowboy I am.
It’s difficult to describe how empowering it felt to stop relying on something I had been very dependent on, without admitting how out of control I was. Before my month of #Octsober, I couldn’t remember the last time I went a DAY without at least one drink. To go a whole month without it felt like pressing a reset button. As someone whose family has a history of issues with alcohol, I try my best to stay super aware of my behavior. Getting away from booze for a month forced me to realize all the ways I had been using it in an unhealthy way.
Besides the uptick in my mood, I was able to save hundreds of dollars, lose the couple pounds I had gained when I moved to Georgia last winter, and focus on productivity and self-care in ways “I never had time” to do in the past. I realized if I’m not going out or getting hammered at home every night, there’s plenty of time to do face masks or paint my nails or take a long bath or do the slow, purposeful things that make me feel like myself.
I’m drinking again now, but in a more cautious way, I’ll admit. I want to keep with me the lessons I learned during my month of abstention. There’s a weird, grown-up little joy in moderation. I still might not have perfect skin, and maybe I never will, but you know what I can have? I can have my health, my peace of mind, and the smugness of being a little less hungover than I used to be.
More Boozy Beauty:
- Drinking Alcohol Might Be Good for Your Heart, Study Finds
- Americans, Especially Women, Are Drinking Alcohol More Frequently Now
- What Booze Is Doing to Your Beauty