For GQ by Stephen J. Praetorius.
You know what a hangover feels like. Hell, last night was the Met Ball; you may very well be feeling one right now. Physically, you've got nausea, body pains, and an earth-shattering headache. Emotionally, you've got The Fear. That is, the persistent nagging feeling in the back of your head that you did something inappropriate in your inebriated state. Yeah, you know the one.
On top of all that, your skin can't help but show the world exactly what you're going through. Ever wonder why that is? Us too. So we sat down with dermatologist Terrence Keaney, M.D., to discuss what exactly is going on beneath the surface when you drink, to help you understand the effects that last shot of tequila might have on your mug in the morning.
Before we get to the aftermath, though, let's talk for a second about what booze does to your skin in the short term. The most obvious symptom: rosy cheeks. "Transient flushing is a common side effect of drinking," Dr. Keaney explains, "due to acetaldehyde, alcohol's main metabolite, which promotes the release of histamine. Histamine causes blood vessels to dilate, giving the 'red-face' appearance." You may know histamine as the compound active in allergic reactions; it has the same effect here, causing irritation and swelling in the face. As for why some get it worse than others (see: Asian glow), Keaney cites a mutation in a gene that affects production of acetaldehyde dehydrogenase, the enzyme that converts acetaldehyde to acetic acid, leading to buildup in the skin. "This can happen with even minimal amounts of alcohol." Delightful.
On to why you look like hell first thing in the morning. You might think that it has to do with going to bed after the sun's already risen. But while, yeah, that's part of it, the other half is something called "edema." Keaney explains: "Since alcohol promotes the loss of water in urine, sodium and other electrolytes are retained in the body. To combat the dehydration, the body will compensate by retaining water, which results in enlarged blood vessels and bloating. The edema is often most visible on the face and around the eyes." So basically, the reason you look like crap when you wake up is that your body's trying to make up for the nineteen times you pissed the night before.
So, now that you know what's going on, what can you do to go about combating these less-than-ideal side effects? Once again, Keaney's got answers, though fair warning: You might not like them. "First off, minimize alcohol consumption," he advises. "No more than two drinks per day for men." That number seem a little low? Then Keaney's got a few other precautions you can take. "You can supplement your alcohol intake by drinking water frequently to replace the water that will be lost in your urine. Also, you need to limit your intake of salt (see: late-night fries). Excess salt/sodium will cause more profound dehydration, leading to further swelling." This goes for the morning, too, meaning it's probably time you rethink your go-to hangover food.
Of course, if you can't manage that, then you can always turn to eye creams.
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