Sunday 25 February 2018

So what is wine doing to my face?

Hannah Betts enjoys a tipple. Photo: Jon Enoch/The Times/NI Syndication.
Hannah Betts enjoys a tipple. Photo: Jon Enoch/The Times/NI Syndication.

Hannah Betts

Would you give up your daily glass if you knew what effect it was having on your looks?

I write this in the week that I will be turning 42. Since puberty, I have been scrupulously cautious about the sun, and a non-smoker. My weight has not fluctuated greatly and I eat pretty well. My stress levels, I imagine, have been about average.Would you give up your daily glass if you knew what effect it was having on your looks?

So far, so good, regarding my facial ageing. And, yet, there is one thing that I have undoubtedly done to sabotage my looks and it is something that I have in common with the rest of my generation. I possess what one may unwinningly refer to as The Booze Face.

Urban legend has it that today's women drink seven times more alcohol than their Edwardian counterparts. My grandmothers enjoyed the occasional pre-prandial sherry on high days and holidays. My mother downs nothing whatsoever. Her daughter drinks like the proverbial (hammered) fish. And I am not alone, from teenage "vertical then rapidly more horizontal" drinking, or wine o'clock.

Dr Michael Prager is the man on the receiving end of such behaviours, being the authority on cosmetic medicine that women increasingly seek out to rectify the damage drink has ravaged. He shrugs philosophically: "How many patients do I see who don't drink? They are rare. So much of my work is about people not looking after themselves. This ladette thing girls do in their 20s? If you carry on 'til 40, you'll be physically wasted -- facially, not least.

"When I was training, an alcoholic was someone who felt they needed to drink every day. Now that's the whole of society." The doctor, late forties yet fresh-faced looking, virtuously sips green tea throughout the day.

According to a 2009 YouGov survey, the "average" wine drinker purports to down a bottle a week, but who among us knows any such paragons? The new normal drinking is of the "at least half a bottle most nights" sort and it is wreaking havoc on our ageing. It is an irony that -- in an era of hair dyes, cunning cosmetics, and fiftysomething yoga bodies -- facially, at least, we are making ourselves look older than the dowdy and grey-haired generations that preceded us.

Dr Prager continues: "So many women come and see me in their thirties to ask my advice about ageing. I point out that drink is damaging their looks in a way that will only become worse. But, they tell me: 'It's vital to my professional and personal lives that I socialise. This is something I cannot give up.' And, then, in their forties, they come back in a panic. There are things that I can do but they have inflicted this upon themselves.

"Alcohol is basically sugar, only with 50pc more calories. A gram of fat has nine kilocalories, carbohydrates have four and a half and alcohol seven. We see a speeded up version of the ageing effect of this with diabetes. Sugar causes glycosylation, ageing cells and tissues through higher levels of insulin, changes in the DNA and tissue oxidisation. This impacts upon cells in a multitude of negative ways: causing free radical damage, reducing cell proliferation and collagen production, slowing everything down.

"Alcohol is also a diuretic: it dehydrates you, skin included. You absorb nutrients less successfully and crave salt. In women it changes hormone levels, 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, bloated moonface, skinny legs, and hair loss (all of which increases with the menopause as it is)."

Wine is especially ageing, being our great, socially sanctioned sugar hit. "People will 'healthily' reject chocolate and cake but happily gorge on wine," Prager says. And then, of course, drink so often proves the gateway to other ageing behaviours: smoking, eating junk food, lack of sleep and other addictions.

I myself received evidence of the positive effects of renouncing the bottle back in the autumn, when an exploding appendix meant that I was forced to renounce drink for a month. I may have had a brush with death but I have never looked more youthful. My skin positively bloomed.

The moment I was back on the mother's ruin, the panda eyes and the bloating returned, as others have found in the wake of their January detoxes ("detox" being that great middle-class euphemism for abstinence from functional alcoholism).

We all know the Booze Face when we see it. Indeed, many of us see it in the mirror. The complexion is grey, dulled, parched, yet prone to spottiness. Skin may be hollowed and shrunken about the eyes and cheekbones, but bloated and overblown as a whole (not least where some women renounce food to stay slender while carousing).

Many drinkers develop a red and thread-veined nose. Jowls sag and under-eyes blacken, to which I would add: cavernous pores in the wake of sleeping in slap.

The good doctor can help to rectify this ravaged appearance with various treatments. He gives his clients Botox to firm up the drinker's drooping jawline, hyaluronic acid-based dermal fillers to pad out caverns around the cheeks and eyes (guided by the lacerating images produced by his 3D camera) and lasers to zap those broken little veins.

He also claims puffiness and dark circles respond well to radio frequency (the application of superficial micro waves into the dermis to stimulate collagen).

But the treatment the (drinking) beauty editors want is his new Illuminator Facial: a combination of a mild peel, electrical pulses and mask. And he urges us not to forget skincare and make-up. (As if we boozers ever could.)

However, to achieve lasting -- subsequently unsabotaged -- results, one must also renounce or, at least, severely limit, the bottle; something that we prove extremely reluctant to do. As with radical changes in diet and the renunciation of smoking, one will see a difference.

"Look at rock stars," Prager says. "Many of them look better than they did 25 years ago. They either died of their excesses, or went to AA and macrobiotic to rectify the damage."

Vicki Edgson, the nutritionist behind the celebrity world's new Bible, Honestly Healthy, concurs: "Alcohol consumption in women is higher than it ever has been and, whilst we are prepared to spend huge sums on other fixes, it seems strange that many choose to ignore the abundant research that links alcohol with premature ageing.

"This is inevitable, as the liver becomes overworked in its attempts to break alcohol down, leading to dehydration, hormone disruption and cross-linkage in the skin itself, due to the sugars that alcohol contains. Broken veins, excessive wrinkles and general dryness are all attributable, whilst nutrient absorption is inhibited.

"You wouldn't catch Gwyneth Paltrow with a glass of wine in her hand -- more like a supercharged green smoothie -- and just look at her skin. Vodka is cleaner, and far lower in sugar, while white wine and champagne are the worst."

Edgson advocates a regime rich in avocados, chia seeds, pomegranate, cucumber, olives, oats, sprouted beans and seeds, coconut water, blueberries and salmon.

Ultimately, however, if we aim to turn our backs on the symptoms, we must address our relationship with the cause.

While we may lament our addled looks, are we ready to wean ourselves off our collective dependency? To lose the face, are we ready to renounce the prop and the pleasure that is the habit?

"People, women, seem to feel they need alcohol in a way that makes it worth the sacrifice," Prager says.

"Most patients would panic and refuse treatment if they didn't think they could have that evening's glass of wine. Only it never is one glass."


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