Saturday, May 4, 2013

SATURDAY REWIND: More alcohol means more sunburn

Temperatures reached the 80's in parts of America's Heartland this past week. Pasty-white Midwesterners, and I count myself among the winter pale, finally had the warmth of the sun for the first time in what seem like ages. (Sorry about the snow that, the very next day, rearranged a few thoughts of warmth.) My beak and forehead got a little red from the sun... not the first time, nor is it likely the last. I went back to my archive and found this piece as a reminder of how drinking alcohol can contribute to worse skin damage in the sunny months ahead.


Alcohol consumption significantly reduces the level of protective antioxidants in the skin, leading to faster burning in the sun, according to a study reported in this week’s Dermatology Times. The Berlin, Germany, study demonstrated that simultaneously consuming antioxidant-rich food and drinks may help to mitigate this effect. This is of concern to alcohol abusers and those with the disease of alcoholism who get too much sun, particularly those in warmer climes or those who have outdoor occupations.

The study focuses on antioxidant substances called carotenoids, which come from consuming diets rich in natural foods, such as fruits and vegetables – two things people with alcohol use disorders are not known for consuming anyway.

What researchers at the Center of Experimental and Applied Cutaneous Physiology, University of Berlin, examined was the effect of alcohol intake on carotenoid concentration in the skin and whether drinking a carotenoid-rich drink would counteract the effects of alcohol (as in drinking orange juice with the vodka). Skins with lower levels of carotenoids were more susceptible to burning. Sunburn has been linked skin cancer for at least three decades.

Carotenoid concentration decreased after consumption of alcohol and alcohol plus orange juice; however, the decrease after alcohol alone was significantly greater. The concentration drop occurred about eight minutes after alcohol without the O.J. and lasted about 70 minutes. The decrease following alcohol plus orange juice occurred about 45 minutes later and lasted about 90 minutes.

A decrease in the carotenoid concentration in the skin after alcohol consumption can have far-reaching consequences concerning the self-protection mechanism of the skin,” the authors wrote.

Alcohol misuse is tied to several types of cancer inside the skin, preventing cancers of the skin on a sunny day is something even sober people don't do diligently. If you're inclined to drink, respect the risk and slather on the SPF 30 because the alcohol makes you more exposed than commonly believed. Don't forget the tops of the ears, a vulnerable area while boating or golfing, drinking or not.

Two things not mentioned by the German researchers:
Alcohol dulls sensation. With the skin already being vulnerable due to alcohol depleting protective carotenoids, heavy drinking increases the risk because the skin's owner cannot feel the burn that would otherwise warn him or her that it's time to cover up. 

b) Drinking doesn't go hand-in-hand with good judgment. It's remarkable how much effort is made to protect the ice-packed cooler from the sun, but applying and reapplying sunblock to protect the skin from the sun and an alarmingly common cancer isn't top-of-mind.