There’s a great myth cutting a path like wildfire through the acne-clearing community: the myth that if you want clear skin, you have to remove everything pleasurable from your life. You have to remove sugary cakes and chocolate, because sugar skyrockets inflammation.
You have to say no to pizza, because wheat is a hidden acne menace. You have to stop eating a greasy plate of fries from McDonald’s, because everyone knows that greasy food causes acne.
To many it sounds like a life without acne is a life where you have to act like a celibate monk sitting on a mountaintop.
Well, I’m happy to report that that’s not the case. There’s plenty of staple treats and delicious foods that you can enjoy while staying disciplined on an acne-friendly diet. The above three examples are true, but dark chocolate doesn’t cause acne; it’s the sugar in milk chocolate that’s the danger. Red wine is drenched with antioxidants. The list goes on and on…
…and one of the best examples is beer. Beer is an interesting drink when it comes to your skin. The list of problems beer CAN have is enormous; there’s so much variety in the production.
But if you adopt the right strategies, and purchase the right forms, beer can be one acne-friendly indulgence which you never have to give up. Why? Read on and find out…
Does the alcohol in beer cause acne?
Firstly, understand that alcohol can cause acne, no matter what source it’s from. The basic problem with alcohol is antioxidant depletion.
All alcohol you drink, with the exception of a small percentage which is absorbed directly through your stomach wall, is detoxified by the liver with the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase. This process produces a by-product called acetaldehyde.
Acetaldehyde is 30 times more toxic than alcohol itself. It’s partly responsible for the common symptoms of a hangover like a splitting headache, blurred vision, and nausea. Acetaldehyde has many other less noticeable effects, such as chronically inflaming cells across the whole body.
Acetaldehyde is essentially public enemy number one for the short time it spends in the body. The relevance for acne? Your body is forced to hunt down and detoxify every molecule of this substance and the agent it uses is glutathione.
Glutathione is the most important antioxidant humans make themselves. Acne patients have 20% less in their skin than average. Glutathione even regenerates important nutrients like vitamin E and vitamin C.
The process above is the simplest version possible of why a week of drinking beer constantly can lead to a grubby looking face devoid of all glow and with a fresh outbreak of tiny, inflamed pimples.
So are your days of drinking beer over? The answer is no. Any whole food is more than the sum of its parts. Alcohol is just one substance found in beer.
Firstly, the average can of beer contains much less alcohol than wine anyway. Lager averages 4.5%, brown ale averages 5%, Budweiser contains 5% by volume; meanwhile a glass of red or white wine averages 13%.
If your goal is to drink beer for taste, then this is excellent news – just limit your intake. If your goal is to get drunk, then you’ll be drinking the same quantity of alcohol regardless of the source…
…but many beers are loaded with natural antioxidants as well. The likes of ale and bock contain as many as white wine. In fact white wine contains slightly more polyphenols (a broad subset of antioxidants) than beer, but beer has a higher total antioxidant capacity. Beer contains higher levels of the antioxidant compounds procyanidins, epicatechin and ferulic acid.
This means that the acne-causing glutathione depletion from the alcohol will be counteracted; it won’t be a linear case of “drink beer, lose antioxidants”. The average ORAC score of a Guinness stout is 250, not enormous for acne, but enough to compare to a nutritious staple like honeydew melon (253) or pineapple (385).
If you’re drinking bargain basement swill that tastes like washing up liquid then you’ll get nothing. Nevertheless, this study analysed the effect of common beers on a variety of antioxidants in the bloodstream. Strangely, blood vitamin C and beta-carotene levels decreased in 12 patients after three weeks of drinking four glasses of beer per day. However, glutathione, superoxide dismutase, vitamin E, lutein, and lycopene levels were unchanged.
The conclusion: “moderate consumption of red wine, beer and spirits has counteracting effects on plasma antioxidant components, resulting in no significant effect on overall antioxidant status”.
Therefore your strategy is as follows. If you drink beer for the taste, drink one or two per day and your skin will look as great as ever. If you love to get drunk, then apply the same rules as with alcohol normally: you can get slaughtered up to two nights per week if you take some easy steps.
One, drink a decent quality beer. Ale, lager, and bock are the kings of antioxidants. There’s some more great news while we’re here – dealcoholized beer actually contains the weakest antioxidant supplies. It’s the fermentation of barley which produces a lot of these beneficial compounds. Light beers also contain less antioxidants; Bud light has an ORAC score of 80 compared to Budweiser standard with an ORAC score of 150.
Secondly, you need to strengthen your homemade glutathione stocks in the first place. You can read this article to discover what the main building blocks are, but the simplest and most effective starters are the nutrients zinc and selenium.
Verdict – the alcohol in beer can cause acne, but can be neutralised with minimal effort.
Is all beer spiked with gluten?
Secondly, we have another common fear of beer – its gluten content. It’s undeniable that beer whether light or rich, whether lager or ale, contains traces of gluten. Beer is produced through the fermentation of malt barley, one of the three common grains which are sources of gluten alongside wheat and rye.
The controversy is that the same people who experience digestive problems from gluten, like nausea and abdominal pain, also experience new pimples and more inflamed pimples. Gluten can be an insidious problem in almost everyone. It’s one of several reasons why bread and pasta can cause acne. But the question is whether the gluten levels in beer are high enough…
…and the answer is no, for all but the most hyper-sensitive. The amount of gluten in the average pint is tiny.
One team of Czech scientists analysed the gluten content of various beers during the brewing process. Non-alcoholic beer had less than 3 milligrams per litre. Regular lagers had a range of 3 to 8.7 milligrams per litre, while stouts contained 9.0 to 15.2 milligrams per litre.
Those quantities are tiny. The average slice of bread contains 3515mg of gluten.
Another comparison came in a study on fifty beers. 35 contained 1 to 200 parts per million of gluten, while 15 contained less than 1ppm. The average wheat bread, meanwhile, contains 75,000ppm.
Food companies can legally declare their products gluten free if the quantity is below 20ppm. Heineken and Budweiser both state that their standard beers contains below the limit. Are they telling the truth? Who knows, but they align with the tests above.
Gluten in beer is slowly reduced in each brewing stage, through boiling, mashing and fermenting. There’s many opportunities for gluten to be destroyed or left behind.
The mashing is one good example. The starch in the barley gets broken down into a liquid (the wort) containing the sugars which are later used for fermentation into ethanol.
However, many of the proteins including gluten get left behind in the pulp of used barley. Why? Gluten itself is a protein in a wider protein complex. In wheat, the complex is called gliadin, in rye it is called secalin, in barley and therefore most beer brands it is called hordein.
The interesting thing about hordein is that unlike gliadin, it is not water-soluble. That reduces the quantity of gluten that migrates to the beer.
Which brings us to our next point – watch out for wheat beer. The gluten levels are generally significantly higher; the Czech study observed a range between 10.6mg and 41.2mg. Another interesting twist is that many supposedly gluten sensitive people have no problem with barley. Wheat and wheat beer makes them feel awful for days, but with barley there’s no problem.
If you’re lucky the same could be true for you. This phenomenon could be attributed to differences in the protein complex. Wheat also has other dangers like wheat-germ agglutinin; “gluten sensitive” people may well be reacting to other compounds.
The solution is simple – stick to barley beers. Nevertheless, even wheat beers contain very low levels.
Unless you drink beer like you’re in a competition, and unless you’re a full celiac, the gluten in beer will almost certainly not cause acne.
Verdict – the gluten levels in beer are tiny. Keep your intake sensible and avoid wheat beers if your skin is mega sensitive.
Is beer a carb-loaded acne bombshell?
Next we have the culprit behind the dreaded beer belly – the carb content of beers. Yet again, this a problem for your acne but one you can easily circumvent.
The average beer contains significantly more carbohydrates than a glass of wine. A beer can contain anything from 6 to 25 carbohydrates per 12-ounce glass. A glass of red or white wine contains an average of just 4 carbs.
Why the difference? It’s all down to the fermentation method. The carbohydrates in the grains used to manufacture beer are more complex than the grapes used for wine. Barley is full of complex fibres and starches; grapes are full of simple sugars.
This complexity gives the bacteria and yeast a much harder job in fermenting the carbohydrates into ethanol. All the carbs become sugar before transforming into alcohol, but more remains as residual sugar in the beer after the fermentation since the conversion is harder. The inefficiency is also partially why beer is lower in alcohol by weight.
The result is 13 grams of carbohydrates in the average beer. Regular stouts and lagers contain about 10 to 11 grams per pint. Budweiser contains 11 carbs per 12 ounces, Heineken also contains 11. Light beers contain 6 carbs, while dark, rich beers can contain up to 25 carbohydrates.
10 to 20 carbs is not huge itself, but when you drink five or six beers the numbers stack up fast. Then you’re in acne territory; carbohydrates cause acne primarily by causing oily skin. Too many carbohydrates in your diet over the long term increases your blood levels of the energy-shuttling hormone insulin. Insulin is a potent stimulator of the sebaceous glands in your skin pores. Active sebaceous glands equals an oily face and blocked pores.
Have you ever noticed that your face becomes an oil slick during the middle of a night out? Carbohydrates are the reason why. Liquid carbs in beer absorb into the bloodstream extra quickly. The insulin threat exists both in the short term and the long term.
Carbohydrates are one reason why beer can cause acne if drank indiscriminately…
…which makes the first solution simple. Factor in your beer consumption to your overall carbohydrate intake and make sure that you’re not going over the limit.
After the recommended initial period of carbohydrate limitation where you progressively empty your glycogen stores and bring insulin down to normal levels (read this article to learn more), you need to calculate the optimal maintenance intake. Ideally you will balance your energy intake through food and output through exercise.
For the average citizen who walks around each day and plays a sport like football casually it will likely be approximately 150 carbs. Your task could not be simpler; check the nutrition labels on your bottle, or research the carb density of your favourite beer brands, and factor it into your overall carb intake. Either restrict your beer consumption, or slash carbohydrates elsewhere in your diet.
Now, I wouldn’t recommend removing too many carbs elsewhere. Beer is a lot less nutritious than potatoes or sweet potatoes; there’s no acne-clearing magnesium or vitamin A, just a few insignificant b-vitamins. Don’t let beer totally displace much more acne-friendly foods.
Also, don’t fall into the old trap of grabbing and eating random junk food while you’re drinking. When you’re smashed and the urge kicks in, it’s rarely healthy food. It’s usually takeaway junk food like pizza or McDonalds, foods that are loaded with extra carbohydrates.
Overall, however, it’s not hard to organise an effective strategy for preventing a carb overload. A night of binge drinking won’t completely destroy you either. If you spend your night crawling from pub to pub then even better, you’ll be expending many of the carbohydrates through exercise. Ever got the urge to run around uncontrollably while drinking? The extra carbohydrates could be why.
Then there’s the specific types of beers. Light beers contain the fewest carbs, which results in lowered satisfaction when drinking and a lighter mouth feel. Rich microbrews can contain up to 25 carbohydrates.
Low-carb enthusiasts usually recommend that their readers drink nothing but light beers. However, if you have the brainpower to organise your diet effectively for acne then you can enjoy whichever beer you want.
Verdict – too much beer will cause oily skin and acne through a carbohydrate overdose. Drink sensibly (most of the time) and control your carb intake elsewhere.
The hidden mycotoxins in beer
Finally, we have a threat which you may never have heard about – mycotoxins.
You might have heard that there’s manmade toxins in a variety of foods and cosmetics these days. It’s true, heavy metal like mercury and arsenic and chemicals like phthalates can cause acne through increased inflammation and oxidative stress.
What you rarely hear about, however, are natural toxins, and one of the main forms is the mycotoxin. Mycotoxins are biological weapons manufactured by moulds growing on a variety of crops. There are designed to ward off bacteria, the sworn enemy of moulds everywhere, but when humans consume them, they cause damage like dizziness, fatigue, neurological issues, death, and more.
They can also cause acne by increasing inflammation levels and depleting antioxidants, just like many manmade chemicals. The two most common forms of mycotoxins are aflatoxins and ochratoxins. Commonly contaminated crops include coffee beans, cocoa beans, peanuts, grapes and other nuts…
…and beer is also touted as a contaminated food. It’s commonly believed that mycotoxins are the moulds themselves but they’re not; they’re toxins produced by the mould. In the case of beer, the mould fusarium graminearum is a known contaminant of the wheat, barley, oats, rye, and maize grains. Fusarium graminearum causes fatal diseases in the grain plants above, altering the nutrient profile and leading to shrivelled kernels. It leads to billions of dollars of lost agriculture every year.
Importantly for us, fusarium also churns out a mycotoxin called deoxynivalenol, or vomitoxin. Deoxynivalenol is the most common mycotoxin on the barley plant; it even appears in low levels on barley crops which aren’t diseased. What’s more, moulds like fusarium are killed during intense heat but mycotoxins are invulnerable. Deoxynivalenol is also a water-soluble substance.
The result is that this mycotoxin ends up in many varieties of beer in one quantity or another. There’s also another common mycotoxin called HT-2. The beer that millions of people love is contaminated with a chemical known to cause the conditions behind acne…
…but at the end of the day it’s the same story as with gluten: the levels of mycotoxins are far too tiny. A study from 2015 analysed the mycotoxin content of 154 different European beer brands. The results sound negative at first; 60% of those tested contained deoxynivalenol while 9% contained HT-2. But only in heavy drinkers drinking more than a litre per day did the concentrations of mycotoxins get anywhere near to the safe daily intake.
Another study examined levels of ochratoxin A, a deadly carcinogenic mycotoxin. Only 5 beers out of 30 contained even trace levels.
Finally, this study from 2016 analysed the levels of four different mycotoxins in beer, which were ergot alkaloids, alternariol (AOH), deoxynivalenol (DON), and zearalenone (ZEA). 75% of beers contained deoxynivalenol, all samples contained ZEA, and 93% were positive for ergot alkaloids.
Once again however, the levels were insignificant when it came to human health. Judging by the European Union’s daily safe limits, “beer does not represent a major source of intake of these toxins”. If you live in the US then even better; health authorities and daily limits are much stricter in the EU.
It seems that there are very few instances in which you need to worry about mycotoxins in beer causing acne, despite being widespread (100% occurrence for ZEA). The biggest risk will likely be from a rogue batch of beer brewed from some contaminated barley which made it through the safety filter somehow.
Verdict – mycotoxins in beer may cause acne through increased inflammation. However the levels are miniscule and completely safe.
There you have it. Beer contains a variety of dangers which can indirectly lead to an outbreak of acne, but you can overcome all of them with ease.
Your main three strategies are as follows. One, restrict your regular beer consumption to approximately one glass daily, while still allowing a drunken night out once or twice a week. This will 1) restrict your carbohydrate intake and 2) prevent the alcohol content from depleting your glutathione stores too excessively.
Secondly, you need to accelerate your body’s glutathione production with the correct minerals, amino acids and compounds (full article here).
Finally, you need to both monitor the carbohydrate content of the beverage you drink and control and alter the carbohydrates elsewhere in your diet accordingly.
You can deduce from the strategies above that the alcohol and carbohydrates are the biggest threats to your skin. Celiacs should avoid standard beer like the plague, but for the insidious gut-related problems that cause acne in a much wider swathe of the population, the qualities of gluten are far too insignificant. The mycotoxins are too feeble to accomplish anything.
What you do is ultimately dependent on your observations too. If you drink two or three glasses per day and everybody’s begging you for acne advice then clearly you’re safe. Your circumstances allow you to drink more.
It could be genetic or it could be a dietary or lifestyle decision which you’re unaware of. It could be something as simple as the route you to walk to work each day not passing through traffic, you not inhaling care fumes, and the chemicals not depleting your glutathione levels.
Your own observations come first. However, the information in this article is your rough blueprint.
Overall, it’s extremely easy to enjoy the taste of beer every day and enjoy gloriously clear skin as well.
Thanks for reading!