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Doctors Explain the Strange Thing That Happens to Your Face When You Drink

BY T.E. HOLT, M.D., JANUARY 24, 2015

Ever wonder why your skin gets red and blotchy when you drink alcohol? Blame your gut's reaction to a good time.

Moments after booze hits your belly, your stomach releases an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) that tries to convert the alcohol into something less toxic to your nervous system. The byproducts of that process are energy and ethylaldehyde.

While ethylaldehyde is less toxic than alcohol, it's still not entirely benign. It stimulates the release of adrenaline, quickening your pulse; that's why overimbibing can lead to "holiday heart syndrome," a temporary but potentially dangerous irregular heartbeat.

Ethylaldehyde also has the cosmetic consequence of dilating capillaries in your face—hence the rosy coloration of your cheeks.

Why doesn't it show in everyone? Some people tend to secrete more ADH than others, which produces more ethylalehyde and, as a result, a more noticeable "I've had a few" flushed face.