As a former beauty editor and skin-care brand founder, Courtney Dunlop has long geeked out on the science behind how what you put on or in your body affects your skin. The excitement she has over calling up a derm to talk science is on the level of how most people would feel talking to their favorite celebrity.
She’s also always loved a good glass of wine. It was something she had in common with her friend Michelle Feldman, a former flight attendant and certified esthetician. Both from Springfield, Missouri, Dunlop and Feldman partnered together to open up a spa (open by appointment only), and launch a skin-care line Good Skin Day. At their beauty events, the wine flowed freely. “People were always surprised to see us drinking wine because we had great skin and really cared about skin care,” Dunlop says. Instead of asking about the products, event-goers would start telling Dunlop and Feldman their wine-related beauty woes: It made their cheeks red, skin blotchy, dried out their skin, and gave them puffy under-eye bags. Why didn’t they have the same probs?
Really, Dunlop and Feldman say their secret was this: They drank good wine. But they say it was too deep a topic to get into at a beauty event. “It’s so much easier to just hand them over a bottle and say, ‘Here, drink this,’ rather than get into the specifics of wine making, so we decided to launch our own wine brand that we could feel good about telling people to drink,” Feldman says. Their idea has recently come into fruition with Good Clean Wine, which launched in December 2019. (Yep, right before the pandemic hit and the demand for wine went way up.)
Here, the co-founders—along with a sommelier not affiliated with the brand—share more about how to pick a wine that won’t mess with your skin.
What’s really in your wine?
Alcohol in general can have a marked effect on skin, no matter what you’re drinking. “Alcohol dehydrates the body, and one of the first places you’ll notice it is in your skin,” says board certified dermatologist Stacy Chimento, MD. “It also causes inflammation, which can manifest in blotchiness, redness, ruddiness, and dehydration.” (It can even increase your risk of sunburn.) However, Dunlop and Feldman say wine can be particularly tough on skin because many winemakers put additives in wine that can affect skin. And if the grapes were sprayed with pesticides, that could end up in your wine glass in small amounts too.
In food, additives are virtually always frowned upon by healthy eaters, but when it comes to wine, it’s a little more complicated. June Rodil, a master sommelier, confirms that some wine brands do add to their wine, but says it isn’t always a bad thing—in fact, these additives often have a purpose. “Sometimes, for example, a natural fermentation process can leave wine looking a little cloudy and taste dirty because of leftover yeast. So some brands will add bentonite or egg whites, which makes it clearer,” she says. (A fact that may not mean much to most, but could be an unwelcome surprise if you’re vegan.)
Rodil says sometimes additives are used to compensate for less than desirable weather, too. For example if a vineyard experienced a colder-than-usual growing season, sugar can be added to make the grapes as sweet as they would have been if the weather was warmer. “Citric acid is another additive that is used which can help elongate the life of a wine as it ages,” she says. “People get turned off by hearing that, but what ‘citric acid’ actually is, is lemon juice!” She also says that sulfites often get a bad rap for being in wine, but they are a natural byproduct of the fermentation process, so it’s impossible to have sulfite-free wine.
Other ingredients aren’t so innocuous. Dr. Chimento says alcohol already isn’t great for the skin, but when added sugar (another inflammatory ingredient) ends up in your glass, it’s even worse. “Both red and white wine have sugar content because it’s an essential component in alcoholic fermentation,” she says. “When brands add even more sugar to wine, not naturally produced by the fruit, it becomes a bigger problem for the skin.”
Dr. Chimento adds that when pesticides and other additives are in the wine, the body has to work harder to filter them out, which can wear on your skin. “The skin plays a vital role in eliminating toxins and helps the kidneys, liver, and even lungs when they need it. The more additives and sugar a wine has, the longer and harder your body has to work to filter them out,” she says. It should be noted that while pesticide and fungicide residues have been detected in many kinds of wines in various studies, they’re typically found in very low amounts not considered to be dangerous. (But for many folks, even small amounts of these ingredients are unacceptable.)
Once Feldman and Dunlop started learning about everything wine makers could add to wine—which, it should be noted, does not appear anywhere on the wine label—they were appalled. “If you care about food that’s pesticide-free, nitrate-free, and organic, and you are about beauty products that have these traits, why not wine?” Feldman says.
How to find a wine that won’t mess with your skin
Feldman and Dunlop named their wine brand Good Clean Wine because it represented their brand mission of launching a wine free of additives. Does it make sense? Totally. But Rudil says that just like how “natural” is a completely unregulated term in the food world, “clean wine” doesn’t carry any official weight either. It’s often a clever marketing tactic you can expect to pop up more on wine labels in an effort to woo health-minded consumers.
But there are other things to look for on the label that do carry weight. One, Rudil says, is a certified organic label, which will look differently based on what country the wine is from. “A USDA certified organic label means the wine met the organic qualifications here in the States while other countries have their own organic qualifications and labels,” she says. Going organic will ensure your wine is made from organic grapes and free of pesticides, and also free from any added chemicals. Rudil says you can also look for biodynamic wine (certification from the Demeter Association spans 50 countries), which has even stricter rules about factors including biodiversity, crop rotation, greenhouse management, and soil fertility management.
Watch the video below to see how wine compares to champagne, according to a registered dietitian:
However, labels aren’t the only way to measure a wine’s worth. Getting certified can be expensive, so some smaller winemakers do meet the standards for organic and even biodynamic certifications but haven’t taken the step to get certification. (Feldman and Dunlop say that while all their growers are following organic and biodynamic procedures, not all of them decided to get the certifications, so technically their wine is not certified organic.)
That’s why Rudil also says it’s worth directly asking a wine brand for more information. She says that sending a DM or email to a wine brand almost always works, and if they dodge your questions about growing practices, it’s a red flag. “Wine shop salespeople are also great to talk with because they tend to be passionate about what they sell and can recommend some brands based on what you’re looking for,” Rudil says.
Even when going the extra step to find an organic or biodynamic wine, all three experts say this doesn’t mean you’re doomed to shell out tons of money for your wine. “There are absolutely many great, inexpensive, organic wine brands,” Rudil says.
No one is saying alcohol is great for your skin. But you can enjoy it (in moderation) without the side effects of a flushed face, puffy eyes, and dry skin by looking for the right brand for you. And when you do, a good bottle of wine just might become your best kept beauty secret.
Our editors independently select these products. Making a purchase through our links may earn Well+Good a commission.