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Alcohol on the Wound

Have you ever wondered why alcohol makes a cut hurt? Other liquid substances, like water, don’t cause pain when applied to cuts. The answer lies in the lowering of VR1 receptors. VR1 receptors are a special kind of cell in your skin that respond to heat.

Studies have shown that ethanol–which is a kind of alcohol–causes skin cells to put out the same neurochemical signals they put out when heat is around. The result is that it doesn’t take as much actual heat for the VR1′s to turn on. Researchers have found that alcohol lowers the amount of heat needed to turn on VR1 receptors by almost ten degrees.

It isn’t known for sure yet, but researchers think that ethanol may lower the threshold so much around inflamed tissue that your own body temperature kicks off the VR1 receptors. Not only does the cut hurt, but it now feels like its on fire as well.

  • JT

    well yeah but it also kills all the bacteria if you have nothing else to do so. So stop being a pussy and complaining that it hurts :P

  • Michael Bilawski

    Citation maybe? Saying “studies” has little meaning without support.

  • sam

    OK, alcohol does not kill bacteria ¬¬

  • Hanna Nyberg

    So is that also why you feel warmer, then you otherwise should have, when you are drinking?

  • Érico Carvalho

    No. The phenomenon described in this post only works for inflamed/exposed tissue, which is not the case of your gut when you drink alcohol.
    You feel warmer when you drink because ethanol is a vasodilator (makes your blood vessels relax), meaning more blood reaches your extremities (nose, ears, fingertips, etc), warming them up. This is also why many people, especially asians, become flushed when they drink. Sadly, as an intrinsic side effect of this, you also lose more body heat through the same extremities, accelerating a potential hypothermia or frostbite.
    So, folks, protip: don’t drink to warm up if you’re a homeless person on a very cold day. It will only make your lose your toes faster.

    Source: My Toxicology professor

  • Érico Carvalho

    Yes, it does, in fact ethanol at ~70% concentration is an excellent disinfectant and is used in laboratories worldwide…

  • Steven

    Asian flush syndrome or Alcohol flush reaction is caused by “an accumulation of acetaldehyde, a metabolic byproduct of the catabolic metabolism of alcohol.”

    How this accumulation occurs is through a deficiency of the ALDH2 gene, “resulting in an alcohol dehydrogenase enzyme that converts alcohol to toxic acetaldehyde at a much higher efficiency than other gene variants.”

    The syndrome is also “associated with an increased risk of esophageal cancer in those who drink.”


  • Érico Carvalho

    Indeed, their mutated aldehyde dehydrogenase contributes much more to flushing than the vasodilation in the case of asians. I remembered this some time after posting, but then I had already turned the computer off and editing the post wasn’t worth the trouble :)
    Thanks for enforcing scientific rigor!

  • Amy

    Why is it after a period of time that alcohol is in contact with the open wound that the pain begins to numb?

  • whatispedia

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