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Understanding Inflammation and How It Affects Your Skin

Smiling middle-aged woman
April 6, 2017 Reviewed by Marta 2 Comments

My recent article on the new eczema treatment that uses biologics got me thinking more about inflammation. Biologics are a new branch of medicine that work on inflammation, the root cause of many illnesses, as well as visible signs of aging. While biologics haven’t led us to an anti-aging injection yet, there are ways to harness inflammation in order to keep on the right side of aging.

People often describe themselves as having inflamed skin and this is a bit misleading. Inflammation is the body’s response to some kind of wound or trauma. It is a signal to start the healing process, which is dubbed acute inflammation. In fact, some cosmetic treatments, such as peels or laser treatments, deliberately trigger this acute inflammatory response. Controlled and short-term, it initiates the skin’s rejuvenation process. It is critical, however, to replenish with skin-building antioxidants and growth factors.

This is because inflammation (which is very complex) can also be destructive. Chronic inflammation, or a long-term autoimmune response, can lead to the immune system attacking normal tissues. During this process, the scary-sounding Nuclear Factor Kappa B (NF-κB) remains active instead of regulating its level. According to an article in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, “chronic inflammation appears strongly linked to many preventable and treatable skin diseases and conditions such as visible skin aging.” This article concludes that skin care regimens for aging should become more focused on reversing and preventing chronic inflammation.

Here at Truth In Aging we’ve long known that anti-inflammatory and antioxidant-rich nutrients and ingredients are our greatest allies. Keep scrolling to learn what to look for on the labels of your skin products, as well as at the grocery store.

Anti-Inflammatory Ingredients

Gotu kola (centella asiatica)
Often referred to as one of the “miracle elixirs of life,” this long-life supportive botanical has powerful anti-inflammatory properties. It contains certain chemicals that reduce inflammation and blood pressure, and research shows it can also stimulate collagen production and wound healing.

Growth factors (EGF)
As well as stem cells promote skin healing and stimulate cell proliferation. Applied topically, evidence shows certain stem cell-derived growth factors help balance inflammation, providing strong anti-aging and aesthetic benefits.

This is a naturally-derived amino acid. Numerous studies have demonstrated the antioxidant and cytoprotective capabilities of EGT against a wide range of cellular stressors, according to the BBA. In skin care products, look for the derivative called thioneine.

This antioxidant counteracts the effects of free radicals and also prevents glycation. It exhibits anti-inflammatory activity and even appears to help tissue regeneration.

Omega-6 essential fatty acids
Those like linoleic and oleic acid are known to alleviate symptoms associated with sensitivity and inflammatory skin, while gamma linolenic acid (GLA) is needed to maintain a healthy balance of anti-inflammatory signaling molecules in the body.

These proteins signal cells to activate tissue growth factor (TGF) and collagen production.

Vitamin C
It’s a necessary antioxidant with many proven benefits to the skin and the precursor to collagen.

Anti-Inflammatory Foods and Lifestyle Tips

An antioxidant-rich diet is also extremely helpful. Load up on berries (strawberries and blueberries) and dark leafy greens like spinach, kale and broccoli. The vitamin E in the latter is thought to protect the body from pro-inflammatory molecules called cytokines. Also consider adding more fiber to your diet in the form of whole grains; studies have shown it helps reduce levels of the C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation.

It is also essential to cut down on sugar, which leads to glycation, and pro-inflammatory foods like refined carbs, fats (not the good kinds found in fatty fish and olive oil, both of which you should include in your diet), processed meats and fried treats.

Finally, monitor your lifestyle and consider making tweaks. Exercise boosts the release of endorphins, which are anti-inflammatory hormones. Be sure to get at least seven hours of sleep a night, as this is when the body naturally repairs itself. Scientists are also getting interested in the brain-skin connection, which connects stress, inflammation and aging. Find zen in meditative practices or simply spending more time with people who make you happy. 

  • April 14, 2017

    by Janet

    Wow, you just spoke to me Pam!! I'm in the exact same place you talk about. I'm currently trying Volante products as they are advertised as anti-inflammatory and I'm liking what I'm feeling and seeing.

    Thanks for taking the time to write this.

  • April 13, 2017

    by Pam

    This article resonated with me. I had a big discovery recently after nearly giving up on improvements from skincare and feel compelled to share. I always thought "inflammation" was = to acute, visible disruptions on the skin. But I learned something new about inflammation when I had a professional look at my skin, discussed my skincare, diet & lifestyle and was told my skin appeared very stressed. Frustrating to hear because I spend so much money on top quality, non-toxic products from reputable companies, and also a lot of time scrutinizing ingredients, product reviews by other people and analyzing product results for my skin. Nonetheless, I have never experienced sustainable improvement in my skin. Over the past 2 years, my 65 year old skin continued to appear even more dry, dehydrated, wrinkled and occasionally irritated - regardless of the fantastic treatment serums and hydrating "everything" I used. Just seemed to be getting worse every month. Even my pores were becoming more visible (never had an issue with large pores in my life). I assumed this was just the result of aging/loss of elasticity and had accepted that my skin was resistant to improvement by any product. My undereyes were ridiculously older looking than my face..... During the consult, the esthetician used different products on my face, my skin felt & looked better immediately, not unusual after a facial, though. I took samples home and tested for 3 days and could not believe what I was experiencing. My skin stayed hydrated and the superficial lines and dehydrated appearance are improved - even after cleansing and BEFORE application of products. And happily, my pores were much less noticeable. I was driven to know "why". My skin WAS stressed and the degradation I was seeing signaled some underlying (chronic?) inflammatory processes. So, I finally learned the difference between acute and chronic inflammation as relates to my skin. Next, I wanted to determine the root cause of my chronic skin inflammation so that I steer clear of culprit ingredients from now on. Long story short - I learned that the expensive hydrating cleansers, gentle facial scrubs and exfoliating masks (no nasties in their ingredient lists) that I've used for the past 3 years appear to have driven the degradation in my skin. Incredibly, all 3 of them - even though from different companies - have one common element. They all contain varying forms of grapefruit and other citrus oils/extracts. I researched and found that these citrus oils and extracts can cause irritation and inflammation for some. When I stopped using these products and went back to using only Ildi Pekar's cleanser with a Foreo Luna 2, my face improved nearly overnight. It seems my skin is also able to accept the good serums and moisturizers now, whereas before it was just fighting everything because of the inflammation I couldn't "see" & didn't know existed. I wanted to share my comments because I understand the frustration of trying great skincare products that are "HolyGrails" for others, but never produced results for me. I'd given up hope that anything would help my skin beyond the superficial. Although it took a long time to discover, I'm glad I kept trying and very appreciative of the helpfulness of the Truth in Aging website and employees.

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