One of the hottest topics in the skincare and dermatology world is the topic of inflammation and how it affects the skin. Just as inflammation in the body can lead to disease and aging, inflammation in the skin can cause wrinkles, acne, hives, even eczema and rosacea. With inflammation so prevalent in our bodies and skin how do you protect yourself and your skin?
What Is Skin Inflammation?
According to the article “Skin’s New Enemy” from Allure magazine (unfortunately the article is not available online):
Inflammation has become the hottest topic in dermatology today, since research suggests it plays a role in acne, aging, skin cancer, eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, and even hair loss. “After the sun, inflammation is the skin enemy number one,” says David J. Leffell, professor of dermatology and dermatologic surgery at Yale School of Medicine. … Technically, inflammation is a necessary self-defense mechanism – the immune system’s response to infection, irritation, or injury. The body produces inflammatory substances, such as histamines and cytokines, and blood vessels swell, sending immune cells to the skin to kill bacteria, says Bryan B. Fuller, adjunct professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Oklahoma Health Science Center in Oklahoma City. It’s a kind of scrimmage, then, at a cellular level, with bacteria and viruses the losers (one hopes). With foreign invaders vanquished, healing can begin. The problem is that sometimes, thanks to genetic and environmental factors, inflammation becomes chronic. Like a runaway train, it gains speed (stimulating production of skin-eroding enzymes) and mows down everything in its path (collagen, elastin). While there are obvious states of inflammation, like a pimple or a rash, we may not even be aware that our bodies are on “red alert”.
Furthermore, according to the article “Seeing Red” in the January, 2012 issue of Day Spa magazine (once again – not available online):
Non-acute, or chronic, inflammation manifests in various ways, including ongoing swelling in the feet and ankles, sinus issues and skin problems. “The skin is a telltale,” [Wallace] Nelson [naturopathic doctor and president of M'lis] says. “In skin, inflammation manifests as acne, eczema, psoriasis and rosacea.” Many people, including Nelson, see a dietary connection. We know that compounds in the blood called C-reactive proteins are at high levels when inflammation is present. “Saturated fats, salt, refined sugars and high-glycemic carbohydrates like those made from white flour are foods that set off C-reactive proteins,” says Nelson.
Dr. Amy Wechsler in her book The Mind-Beauty Connection explains that most of us are not even aware of the fact that our bodies may be victims of chronic inflammation (pages 174-175):
Eventually, you do have to take note of [inflammation] when it builds up over time and results in an ailment or disease, from simple skin rashes and persistent acne t more serious problems like heart disease and cancer.
What fuels the endless burn of chronic inflammation? Oxidative stress, or free-radical damage that can cause wrinkles and cancer. Because free radicals steal electrons from other molecules, rendering those molecules handicapped and damaged, they both trigger inflammation and are created by it.
The sun’s UV light also generates an army of free radicals. It’s estimated that half of the sun’s skin damage is caused by them. Inflammation and UV assaults are like a one-two punch to your skin because its major components – fats, proteins, and DNA – are favorite free-radical targets. The end results is, yes, skin aging: collagen breaks down, abnormal elastin increases, moisture is lost, wrinkles accumulate, and skin cancer may start brewing, too.
How Do You Treat Skin Inflammation?
There are actually a lot of different ways that you can treat your skin in order to reduce inflammation:
Eat a diet rich in antioxidant foods – think brightly colored fruits and vegetables. Drink green tea.
Eat anti-inflammatory foods like those with omega-3 fatty acids like fatty fish (think salmon), flaxseed, and fish oil.
Follow a low glycemic diet – eliminate white flour, processed foods, and sugar.
Apply topical antioxidants. No one antioxidant is better than other; they are all anti-inflammatory and soothing. Vitamin C, green tea, coffeeberry, and resveratrol are all good antioxidants to try in skincare products. For more information on antioxidants see my post Skincare Tip: Add Antioxidants to Your Home Skincare Regime for more details on antioxidants and specific product recommendations.
Quit smoking. Smoking creates more free radicals and causes vascular injury which the body then tries to repair thus setting off the inflammatory process in the body. For more information about how smoking negatively affects your skin see my previous post How Smoking Ruins Your Skin.
Allergies to skincare product ingredients, such as fragrance and preservatives, can increase inflammation. Once you figure out which ingredients have caused a reaction keep a list with you so you can avoid them in the future.
Moisture often – skin dryness can lead to the skin barrier, your skin’s first line of defense, being compromised which can trigger more skin inflammation. A soothing moisturizer can help your skin restore its natural ability to protect and heal itself. One line of moisturizers to try is from Epionce. The concept behind this whole skincare line, developed by dermatologist Carl Thornfeldt, is to soothe, protect, and repair damaged skin barriers. (I’ve been trying these products lately through my job, and I can definitely say that the feel great on the skin and smell wonderful too)
Protect your skin with sunscreen. Too much sun can lead to further skin inflammation.
Though preventing skin inflammation (and inflammation in the body as well) can seem daunting you can take some small but concrete steps to protect your skin. Start by quitting smoking (if you smoke), use skincare products with antioxidants, and protect your skin with both moisturizer and sunscreen daily.
Image from achooallergy.com