Inflammation and the Skin

Inflammation is an essential aspect of the body’s healing process and results when the immune system attempts to fight off disease-causing microorganisms and/or repair injured tissues.  Under normal circumstances, inflammation triggering substances decline when their fight is over.  When they do not, chronic inflammation ensues.  Chronic inflammation has been implicated in heart disease, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and yes, skin aging.

When the skin is involved chronic inflammation can cause fine lines and wrinkles, enlarged pores, sagging, puffiness, and skin blotchiness.  The causes of chronic inflammation include:

1.  Environmental stressors - Exposure to pollution, smoke, and ultraviolet rays from the sun can produce free radicals that cause skin inflammation.  In fact, sunburn is nothing more than the immune system’s reaction to the sun’s UV radiation.

2.  Diet - An unhealthy diet may encourage inflammation.  Consumption of “bad” fats, including partially hydrogenated oils, trans fats, and polyunsaturated vegetable oils, is a common culprit.  Highly refined carbohydrates such as those found in processed sugar and starches have also been implicated in chronic inflammation.

3.  Stress - Chronic stress and lack of sleep can increase the body’s production of cortisol.  Cortisol is a hormone that has the ability to predispose the body to increased inflammatory damage.

4.  Family history - A greater risk for chronic inflammation exists if there is a family history of disorders such as asthma, arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, or autoimmune conditions such as lupus or multiple sclerosis.

Skin aging as a result of inflammation is much more easily prevented than it is repaired, so the following measures should be taken to reduce the inflammatory process and retard skin aging:

1.  Use sun protection regularly to reduce the inflammation caused by UV radiation.

2.  Consume an anti-inflammatory diet that is rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and sources of high quality protein such as fish and turkey.  The spices ginger and tumeric also have natural anti-inflammatory properties.  More information on a healthy skin diet.

3.  Take supplements associated with decreasing inflammation such as vitamins C and E, alpha lipoic acid, resveratrol, and fish oil. 

4.  Get sufficient sleep and exercise regularly.  It has been determined that 30-45 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise 5 times per week may reduce inflammation.

5.  Use skin care products containing ingredients with anti-inflammatory properties.  Pycnogenol, vitamins C and E, and Coenzyme Q-10 are potent free radical scavengers.  Products containing ginger, ginseng, mushroom extract, and alpha lipoic acid appear to reduce inflammation and protect cell structures.

Although acute inflammation is essential to health and well-being, chronic inflammation can result in a variety of adverse conditions including premature skin aging.  To prevent this from occurring, 1) protect the skin from inflammation and keep it calm to prevent the overproduction of destructive free radicals, 2) protect the skin with antioxidants to keep free radicals under control, and 3) provide the skin with anti-inflammatory nourishment.