What is Inflammaging of the Skin and How to Prevent It
Inflammaging is defined as low-grade, chronic and asymptomatic inflammation that contributes to aging and is the number one cause of lines, wrinkles, and age spots.
Let’s get one thing straight: inflammation is a necessary function that the body needs to protect and heal itself and is vital for survival. For example, if you injure yourself running, your body’s inflammatory response produces redness, heat, swelling, and pain in an effort to heal and protect the area while warning you that an injury has occurred.
The problem with inflammation is when it is low-grade, chronic, and asymptomatic. There is growing evidence that aging is driven by a host of inflammatory substances produced by our body’s innate immune system. It's not just that skin that is affected, inflammaging is a full-body phenomenon and has been linked to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, depression, and Alzheimer's. Now researchers think that it is not the process of getting older that increases the risk of the degenerative disease, rather it’s the cumulative effect of chronic, low-level inflammation.
In skin, inflammation is the response to internal and external stressors. The process is not yet well understood, but researchers think the integrity and enzymatic balance of the skin’s acid barrier is destroyed by chronic inflammation. This ultimately results in a decrease in metabolic activity and collagen renewal. The visible result is skin that has lost its suppleness, elasticity and tautness. To add insult to injury, while inflammation destroys the collagen and elastin matrix in the skin, there is also an accumulation of reactive oxygen species (ROS), which are unstable molecules that cause further damage to cells and can lead to other signs of premature aging such as fine lines and age spots.
What Causes Inflammaging in the Skin?
Many anti-aging treatments, such as lasers, peels, retinoids work by damaging skin just enough to incite an inflammatory response. Remember, the right amount of inflammation heals and renews, so when these are used correctly in a skincare regime, they can play an important role in healthy aging of the skin. The problem is the tipping point.
Unsurprisingly, the sun plays a key role in inflammaing, as does pollution, external chemical irritants (these include harsh skin care products), stress, a lack of sleep, and a diet low in fruits, vegetables and healthy fats, and high in processed and high-sugar foods.
The sun affects skin aging and inflammation in a number of ways. UV radiation can cause epidermal keratinocytes to spur the release of pro-inflammatory complexes in the skin. UV light also generates oxidants while reducing the skin’s ability to protect itself from the damage created by oxidants.
How to Prevent Inflammaging
An anti inflammatory diet is one of the best ways to fight chronic low grade inflammation. Certain foods elevate insulin levels, cause hormonal disturbance and compromise gut health, all of which can lead to inflammation. It sounds repetitive but, a diet high in fruits, a wide variety of vegetables, and good fats like fish and nuts is a good place to start. Eliminating processed foods, simple sugars, and foods high on the glycemic index is key to minimizing inflammation in the body
The jury is still out on supplementing with antioxidants. Some researchers suggest that antioxidant supplements do not have preventative effects and that excessive supplementation of vitamin (beta-carotene, vitamins A and E) could be harmful, especially in well-nourished populations.
Instead of supplementation, a diet full of fruits and vegetables is the best way to get antioxidants and all their associated phytonutrients. Herbs can also be a great way to introduce antioxidants into the diet. Most adaptogens have the benefit of being high in antioxidants while helping the body to adapt to stress.
Inflammaging and Skincare
Topical products, treatments and cosmetic procedures can help restore or cover up what the sun and other lifestyle factors have damaged, but the process can be long and any damage is impossible to reverse. In skincare, the saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” rings loud and clear.
The goal in any inflammaging skincare routine is to support the skin’s natural healing mechanisms and thicken and tighten the skin barrier, which is ultimately the body’s first line of defense against further damage.
If the skin’s natural barrier function is compromised, then it's important to protect and rebuild the barrier because it is key to minimizing inflammation in the deeper layers of skin. Ingredients such as ceramides, squalane, fatty acids, phospholipids and amino acids can all help to soothe the skin and rebuild barrier function
Antioxidants in skincare are important for maintaining healthy skin and ageing well. Many plants are natural sources of antioxidants due to their phytonutrient profiles.
Plants such as calendula, gingko, green tea, chamomile, red clover, hops, and hibiscus are just a few examples of those containing flavonoids, a group of phytochemicals that have important anti-inflammatory and antioxidant actions that can help to minimize the effects of inflammation.
Vitamin C, vitamin E, and enzymes, such as superoxide dismutase, glutathione peroxidase, and coenzyme Q10 are potent and efficacious antioxidants found in skincare products. Retinoids, which are chemically similar to vitamin A, prevent the degradation of collagen and increase epidermal thickness. Topical application of antioxidants, vitamins, and soothing, anti-inflammatory botanicals can go a long way in protecting skin from oxidative stress.
In our obsession with exfoliation, invisible pore size and baby-smooth skin, we inevitably end up using too many products and too many harsh ingredients on the skin. Don’t overdo it on the products, stick to a few that work and avoid over exfoliation, including physical exfoliators.
Glycolic acid, a favourite chemical exfoliator, can be a source of irritation for many people. Glycolic acid molecules are small enough to penetrate the dermis, which in healthy and non-compromised skin helps collagen production and increases cell turnover. In compromised skin, it can cause further irritation and inflammation. Acids that are larger molecules, which as Lactic, Malic, Pyruvic and Tartaric Acids penetrate the dermis and are generally gentler to the skin and less likely to induce inflammation. .
Finally, regular use of sunscreen, with an SPF of 30 or higher (50 if you are using retinoids or acids) is crucial for protecting your skin and minimizing inflammation.