If you feel like you’ve aged about 12 years in the last 12 months, know that you’re not alone. We are all going through an incredibly stressful year (hello, COVID-19), and while anxiety surrounding the pandemic certainly affects our mental health in many ways, it’s starting to seep into our skin and come out as inflammation for a number of folks, too.
Skin inflammation can present itself in multiple ways, including flushing, red bumps, hives, sensitivity, breakouts, and a dull appearance. “Inflammation is your body’s response to trauma to the skin, which can be loosely defined as any insult to the skin leading to irritation or allergy,” explains Dr. Joshua Zeichner, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. “This can include physical trauma like picking or scratching, a burn from a heat source or from the sun, internal factors caused by genetics, or even using the wrong skincare products.”
What are types of inflammation?
The two types of inflammation that can flare up in the body are acute and chronic.
Acute inflammation is commonly caused by trauma to the skin or bacteria and viruses. Acute inflammation triggers blood vessel dilation and cytokine activation, according to Dr. Diane Madfes, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in New York City.
“Chronic inflammation decreases keratinocyte production and increases epidermal water loss,” explains Madfes. “This leads to extreme dryness and itch, as well as triggering of eczema and other underlying skin conditions.” Multiple diseases have been known to cause chronic inflammation in the body, such as inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS), psoriasis, periodontitis, Hashimoto thyroiditis, and multiple sclerosis.
“Redness from skin inflammation may occur because the blood vessels are filled with more blood than usual, and when this happens, the area can become warm to the touch,” explains Dr. Michele Green, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in New York City.
What is the inflammaging?
Inflammaging (inflammation+aging) is the long-term result of chronic inflammation, where there’s chronic physiological stimulation of the immune system that can be damaged during the aging process due to age-related diseases. “Our normal aging process slows collagen and elastin production, decreases exfoliation of dead cells, and continually causes transepidermal water loss,” explains Madfes.
A weakened skin barrier is one of the biggest factors that can contribute to skin inflammation and inflammaging. “One of the biggest sources of inflammation I see in my patients is being overzealous in their skincare routine — if little works, then a lot of must be better, right?” says Zeichner. “This is not the case, though. Overdoing it can cause more harm than good and negate any beneficial effect of the active ingredient. My best advice is to listen to what your skin needs, and if your daily routine is leaving you red, itchy, or dry, it may be time to rethink the steps you are taking.”
How can I avoid it?
“The healthier the skin barrier function is, the better it is able to protect itself from external factors — it starts with keeping the microbiome and the acid mantle intact, followed by the epidermis itself,” explains René Serbon, an aesthetician and international skincare expert in Summerland, Canada. “Together with the microbiome, the acid mantle, corneocyte (outermost layer of the epidermis), and the multilamellae, the structure of the skin encompasses the first three lines of skin barrier defense.”
Overwashing and over-exfoliating can seriously weaken and damage your skin barrier, but using hydrating, soothing products will help to calm skin and avoid or further flare-up existing inflammation. “You want your anti-inflammatory skincare products to contain soothing ingredients such as antioxidants, aloe, witch hazel, and oatmeal,” explains Green. “Products also containing niacinamide, sulfur, and chamomile can help reduce redness.”
According to Green, anti-inflammatory ingredients are all basically antioxidants, which help our bodies fight damaging free radicals. “Antioxidants prevent collagen damage as well as damage to our skin’s DNA,” says Green. “Vitamin C, vitamin E, ginger, green tea, vitamin D, turmeric, and CBD are some popular antioxidant ingredients found in anti-inflammatory creams and serums.”
If you’re finding that your skin is suffering from inflammation, scale back on exfoliating, harsh products and swap them out for hydrating, nourishing creams and oils. And don’t forget to treat your inflammation internally, too.
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