There are a lot of factors that contribute to premature skin aging.
Sun exposure is enemy number one. Over time, damaging UV rays can cause hyperpigmentation, sagging, wrinkling, fragility, loss of elasticity, and other signs of aging.
But there’s another big factor in aging that we’re learning more about every day, and that’s inflammation. You may have heard how chronic inflammation can exacerbate things like heart disease, cancer, and arthritis, among other diseases.
Now dermatologists and scientists believe that chronic inflammation-the kind that’s going on most all the time at a low level-may also be at the root of many of the skin changes we see as we age.
The question is, how do we avoid inflammation so we can enjoy younger-looking, more radiant skin?
What is Inflammation in the Skin?
In general, inflammation is the immune system’s response to foreign invaders. If someone next to you sneezes, for instance, and you’re exposed to bacteria, your immune system will go to work killing off those bacteria to protect you from disease. Once the bacteria are eradicated, the immune system’s activity tapers off.
That’s the good side of inflammation. But it has another face. Sometimes it attacks things that aren’t really harmful. That’s what happens in people who have rheumatoid arthritis-the immune system mistakenly attacks the tissues around the joints, causing pain and stiffness.
Certain lifestyle factors can also cause the immune system to stay “on” most all time. Think of a wound that won’t heal, but just stays a slight shade of red with a little bit of swelling for weeks and weeks. That’s inflammation that won’t go away, and when it occurs inside your body-or in your skin-it’s unhealthy.
How Chronic Inflammation Damages Skin
What causes this chronic inflammation?
There are many potential factors. It can be an actual injury, such as when you scratch yourself or break a bone-inflammation will go to work to help heal the injury. But stress, environmental chemicals and pollution, UV rays, diet, lack of sleep and exercise, secondhand smoke, and many other factors can also trigger the immune system to react with chronic inflammation.
In fact, inflammation has become so important to anti-aging efforts that in a 2008 study, researchers noted that skin care regimens that aim to treat aging “should become more focused on reversing and preventing chronic inflammation.” They went on to say that this is necessary because “chronic inflammation appears strongly linked to many preventable and treatable skin diseases and conditions such as visible skin aging.”
Now in small doses, inflammation can be a good thing. If you get a spa peel, for example, you will notice some redness and swelling-those are signs the immune system is going to work to repair the damage you just did to the skin. Over time, it actually rejuvenates skin and rebuilds it, creating a younger, tighter looking result.
When inflammation goes on and on, though, it becomes problematic. It starts to break down skin’s outer layer, degrade cells, reduce collagen production, and inhibit the skin’s natural ability to repair itself.
What Causes Chronic Inflammation?
Let’s look at those factors once again. What causes chronic inflammation in the skin?
- Smoking and secondhand smoke
- Exposure to pollution and harsh chemicals in skin care products
- Stress (releases hormones that cause inflammation)
- Poor diet
- Exposure to UV rays
- Dirt and debris
- Lack of sleep
- Diabetes, heart disease, and other medical conditions
- Too much alcohol
When these factors cause chronic inflammation, it’s not only aging that results. Chronic inflammation is also at the root of eczema, rosacea, psoriasis, acne, and skin cancer.
10 Ways to Curb Chronic Inflammation
Considering all of the factors above, we can guess that most of us suffer from chronic inflammation at some time or another. If it’s so dangerous to skin (and overall health), what we need is to cool it down.
Fortunately, there are a lot of ways to do that. Here are ten for you.
- Eat cool. There are a lot of foods that can help tame inflammation. We gave you seven of the potent ones in a previous post. Think brightly colored fruits and vegetables and you’ll be good.
- Take a fish oil supplement. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown in studies to help reduce inflammation. You can eat more fatty fish, flaxseed, walnuts, and olive oil to get these fatty acids naturally, but it’s likely you won’t get enough to battle skin aging. A good fish oil supplement is your best bet-along with a diet rich in essential fatty acids.
- Keep your blood sugar levels stable. Rising blood sugar levels are linked to inflammation. Try to follow a low glycemic diet to keep blood sugar levels stable. Eliminate white flour and processed foods, cut back on sugar, and get more protein and fiber.
- Supply your skin with more antioxidants. These are the nutrients that counteract free radical damage, and free radicals cause inflammation, so you want to shut them down as quickly as you can. This is where your quality skin care products come into play. You want formulas with vitamin antioxidants (E, C, and beta-carotene), extract antioxidants (like green tea and resveratrol), and natural oils and essential oils, as these are all full of healthy antioxidants. (Note: CV Skinlabs products all contain turmeric, which is one of the most powerful antioxidants you can get!)
- Avoid toxic products. Many over-the-counter skin care products contain harsh ingredients like sulfates, parabens, phthalates, ureas, formaldehyde, fragrances, benzoyl peroxide, 1,4 dioxane, and more that actually break down skin and stimulate inflammation. Products with drying alcohols and mineral oils can do the same. Choose products with safe ingredients that will help you fight off inflammation rather than exacerbate it.
- Dry skin creates cracks that let in damaging environmental elements that stimulate inflammation. In addition to applying antioxidants, make sure your skin is getting the moisture it needs. Look for deeply hydrating ingredients like triglycerides, essential fatty acids, natural oils, shea butter, aloe, and the like.
- Protect from UV rays. Zinc oxide is your safest option when it comes to sunscreen. It protects from both UVA and UVB rays. Remember-the sun is the number one cause of aging, and it also induces inflammation in the skin. Protect yourself!
- Reduce stress. Stress causes the body to release stress hormones that encourage inflammation. Work a regular stress-relieving activity into your daily routine. Think yoga, meditation, music therapy, daily walks, journaling, crafting, time with friends, etc.
- Stop smoking. This is a given, right? But if you’re having trouble stopping, try thinking about how the habit is destroying your skin and your appearance. It may be just the motivation you need to try again.
- Cleanse thoroughly. If you leave dirt, grime, bacteria, and pollution on your skin overnight, it will have time to sink into your pores and cause more destruction. Be sure you’re cleaning well before you go to bed so your skin can use the time overnight to repair itself, not battle more aggressors that can lead to aging.
Do you take steps to reduce inflammation in your skin? Please share any tips you may have.
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Thornfeldt CR, “Chronic inflammation is etiology of extrinsic aging,” J Cosmet Dermatol., March 2008; 7(1):78-82, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18254816.