Inflammaging: What Is It and What Does It Mean For Your Skin And Beauty Routine?
by Heather Smith on Mar 24, 2023
Inflammaging is a newer term, but the concepts of inflammation and aging are not new in the skincare world. But what exactly is inflammaging? How does it impact your skin? How can we use the knowledge to protect our delicate complexions and keep us looking youthful?
At its core, inflammaging describes the process of aging as it relates to inflammation - chronic as well as acute inflammation both externally (ie. your skin and environment) and internally (body organ systems and diseases). As we age, certain things happen in our bodies that trigger an increase of inflammatory molecules, which cause a cascade of events leading to cellular changes.
A lot of this happens internally within our organs (i.e. atherosclerosis). Externally, from a beauty standpoint, we experience wrinkle formation, dryness, loss of elasticity, sagging skin, dark spots, etc. It's important to note that while these changes are natural processes associated with getting older, they can be exacerbated by external factors such as sun exposure and smoking.
Fortunately for those who want to stay ahead of the game when it comes to ageing gracefully, there are ways to slow down the effects of inflammaging through targeted lifestyle choices and tailored skincare routines. In this article, we'll delve into the science behind inflammaging and explore its implications on skincare and beauty so you can make informed decisions about your routine going forward.
We're here to break down the basics of what causes inflammaging, explain why it matters for your complexion health and give suggestions on how best to modify your routine so you can look -and feel- your very best at any age!
What Is Inflammaging
Inflammaging is a term used to describe the process of cellular aging due to inflammation. The word is a portmanteau of "inflammation" and "aging." We've seen it written inflammageing, inflamm aging, inflam-aging, and inflamed aging, but the meaning is the same regardless of how it's spelled.
The phenomenon, which accelerates when the immune system gets dysregulated, can have numerous implications for skincare and beauty.
It begins with cellular senescence (cells reaching their maximum lifespan); as they age, they become increasingly more prone to inflammation-induced damage caused by oxidative stress and other environmental factors. Over time, this damage leads to wrinkles, fine lines and other signs of aging skin. Another phenomenon, called immunosenescence, is the development of immune dysfunction in the elderly, closely related to the development of infections, autoimmune diseases, and cancers. Though it may result in disease, these processes are a side effect of age that affect us all. The key is to minimize and slow the natural process of aging.
A study published in 2019 showed that cytokines (proinflammatory molecules released from aged cells) contribute significantly to the weakening of collagen fibres, leading to an increased risk of developing deep wrinkles and sagging skin. Additionally, these inflammatory compounds were found to be associated with reduced elasticity in the dermis of our skin – another key indicator of aging.
Ultimately, inflammaging presents a unique set of challenges for anyone concerned about maintaining a youthful complexion well into their later years. By understanding its underlying mechanisms and taking proactive measures now – including using appropriate topical products designed specifically for fighting oxidative stress – we can mitigate its effects before it takes hold in earnest.
Causes Of Inflammaging
It might not come as a surprise to you that the two causes of inflammaging are - inflammation and aging (...not just a clever name...🤦♀️). These changes gradually happen to everyone. However, they're worsened and accelerated by various factors.
The primary cause is an imbalance between inflammatory biomarkers such as cytokines and oxidative stress molecules like reactive oxygen species. This disturbance creates an environment that is detrimental to our skin's health over time, leading to accelerated signs of aging, including wrinkles and hyperpigmentation.
People who suffer from chronic inflammatory diseases will be more prone to developing accelerated cellular aging. This is one of the reasons smoking is so awful for your body (and dramatically ages your facial appearance). Chronic inflammation and aging accumulate together but are accelerated in the case of inflammatory disease or states of immune system activation.
There are several key contributors to this balance disruption:
- An unhealthy diet filled with processed foods increases oxidative stress levels while also creating an environment for pro-inflammatory bacteria to flourish. Remember, a healthy Gut microbiome is key to having a healthy skin microbiome.
- UV exposure from sunlight damages cells by triggering the production of free radicals, which further exacerbates damage caused by oxidative stress.
- Pollution from cities has been shown to increase both free radical production and inflammation-inducing particles in the air we breathe on a daily basis.
- Stress levels have a correlation with systemic inflammation, causing hormones such as cortisol to go into overdrive when under pressure or feeling anxious.
It is clear that no single factor alone is responsible for inflammaging; rather, it is a combination of multiple lifestyle choices that ultimately leads to changes in the cellular level within our bodies - resulting in increased vulnerability towards skin problems associated with aging prematurely.
This means there are many different ways we can combat the process ranging from lifestyle changes to topical skincare products with specific ingredients. Ultimately these measures will protect against further damage caused by inflammation and aid your body's natural healing processes – giving you more youthful-looking skin!
Role Of Nutrition and Lifestyle In Fighting Inflammaging
My doctor-brain will kick in here a little bit as I mention that your overall health is critically affected by your diet. I'm not referring to the cosmetic appearance of your skin. I'm talking about the function of your immune cells (ie. your body fighting off cancer cells) and other pathologic processes than can be altered based on your lifestyle. The burden of health issues related to chronic inflammation is staggering - diabetes, heart disease, chronic kidney disease, etc.
Targeting healthy aging is also going to target youthful aging!
When it comes to skincare, you can influence your appearance based on how you eat and nourish your body. Eating nutrient-dense foods such as oily fish, legumes, nuts, seeds, and other fruits and vegetables high in antioxidants can help reduce systemic inflammation levels throughout the body. Additionally, consuming adequate amounts of Vitamin D3 may also be beneficial for reducing chronic inflammatory processes associated with aging.
In addition to lifestyle modifications, certain supplements like omega 3 fatty acids (EPA & DHA), astaxanthin, curcumin/turmeric and resveratrol may also offer potential health benefits when used strategically according to individual needs and under medical supervision. There is an entire supplement industry aimed at targeting inflammaging from within. The jury is out as to the exact effectiveness of supplements. Critics argue that the most they will do is drain your wallet. I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
Doctor-brain will kick in here again and clarify that water doesn't flush toxins - your kidneys and liver do that. However, hydration is very important to overall cellular health and skin hydration too. You can't have plump, elastic, firm skin if the cells are shrunken and dehydrated.
The Role of Exercise In Reducing Inflammaging
It's well-established that exercise plays an important role in reducing inflammation and age-related degeneration. Exercise can be prescribed as a treatment component for some chronic inflammatory diseases and pain disorders. The physiological effects of regular physical activity have a direct impact on the health of our skin. Exercise increases circulation and stimulates the immune system to help fight inflammation. Moreover, research has shown that regular physical activity reduces oxidative stress which contributes to aging and many other diseases including skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema.
The beneficial effect of exercise on inflammaging is due to its ability to improve cell damage prevention by decreasing pro-inflammatory cytokines while enhancing anti-inflammatory ones. This means that it helps protect against further cellular damage caused by free radicals and oxidation processes associated with aging. Regular physical activity also leads to healthy hormonal balance which is essential for maintaining youthful-looking skin since hormones are known regulators of collagen production and tissue regeneration.
Sleep and the Benefits on Skin Aging
It has been well established that poor quality of sleep can lead to signs of premature ageing in the form of wrinkles, bags under the eyes, dark circles, and sagging skin. Studies have shown that inadequate quality or quantity of sleep leads to higher levels of oxidative stress and systemic inflammation thus accelerating visible signs of premature ageing. Therefore getting adequate restful sleep should be seen not just as essential for maintaining good health overall but also potentially beneficial when it comes to looking young and radiant!
Skincare Products To Combat Inflammaging
The term inflammaging makes it sound like there should be very special ingredients designed to combat the effects on your skin. I'm sure there is going to be a whole boom coming up of "anti-inflammaging skincare products". This will be grounded in marketing, which we've discussed extensively in other articles. Marketing is needed to match consumers with the products they are looking for; however, watch out for meaningless hype.
Pretty much any anti-aging skincare product will meet the same general description as one for anti-inflammaging. It's about the ingredients, not the product title.
Anti-inflammatory and antioxidant skincare ingredients include many nourishing options that reduce cellular damage, fight free radicals, protect from environmental stressors and pollutants, and help to heal the damage that's already done,
When it comes to the two categories, antioxidant ingredients focus more on fighting free radicals and reactive oxygen species, while anti-inflammatory ingredients focus more on calming, soothing, protecting, and healing. However, there is a lot of overlap between the two categories, and many ingredients possess both qualities.
Like anti-aging skincare, anti-inflammaging skincare would be focused on one of two categories - prevention and/or reversal. Again, many ingredients would have overlapping effects, but prevention and minimization is always easier than trying to reverse damage that's already done.
Anti-Inflammaging Skincare Routine
If you are going to design an anti-inflammaging skincare routine, it needs to be broken down into a few critical components. This can start to feel overwhelming, so remember to think of this as very similar to building an anti-aging skincare routine.
For anti-inflammaging skincare, the three functional categories you're going to want to target include:
- Protection and Skin Barrier Strengthening
- Damage Mitigation and Reversal
It's important to realize these are functional categories, not individual steps. It can all be happening at once. The one exception would be healing if you have a severely damaged skin barrier. In that case, we suggest taking a skincare holiday until your skin recovers and then rebuilding a new strategy afterwards.
Otherwise, a single product might target all three areas of inflammaging treatments simultaneously.
This is where anti-inflammatory skincare ingredients really shine. Look for ingredients like bisabolol, allantoin, colloidal oatmeal, panthenol, niacinamide, Centella Asiatica, aloe vera, honey, green tea, etc. Many of these ingredients will also have antioxidant properties, but the overlap is a great thing. Aging and inflammation work together, so healing is an important component of the anti-inflammaging approach.
Protection and Skin Barrier Strengthening
Protection is centred around SPF as well as avoiding the sun altogether. Some people believe they benefit greatly from anti-blue light and anti-pollution products and ingredients. However, avoiding UV radiation is by far the most important.
Think of skin barrier strengthening as a fortification of your defences. A healthy skin barrier means healthy immune cells, a functioning grouping of antioxidants, and a protective barrier against bacterial invasion and water loss. To fulfill these goals, focus on nourishing emollients, supporting your acid mantle with products that have a proper pH, and helping boost the health of your gut and skin barrier microbiome. Look for pH-balanced products, consider pre and post-biotic skincare ingredients, and use nourishing, antioxidant face oils as emollients as well. This is a list of what we feel are the best face oils for aging skin.
Lots of options here; just focus on overall skin health!
Damage Mitigation and Reversal
This final category is where you will encounter a lot more of the active ingredients you think about when you discuss skin aging and the reversal of the effects of aging. It can be a bit tricky, however, because some ingredients, like retinol, will definitely work in the anti-aging category, but are still highly inflammatory in the beginning.
Here's a list of ingredients to consider if building an anti-inflammaging skincare routine:
- Tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate (Vitamin C oil): once converted to active Vitamin C at the cellular level, this is a powerful antioxidant that is more stable and less irritating than plain L-ascorbic acid. Vitamin C is especially important for healthy skin due to its ability to neutralize oxidative stress. The fact it can be combined into a facial oil is one reason we love this ingredient more for anti-inflammaging skincare.
- Vitamin E (Tocopherol): Protects skin cells from oxidative stress, strengthens the skin's natural barrier, and has moisturizing properties.
- Bakuchiol: a powerful antioxidant with anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and anti-aging effects. Unlike retinol, it does not increase inflammation at the beginning of using it. Because it's an oil, it can be incorporated easily into a nourishing, emollient facial oil - this is why we love bakuchiol for anti-inflammaging skincare.
- Green Tea Extract (Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract): Contains polyphenols and catechins that offer anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antioxidant benefits.
- Resveratrol: A potent antioxidant found in red wine and grapes, with anti-aging and skin-soothing properties.
- Pterocarpus Marsupium Bark Extract: another potent antioxidant that is extracted and purified from the bark of the Indian Kino tree. It contains pterostilbene, which is likely more powerful than resveratrol and less irritating than kojic acid.
- Coenzyme Q10 (Ubiquinone): Energizes skin cells, stimulates collagen production, and neutralizes free radicals.
- Ferulic Acid: A plant-derived antioxidant that stabilizes and enhances the efficacy of other antioxidants.
- Glutathione: A powerful antioxidant that detoxifies the skin, reduces pigmentation, and protects against environmental damage.
- Alpha-Lipoic Acid: A versatile antioxidant that helps neutralize free radicals, reduce inflammation, and improve skin texture.
- Astaxanthin: A potent carotenoid antioxidant with strong anti-inflammatory and UV-protective properties.
- Turmeric (Curcumin): A natural antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties that can help soothe and brighten the skin.
- Peptides have been shown to be effective at reducing inflammatory markers associated with age-related degenerative changes. Peptides act as signalling molecules between cells and their environment; they interact with receptors on cells' surfaces triggering responses that improve structure and function.
- Growth Factors: similar to peptides, growth factors are thought to work at the cellular level to stimulate specific areas of repair and rebuilding.
Inflammaging is a process that can be affected through proper nutrition, exercise, skincare products and stress management.
There's no magic bullet solution here; taking care of yourself holistically requires patience and commitment but can make all the difference when it comes to looking younger longer.
By taking care of your overall health with these strategies, you'll be able to age gracefully while maintaining beautiful, youthful skin for years to come.
By harnessing the power of nature, active botanicals, and active ingredients, you can easily develop an anti-inflammaging skincare routine to support your appearance as time marches on.
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