The word ‘inflammation’ carries all kinds of negative connotations. But when it comes to the skin, inflammageing describes how long-term chronic inflammation accelerates the skin’s ageing process (by reducing collagen production and inhibiting skin cells’ ability to renew and repair themselves), resulting in lines, wrinkles, laxity, and hyperpigmentation. As we age and our cells die, there are more inflammatory components present within our cellular matrix. As a result, we see increased signs of ageing, which causes more cells to die, and the process repeats. It’s a vicious cycle that seemingly has no end.
But this isn’t a new problem. While its role in the ageing process is only now becoming understood within the medical world, inflammation is something that we as humans have been suffering from and dealing with since the dawn of time. Our awareness of what chronic inflammation can do to the body is growing, but more importantly, so is our knowledge of what actions we must take to minimise the effects.
The body’s relationship with inflammation
Inflammation is your body’s first line of defence against toxins, infections, and injuries. Believe it or not, it’s a good thing and plays a vital role in our immune system’s ability to function correctly. When your cells are in distress, they release chemicals to alert the immune system. The immune system then sends its first responders — inflammatory cells — to trap the offending substance or heal the tissue.
But here’s the problem with inflammation: Over time, you can end up with too much of a good thing. With chronic inflammation, your body is on high alert all the time. This prolonged state of emergency can cause lasting damage not only to the health of your skin but also to your heart, brain, and other organs.
What influences inflammageing?
Our bodies are very intuitive and use inflammation as a way of signalling stress from the inside-out. External causes of inflammation can be caused by heat, sun damage, pollution, tobacco smoke and things such as chemical irritants (detergents, solvents, and abrasive soaps). Internal causes include an unbalanced diet, stress, and significant lack of sleep.
When it comes to the issue of skin, it’s also essential to stay on top of chronic diseases, especially those that run in your family. Conditions such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and digestive problems can significantly impact how our skin responds to the ageing process.
The impact of inflammation on our skin
Invisible inflammatory responses that happen at a low-level continuously within the dermis quietly age the skin both rapidly and prematurely. Inflammation can destroy the skin’s collagen and elastin, eventually resulting in cell loss, water deprivation and thinning of the skin. And once your skin has become thinner, it’s typically more susceptible to additional forms of damage, such as those caused by injury or exposure to UV rays. Sun-damage is the primary cause of pigmentation issues and wrinkles, which harm the skin’s plumpness and integrity.
Tackling inflammation for lifelong skin health
The good news is there are several ways that you can manage excess inflammation within the body. Tackling inflammation is all about keeping our inflammatory response at a healthy level rather than allowing it to tip over into extremes, which is when the skin tends to go off the deep end.
But, with a few simple dietary and lifestyle changes, you can significantly reduce your inflammatory load. Avoid intake of things that are just plain bad for you, such as alcohol, cigarettes and processed foods. Make it a habit to walk at least 10,000 steps every day and to do a bit of light cardio, if you can. Most importantly, try to minimise your stress naturally and healthily through lifestyle changes, meditation or the use of CBD oil.
The foods you eat can also go a long way in off-setting chronic inflammation and inflammageing. A diet rich in antioxidants such as berries, salmon, green leafy vegetables, healthy fats and lean proteins can help reduce inflammation levels within the body. Try to avoid foods high in carbs and processed sugars – eating sugar is like throwing fuel on a fire.
Turmeric is a powerful antioxidant that’s well known for its ability to reduce inflammation within the body. Interestingly, studies have recently emerged that show India has significantly lower rates of certain cancers attributed to the fact there’s a lot of turmeric in their diet. Taking a Curcumin supplement (the active ingredient in Tumeric) alongside black pepper extract makes for a powerful anti-inflammatory combination with endless health benefits.
A bright future for skin health
As a doctor who takes a holistic approach to ageing, I am delighted to see that our knowledge of inflammageing is starting to progress. I firmly believe that whole-body health leads to better overall skin health, particularly in dealing with excess inflammation. I’m excited to see what the future has to offer – from supplementation to clinically-led skincare products such as Heraux that work to protect stem cells from stressors and stop inflammageing in its tracks, science and skin ageing are a duo that’s rapidly evolving.
Internal and external stressors each contribute to cell death in one way or another, and managing them effectively is key. Implement healthier habits now, and you will be doing something incredible for your future self.
It’s entirely possible to have smooth, healthy skin well into your later years. A targeted treatment and skincare plan can play a big part in how our skin ages as we get older. Click here to enquire about booking a consultation at my Kent or London clinic to discuss how we can optimise your skin health.