By Marcella Cardinal
Caring for your skin and maintaining its youth and luminosity, whether through quality skin care products or regular facials, may seem to many people a matter of vanity and indulgence. Let’s be honest; to some degree it is. We want to look good, because when we look good we feel better about ourselves. But valuing your esthetic needs benefits you more than skin deep, especially when it comes to inflammation.
The skin is the largest organ in your body and it has a multitude of functions that are taken for granted. For example, not only is it the casing that wraps your musculature, skeletal structure and internal organs, it is like the bouncer in a nightclub. It makes sure only the right things get in, and keeps some of the most important ones from getting out. The skin also acts as a full-time garbage disposal by filtering waste, just like your kidneys, and its acidic pH makes it a hostile environment for bacteria to survive.
In the evolution of skin care there are many approaches to correcting aging concerns, including balancing hormones, protecting from UV radiation, correcting free-radical damage, and detoxification. Micro-injections have become more and more popular in recent years, as well as sirtuin technology which focuses on activating the enzymes that prolong the life of cells. But what do you know about inflammation?
I’m guessing what comes to mind is probably swelling, redness, heat and perhaps even discomfort. If so, you’re on the right track, but that’s not the inflammation I’m talking about. What’s more, if you don’t have rosacea, you’re probably wondering what this has to do with you. What if I told you the inflammation I am referring to is an internal and silent inflammation that you neither see nor feel. To put it another way; it’s not a matter of if you have inflammation, it’s a matter of when you will see its effects and the actual toll it’s taking on your skin (and body in general) over the years.
You see, there are two types of aging: Extrinsic and Intrinsic and I am pretty certain that what you’ve been treating up until now has only been Extrinsic. Just as these names suggest, extrinsic aging happens outside of the body and is influenced by all the factors you are already aware of: damaging radiation due to sun exposure, pollution, and other free-radical causing agents. By contrast, intrinsic aging occurs inside the body and its main governing factors are genetics and inflammation.
Inflammation is like stress. It has its benefits when it is the body functioning to protect itself. The fight or flight response and spike in adrenaline have been an important tool in the evolution of our species to ensure survival. However, chronically elevated levels of adrenaline -commonly known as stress- begins breaking down your immune system, making you more susceptible to illness.
By the same token, inflammation is the skin’s response when an unknown element ‘attacks’ the skin. Blood is rushed to the affected area (increasing heat and redness in the skin) to assist white blood cells in killing infection. Chronic inflammation (whether it’s visible or not) keeps the skin in a heightened state of response. Every time this protective mechanism occurs, enzymes are released to destroy cells, including collagen and elastin, and free-radicals are released.
At this point you’re most likely wondering what causes inflammation. As I’ve just mentioned, stress and diet are biggies, although stress seems to be the accepted norm in society today. And although, I’m not asking you to overhaul your current lifestyle, tweaking your diet AND using the appropriate skin care products will make a big, long-term difference not only in the beauty of your skin, but in your overall health.
Aging is not the only skin condition inflammation causes over time. Other common skin concerns include acne, pigmentation spots, sagginess, enlarged pores, dryness, dullness, reddening of the skin and flare-ups.
So how do you treat this inflammation? Too many times I’ve had clients that believe that the ‘stronger’ or harsher a product or treatment is, the better it must be. After all, it must mean it’s more effective, right? Wrong.
Believe me, more aggressive treatments can be effective, and are at times necessary, depending on the condition of the skin and the results that need to be achieved. All peels, lasers and medical skin care treatments have their place. These treatments cause a wound response in the skin, which can have its benefits as long as you re-establish balance and give your skin the tools it needs to properly heal and restore itself, maintaining its health from the inside-out.
Here are some basic steps to get you started on addressing inflammation:
1.Begin supplementing your skin care with products that contain ingredients such as aloe, gingko biloba, allatoin, honey and chamomile. Skin growth factors (SGFs) are also key in healing and regenerating the skin.
2.Be sure to wear a broad-spectrum sunblock on a daily basis that contains titanium dioxide or zinc oxide as active ingredients in a 6% or higher.
3.Avoid extremely hot water in washing your face or in your showers. Opt for lukewarm to cool water instead and even keep some skin care products in the refrigerator for that soothing, cooling effect.
4.Include fresh vegetables and fruits in your diet, along with whole grains and salmon. If you’re not big on fish, Omega 3 and 6 fatty acid supplements are also effective at targeting the inflammation.
5.Avoid sugar and coffee as much as you can. Black and green tea are great caffeine alternatives, in addition to being full of antioxidants!
Having more beautiful, youthful and radiant skin doesn’t necessarily mean completely altering your lifestyle, although it does call for some changes. Surgery, botox and fillers will eliminate wrinkles, but they don’t change the quality and health of your skin. It’s not about just a superficial quick fix if you’re looking for long-term results, but rather a whole-listic approach that involves treating and healing the skin from the inside-out. Who knows, you may even lose a few inches off your waistline!
About the Author: Marcella is an internationally-trained esthetician and makeup aritst with over 17 years of experience. Her specialties are corrective skin care and TV, print and wedding makeup artistry and she has been featured on The Doctors and Hell’s Kitchen.