Our skin—we pamper it, fret over it, and, sometimes, spend more money on it than we’d care to admit. Yet our best intentions for our skin may not go very far if they’re not informed by one of the biggest factors behind almost every skin concern—inflammation. By design, inflammation actually exists to help us and occurs when the body tries to defend itself from something unhealthy. From redness to swelling to fevers, manifestations of inflammation are often a sign that our immune and healing systems are doing their jobs.
Unfortunately, an overworked immune system coupled with chronic aggressors (stress, poor diet, overly intense exercise, pollution, etc.) can make us increasingly prone to destructive inflammation. Rather than healing the body, this form of inflammation attacks normal cells. While inflammation can manifest itself internally, our focus today is skin—one of the most recognizable places this chronic inflammation shows up.
The bad news is that acne, rashes, irritation, slowed skin healing, and premature aging can all be exacerbated by inflammation. London dermatologist Dr. Nick Lowe explains, “patients who come to see me with redness, extreme sensitivity, acne, and eczema have inflamed skin. It’s this constant, out-of-control inflammation that ultimately accelerates wrinkles, pigmentation, and scarring.” Ugh. Fortunately, there is some good news! There are multiple, small yet effective ways we can fight destructive inflammation and help our skin look its best.
Start on the Inside
- Avoid refined and processed foods. Many contain too much sugar and are almost always sources of inflammatory fats (trans fat and saturated fat).
- Try to fill your plate with whole, unrefined foods with a focus on anti-inflammatory/antioxidant-rich produce—think leafy greens, colorful veggies, and berries.
- Emphasize healthy sources of fat. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in greens, whole grains, and many nuts, help soothe inflammation from the inside-out. (Learn more about healthy omega 3/ omega 6 ratios and dietary sources of omega 3 here.)
- Opt for gentle cooking methods to preserve omega 3s. Steaming and baking tend to be better than frying and grilling for this purpose.
- Get friendly with turmeric. It will love you back.
Address Your Skincare
- Just as you should with your diet, prioritize antioxidants in your skincare regimen. Vitamins C and E, as well as resveratrol, can help calm and protect skin.
- Dr. Lowe recommends balms and oils to help nourish skin and encourage healing (though avoid these potentially irritating essential oils).
- Always protect skin with sunscreen—and take these precautions if you live in a polluted area.
- If your skin is feeling particularly vulnerable, skip harsh peels and abrasive treatments. If you want to treat your skin, red and blue LED light therapy can help treat skin concerns while generally reducing inflammation.
Manifestations of inflammation may not go away immediately; therefore, be patient with your healthy lifestyle and skincare regimen. Think of your efforts as an investment in the skin you’ll wake up with tomorrow—and several years from now.
How do you protect your skin from inflammation?
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