Inflammation and Skin AgingKey to understanding how our skin—and the rest of us—ages is to examine the role played by inflammation. An excellent article by Rhonda Allison in the April 2014 issue of Skin Inc., takes the question of inflammation head on. She asks, “Is it possible there’s one root cause responsible behind skin aging, diseases and other challenges? Much of the available research says yes—pointing to inflammation as the common denominator.” (One of the research articles she cites, “Chronic Inflammation is Etiology of Extrinsic Aging,” from the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, March 2008, puts it this way: “Skin-care regimens using active ingredients that are recommended by physicians who treat mucocutaneous conditions including aging should become more focused on reversing and preventing chronic inflammation… [which] appears strongly linked to many preventable and treatable skin diseases and conditions such as visible skin aging.”)
Chronic InflammationWe all know about acute inflammation associated with bodily injury. The body’s efforts to heal create symptoms like pain, heat, swelling and redness in the process. This is normal. What’s not so normal and certainly not desirable is inflammation that persists for a long period of time. It is scientifically accepted that inflammation contributes to many diseases including arthritis, heart disease, stroke and even cancer.
Chronic inflammation is also linked to skin aging that for the most part starts with—you guessed it—UV exposure. A cascade of biochemical reactions occurs whenever you are exposed to the sun—with unpleasant outcomes such as depletion of cellular antioxidants and antioxidant enzymes like superoxide dismutase (SOD), DNA damage and increased synthesis of pro-inflammatory mediators. Oxidative damage to cellular proteins, lipids and carbohydrates accumulate in the dermal and epidermal compartments and contribute to photoaging. What does photoaging look like? Wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, age spots and leathery skin, that’s what.
Preventing Inflammation to Prevent Photoaging
- You know what I am going to say, but I’ll say it anyway: Wear zinc oxide sunscreen every day, rain or shine. Zinc oxide is anti-inflammatory, yet another reason to choose zinc oxide over other sunscreen agents. Especially avoid chemical sunscreens, which break down in the presence of UV light and contribute to your free radical load.
Include plenty of antioxidants in your diet (fruits and vegetables), as well as antioxidants like A, C and E in your topical preparations.
Correct omega-3 deficiencies with a fish or krill oil supplement. Remember, both topical application and oral supplementation are effective means of delivering EFAs to the skin and systemic circulation.
Our diets tend to be heavy on the omega-6 side of things—these are found in oils like safflower and sunflower. Some physicians recommend 4- or 3-to-1 omega-6s to omega-3s. The ratio in our oil blend is 1:1, in part because Omega-3s are much harder to get, but also because omega-3s are critical in preventing inflammation.
Don’t forget omega-9. Oleic acid has significant anti-inflammatory, wound healing and bactericidal properties. In an important study, among a series of free fatty acids, only oleic acid eliminates Staphylococcus aureus through cell wall disruption.
The Right Oils (continued)
In the previous post, I talked about the importance of omega-3s in moderating inflammation. But omega-6s are also very important in maintaining skin health. Linoleic acid (LA), the parent compound of omega-6, plays an essential role in barrier function. Indeed, essential fatty acid deficiency (EFAD) in humans clinically manifests as dermatitis (scaling and dryness of the skin) and increased trans epidermal water loss (TEWL). In one study, EFA deficiency was induced by feeding animals a hydrogenated coconut oil diet (which completely lacks EFAs)—then the ability of specific fatty acid species to rescue the cutaneous and biochemical symptoms of EFAD was assessed. Supplementation with safflower or primrose oils corrected the deficiency symptoms, while supplementation with n-3 rich preparations had no effect. The study confirms the specific role of n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), and LA in particular, on skin barrier function.
Some oils, like olive and emu, are rich in oleic acid (omega-9), which appears to have significant anti-inflammatory properties. And there are some oils that contain natural anti-inflammatories: Jojoba oil contains a natural anti-inflammatory called myristic acid, and tamanu oil contains anti-inflammatory compounds calophyllolide and delta-tocotrienol (a form of vitamin E), as well as a number of antioxidants.
Now our Oil de Jour looks like this:
Antioxidants: astaxanthin, pomegranate seed oil, broccoli seed oil, red raspberry seed oil
Anti-inflammatories: jojoba oil, tamanu oil, helichrysum essential oil
Vitamin A: rosehip seed oil contains natural retinol
Vitamins and carotenoids: avocado oil, tomato seed oil
Omega-9 (oleic acid): camellia seed oil, emu oil, olive oil
Omega-6 (a-linoleic acid): sesame seed oil, barbary fig seed oil
- Gamma-linolenic acid: borage oil
Omega-3 (linolenic acid): kiwi seed oil, chia seed oil
- DHA/EPA: algae oil
We’re almost done, but I saved the most important category for Part 4 of this series. Some of our oils also have significant UV-protective capacities—especially in the all-important UVA range.
Until next time!