The Evils of Inflammation – And What You Can Do About It
If it were possible to pinpoint one thing that is at the root of so many of the ailments and diseases that we suffer from, there is a good chance that the finger would be pointed directly at inflammation. Inflammation is a natural defensive response of the body, and without it you would not be able to fight against the many viruses, bacteria and injuries that you encounter on a daily basis. There isn’t a problem with this natural defense mechanism until the body begins to remain in an inflamed state, even when there is no immediate threat present. Many people think of inflammation as being a mostly internal condition, however inflammatory skin conditions are among the leading concerns in dermatology, affecting approximately thirty-five million Americans. Inflammation can affect the health of your skin and the amount of confidence you have in your appearance. Keep reading to learn how to stop acne and minimize inflammation today.
The process of inflammation and how it affects your skin are a bit complex. Inflammation can be triggered from a variety of factors, each producing a different inflammatory response. Your skin is a large working organ, and when it is exposed to an inflammatory agent, such as ultraviolet rays, synthetic fragrances, skin irritants and other allergens, your skin cells automatically produce inflammatory hormones called chemokines and cytokines. Not only do these hormones cause inflammation, but they also bind to specialized cells that signal the body to produce additional inflammatory hormones. The steps of this chain reaction build upon each other and soon you are dealing with the effects of inflammation such as an excess of free radicals, vasodilation, and the physiological production of chemicals that are detrimental to the health of your skin. The initial inflammatory response that was meant to protect can potentially cause long term damage to your skin tissue.
If inflammation is one of the leading dermatological concerns, what are some of the ways that the effects of inflammation show on the skin? There are a number of skin conditions that are the result of an inflammatory response. These skin conditions include:
- Mild Acne
- Sebaceous Cysts
- Production of free radicals that contribute to loss of elasticity, dryness, sagging and wrinkles
- Allergic Reactions
It seems that the simplest way to avoid having your skin become a victim of inflammation is to just avoid the triggers that cause it. If only it were that simple. The truth is that inflammation is much more complicated than just avoiding a product that might cause a response. Even though you skin is an external organ, it is greatly affected by the processes that are occurring internally, some of which contribute to the inflammation that is shown in the health of your skin. Aside from underlying chronic inflammatory diseases, the main culprits of inflammation include stress and your diet.
How many times have you developed a break out right before a big event? Even if you don’t have acne prone skin, it seems to happen to everyone at some point. While the relationship between stress and acne doesn’t have solid scientific support, there is plenty of research that connects stress and other skin conditions such as psoriasis. The nervous system, which is responsible for processing stressful triggers, plays a major role in how your skin is affected by inflammation. The nerve endings in your skin release neurotransmitters and neuropeptides, which control specialized skin cells such as the endothelial and immune cells. When you are stressed, your nervous system causes more neurotransmitters and neuropeptides to be released. This can cause vasodilation; the flushed feeling you get when angry or stressed, and an inflammatory response. It is the inflammatory response that contributes to psoriasis, rosacea, dermatitis and potentially acne. Additionally, there is research that suggests that there is a connection between the combination of stress and exposure to UV rays with a higher chance of developing skin cancer. Whether the evidence is anecdotal or scientific, stress is bad for your skin no matter how you look at it.
We know that stress is bad, but let’s be honest; avoiding stress is nearly impossible. We all experience it to some degree, and sometimes stress can even be caused by the positive and exciting aspects of life. Reducing all of the potential for stress would mean living a pretty bland life. Rather than try to tiptoe around life to avoid any possible stress, the best approach is to learn how to deal with stress more affectively. Here are a few ways that you can help combat the effects of daily or situational stress on your body, and reduce the risk of inflammation:
- Eat a healthy diet. Make sure that your diet is composed of as many wholesome, natural foods as possible. Also, make a point of including many of the anti-inflammatory foods that are listed a little further in this article. Vitamins for acne and inflammation also can help even out your skin.
- Get plenty of sleep. Sleep deprivation is the cause of so many emotional and physical ailments. You can’t catch up on missed sleep, so make an effort to get a solid eight to ten hours every night. A little cat nap in the middle of the day never hurt anyone either. The more quality sleep you get, the more productive and happy you will be.
- Exercise regularly. Regular physical exercise, even if it is very low impact, goes a long way toward keeping your body and mind healthy and stress free.
- Engage with others. People who have more social connections tend to suffer less from stress. Reach out to friends, family and your community to build personal connections.
- Know your limits. The word “no” can be a complete sentence and it is perfectly fine to use it. Stop taking on more than you can handle.
- Adopt a new philosophy. In life you have two choices, accept it as it is or do something to change it. Look at each situation and see which of these two options apply and then embrace it totally. Learn what you can control and what you must let go of to reduce the amount of stress in your life.
The second big contributor to inflammation is your diet. We all know that paying attention to the foods that we choose to nourish our bodies with plays a major role in overall health. You might first think about fat, cholesterol or sodium as the main culprits of poor nutritional health. What we seldom think about is the role that inflammation plays in all of it. Of the major diseases that we suffer from today, many of them are actually caused by chronic inflammation. Inflammatory diseases that can reduce your overall quality of life include heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, asthma, arthritis, inflammatory skin conditions, periodontal disease and sinusitis, just to name of few. Did you know that you can lessen the symptoms of these diseases, and reduce the possibility of ever developing them just by making an effort to avoid inflammatory foods? Some of the worst foods for contributing to inflammation include:
- Trans fats, such as those found in hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils
- Sugar, both white and brown varieties
- Refined Grains, such as white bread and refined pasta
- Saturated Animal Fats, such as those found in fatty red meats.
- Fried Foods
- Processed Foods
- Artificial Sweeteners
- Refined Salt
If this list makes you grimace because it feels as though you just can’t have anything, have no fear. Many of the foods listed above are not that difficult to limit or eliminate completely from your diet if you replace them with healthy, natural anti-inflammatory foods. As a bonus, many of the hardest working inflammatory fighting foods also contain other valuable vitamins and nutrients that contribute to healthy, glowing skin. So, if you are ready to clear your cupboards of all of the bad stuff, here is a list of some of the delicious and wholesome foods to stock your refrigerator and pantry with:
- Dark, leafy green vegetables such as spinach, swiss chard and kale
- Bok Choy
- Olive oil
- Whole Grains, as long as no gluten sensitivity is present
- Chia Seeds
- Flax Seeds
- Raw Honey
- Green Tea
- Dark Chocolate
I don’t know about you, but I see a whole bunch of deliciousness on that list. Reducing inflammation can be tasty and simple, just by incorporating more of these foods into your daily diet.
So, let’s say that you are working to reduce stress, and you have made changes to your diet, but you still want to do more to combat the effects of inflammation on your skin. You can go to a dermatologist, who will have solutions for you, some of them requiring a prescription. This is a very valid option, especially if you are suffering from any severe or chronic skin conditions. You might also be looking for a more natural approach; one that uses elements of nature to combat inflammatory skin. Working to heal your inflamed skin is a two-step approach. It requires both the right product and the right approach.
There are a number of natural, anti-inflammatory ingredients that can be used in skincare products, or sometimes even on their own, to help heal and protect inflamed skin. Some of the best natural anti-inflammatory skin ingredients include:
- Vitamin E
- Hyaluronic Acid
- White Willow Bark Extract
- Apple Cider Vinegar
- Coconut Oil
When purchasing skincare products, become a label reader. Look for all natural ingredients and make sure that there isn’t anything on the ingredient list that might cause further inflammation, such as harsh chemicals and fragrance. Once you have your anti-inflammatory skincare routine set up, take a little extra time and care with your skin. Be cautious when using exfoliants, since over-zealous exfoliation can exacerbate inflamed skin. Be careful to use a gentle touch and rinse your face with lukewarm – never hot - water. Always use a mineral-based sunscreen whenever you will be outdoors for more than ten to fifteen minutes, regardless of the weather. Zinc oxide, one of the key ingredients used in mineral sunscreen, is anti-inflammatory itself, so it actually helps soothe skin while protecting it from inflammation-causing UV rays. If you have an inflammatory skin condition that persists, or becomes worse, you should seek the help of your physician or dermatologist in determining the best course of care.Inflammation is a hot topic in health news today. As more research is being done in this area, the more we are learning about the negative consequences inflammation has for our health, both long term and short term. This is also true for your skin. Your skin is incredibly important to your health and your self-confidence. How inflammation affects your skin can have an incredible impact on your life. Inflammation can be controlled, and many of the methods of acne prevention can be easily incorporated into your daily routine with the right knowledge and a little effort. Your health, your appearance and how you feel about yourself are all far too important to not fight inflammation in some of the most natural ways possible.
-- Angela Irish, Certified Aesthetician & Co-Founder OZNaturals