Inflammageing: Is an anti-inflammatory the future of skin care?

Inflammageing: Is an anti-inflammatory the future of skin care?

We all know that ongoing, excess inflammation isn’t great for our health, but did you know that it can contribute to the premature ageing of our skin? As the biggest organ of the human body, our skin reflects what’s going on with our internal health, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that diet and lifestyle impacts the appearance of our skin - from ageing to acne.

‘Inflammageing’ is a buzzword created to sum up how inflammation can accelerate the ageing process that affects our whole body - including our skin. Although the term may seem new and suggestive of a fad, the science behind it is, in fact, firmly established. We know that there are external factors - many of which are within our control - that contribute to inflammageing of the skin, including exposure to the sun, pollution, and tobacco smoke. Scientists have known about these for years, and countless topical skin care lines have been created to combat some of their effects, but did you know that what we eat has an impact too? With the lines between beauty and health products becoming increasingly blurred, is it time we all embraced diet and supplements as additions to our beauty regimes as standard? Read on to find out if what you’re eating is accelerating the ageing of your skin, and what actions you can take to combat it.

How does diet affect inflammageing?

Clinical studies show that consistently eating a poor diet can contribute to excess inflammation in the body. Food affects our inflammatory response through several mechanisms, including elevated insulin levels, homonal disturbance, and compromised gut health - all of which can lead to skin-damaging inflammation. 

Diets high in simple sugars and red meat, and low in antioxidants and good fats, all contribute to inflammageing. On the flip side, specific nutrients, too, have been shown to reduce inflammation, and are worth considering as part of your beauty care.

Dermatologists often recommend supplementing with Omega-3 fatty acids, for boosting skin health and radiance, as it’s been shown to help prevent acne and related skin inflammation[1] [2]. The highest dietary source is oily fish, but vegan supplement options are also now available.

The common household spice turmeric, containing the active compound curcumin, has been extensively studied for its anti-inflammatory and anti-ageing properties, with a recent clinical paper [3] concluding that ‘the positive impact of curcumin on ageing cannot be neglected’. Make sure you’re adding turmeric to your soups, stews and curries on a regular basis, as although curcumin is potent in it’s action, it’s difficult for the body to absorb. This is why many who use it as an adjunct therapy to anti-inflammatory treatments choose to supplement with liposomal turmeric, a form which is easier for the body to utilise.

Vitamin C is essential for skin as it is required to create collagen [4]. It’s often included in skin care products, as topical application of vitamin C has been shown to protect against premature ageing of the skin caused by repeated exposure to the sun, and reduce pigmentation issues [5]. But don’t forget to ingest it internally, too. Foods rich in vitamin C include peppers, citrus fruits, berries and broccoli.

Commonly found in nuts, seeds, meat, pulses and mushrooms, the mineral zinc - best known for it’s importance in immune function - plays an important role in collagen synthesis, normal inflammatory responses, and balancing testosterone [6].

Another antioxidant that has long been popular in skincare - vitamin E - has been shown to reduce skin inflammation after exposure to ultraviolet light [7], as well as helping skin look more youthful. It’s been shown in trials to strengthen the skin and improve elasticity, as well as speed up cellular regeneration. Tuck in to avocados, nuts, and seeds to get your daily fix.

Other boosters include lesser known skin friends, resveratrol and lipoic acid. Resveratrol, found in grapes, cocoa, and Japanese Knotweed (something it’s good for!) is a powerful antioxidant that has been clinically shown to offer potent anti-inflammatory and anti-ageing properties [8] [9]. Lipoic Acid, is a potent anti-inflammatory nutrient [10] shown to help repair damaged cells and protect against oxidative damage [11]. It’s also involved in healthy blood sugar balance and insulin action, thereby providing significant anti-aging benefits for the skin by reducing glycation. Lipoic acid is found in many everyday foods such as meat, green leafy vegetables and tomatoes, though often in low doses, which is why some people choose to supplement in addition to their dietary intake.

How does gut health impact skin?

The digestive system is home to trillions of live organisms, some which are beneficial, and others that are pathogenic, collectively known as the microbiota. It’s normal to have ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria in the gut, what matters to our health is the balance between them. The microbiota has been shown to moderate the immune system - including our inflammatory responses. Many factors can impact the health of the microbiota, with diet being of primary importance. Long term intake of excess sugar, meat and alcohol can all have an impact, consequently contributing to inflammation in the body. Being sensible about consumption of these, as well as ingesting a wide variety of fibre-rich plant foods, will boost your gut health. If your gut function isn’t tip-top, supplementing with probiotics may be of benefit, as they have been shown to support immune function, promote healthy digestion and absorption of nutrients, as well as reduce inflammation associated with many skin conditions [12].

What’s the deal with sugar?

Sugar, when consumed in moderation, is not the ‘devil’ food it’s often made out to be, as we need sugars in our diet for the body to function properly. Whole foods rich in natural sugars - such as fruit - and complex carbohydrates which ultimately convert to glucose in the body, all contain nutrients essential for both our physical wellbeing, and therefore the health of our skin.

Not only do these foods contain vital antioxidants, vitamins and minerals to keep our skin glowing, they’re also naturally rich in fibre. Fibre works to dampen insulin spikes caused by intake of sugars and starches naturally present in whole foods, as well as being essential for a healthy gut microbiota, as mentioned previously. With gut health being increasingly linked to systemic inflammation, that’s not something we should ignore.

Where we need to be careful is in regularly eating large amounts of processed products such as sweets, cakes, cookies, and other refined ‘white’ foods. These tend to be higher glycaemic load foods that trigger rises in insulin. This in turn increases systemic inflammation which may perpetuate inflammatory skin conditions such as acne and psoriasis, and contribute to ageing.

And then there’s something else that occurs; regularly consuming lots of high glycemic-load foods also encourages the breakdown of collagen fibres in a process known as glycation - a process which is irreversable. So if you’re spending a fortune in anti-wrinkle skin products, but partial to pick-n-mix, it’s time to hold the Haribo. 

There’s absolutely no need to completely avoid cakes and other sweet treats (enjoy them as part of a balanced diet!), as it’s unlikely that moderate amounts of sugar are going to have a significant effect on skin. But be sensible in your intake of refined sugary products and ‘white’ foods, and fill up on their fibre-filled cousins where possible; a variety of fresh fruit, veg, and whole grains should form the basis of your diet, not just for their insulin-balancing properties, but for their skin-boosting antioxidant content, too. 

Antioxidants - not just for topical skincare

Many skin care lines contain antioxidants such as vitamins C, A, E and CoQ10. These have been clinically shown to reduce the effects of photoaging and reduce inflammation. However, when topically applied, antioxidants can’t adequately impact all the layers of the skin, nor are they always included in amounts to make a significant difference when applying a cream to the face. To maximise efficacy, Inflammageing needs an inside-out approach, so we need to be ingesting a spectrum of antioxidants through our food, and some may choose to top up their intake with nutritional supplements. A diet rich in a wide variety of fruit and vegetables will mean that you naturally consume a spectrum of antioxidants; you should aim for a variety of colours, as the pigments in the skins all relate to different groups of antioxidants.

In summary, if you’re serious about your anti-ageing regime, then systemic inflammation cannot be ignored. Swap a diet high in processed sugary foods and refined white carbohydrates, for one rich in gut-loving fibre and antioxidants based on a wide variety of whole grains, pulses, fruit, vegetables, and oily fish. Finally, consider supplementing with an anti-inflammatory complex and multi-strain probiotic to support your dietary and topical skincare regime.

If you enjoyed reading this article, you might like Vitamins for skin.


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Post author

Aliza Marogy

Nutritional Therapist, ND & Founder of Inessa

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