Could ‘Inflammaging’ Be the Reason for Your Acne? This Dermatologist Thinks Yes

Photo: Stocksy/Olga Sibirskaya

Inflammation and aging (aka inflammaging) are two of the major challenges when it comes to acne. As we age, our skin's natural defenses become weaker and less able to repair itself and fight off bacteria diminishes, making it more likely to be affected by environmental stressors, such as sun exposure and harsh products, leading to a higher risk of infection and inflammation. 

“Inflammation plays a huge role in acne,”says board-certified dermatologist Tess Mauricio, MD, FAAD. “There are many studies that show inflammation is a hallmark of acne, and treatments should address inflammation.”

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One study published in The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology found that the entire acne process starts with inflammation at the cellular level—with the normal levels of sebum in hair follicles oxidizing. As the bacteria known to cause acne thrive in lower oxygen environments, it develops the infection and inflammatory response in the form of a round and inflamed bump. And it doesn’t stop there.

Inflammation is also associated with the redness and discoloration (or post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation), as well as the scarring, that occurs from acne, according to Dr. Mauricio. And the real kicker is that the whole process is aging your skin too.

How to combat inflammaging and acne

Inflammation and acne go hand-in-hand, so it’s important to tackle both separately and together. “The main goal for acne-prone skin is to avoid anything that is comedogenic, or pore-clogging, and to avoid stripping the skin,” says Sarah Brown, CEO and founder of organic skin-care brand, Pai, who started the company after struggling with sensitive skin.

Dr. Maurico agrees, explaining that even though adding oils to oily or blemish-prone skin may sound counter-intuitive, it’s important. “Products that over-strip the skin of its natural oils can actually increase oil gland activity,” she says.

It’s also essential to note some products don’t mix well together and can worsen your acne and inflammation. “Some toners and products with glycolic acid should not be combined with benzoyl peroxide and retinol, especially on sensitive skin, as this can be too drying and may cause chronic inflammation and skin irritation,” says Dr. Maurico, who adds that people experiencing inflammaging and acne should stay away from thick, petroleum-based products, heavy oil-based makeup, and even certain sunscreens.

If your skin is sensitive or sensitized, Brown suggests paring back your routine to just the basics; a gentle cleanser and moisturizer. She also advises not changing your routine too drastically and first and foremost ensuring the cleanser you're using is the right one for you. "Ditch anything that foams and go alcohol-free—and that means no wipes,” she says. “Wipes strip the skin and leave it feeling dry and tight.”

As far as combating the inflammation throughout the body, not just at the acne site, Dr. Mauricio advises maintaining a healthy lifestyle that focuses on regular exercise and an anti-inflammatory food protocol like the Mediterranean diet.

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