Why Inflammation Might Be What Is Actually Messing With Your Skin

Why Inflammation Might Be What Is Actually Messing With Your Skin

By Michael Pollak

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Inflammation can be the root cause of many skincare concerns we hear. Let's unpack what inflammation means.

Sometimes it can be hard to pick just one skincare goal. Wouldn’t it nice if there was one simple solution to address everything at once?! Well, amidst all of our opinions, we do agree that a skincare routine loaded in anti-inflammatory ingredients is one of the most effective ways to treat many skin concerns. 


Anti-inflammatory ingredients? Does that mean that my skin’s inflamed?

We customize each facial based on what we're seeing in your skin that day – and almost 40% of our facials have focused on calming inflammation. Most of us associate “inflamed skin” with allergic reactions to something – maybe we see a rash or hives. However, inflammation can take many forms and has many triggers – when you live in a city like New York, you’re hard-pressed to meet a skin that has no inflammation at all.


So, what do you mean by inflamed?

Inflammation is our body’s built-in defense system to protect itself. It's there to assist in healing after an injury and is then designed to subside after your body is back to normal. (Think: the angry redness around a zit, the redness around a mosquito bite, a swollen throat when you get strep, and so on.) However, there are instances in our daily life which trigger long-term inflammation to stay constant in the body and contribute to unwanted skin conditions. Some of the most common effects that we see are blotchy redness, early signs of aging, uneven hyperpigmentation spots, and stubborn breakouts.

Where could inflammation be coming from?

Inflammation is triggered from either an external or internal source. “Simply walking through a city, for example, exposes our skin to pollutants and free radicals which trigger our skin’s inflammatory response,” our Skin Therapist, Jenna tells us. Pollution is everywhere (unless you live in the Swiss Alps, in which case get off the internet! Go outside!), which means skin inflammation can linger, unless you do something to help manage it.

Besides pollution, external causes of long-term inflammation include not using SPF as directed, over-exfoliating, using skincare products that don't keep your skin pH balanced, in addition to those with harsh fragrances, too much essentials oils, or other irritants. There are certain cases when the root may be internal, such as with rosacea, a chronic yet treatable inflammatory skin condition which must be diagnosed by a dermatologist.

Wow, that’s a long list of things that cause it.

So many! And we’re not even done, unfortunately. Stress is a huge one. Jenna tells us that, “the hormone, cortisol, is elevated during stressful times, which in short term is a great thing, as it helps our body manage stress. However, if you experience stress often, cortisol backfires and causes inflammation. We know stress is hard to control, so we recommend that you combat the stress strain by giving your skin an anti-inflammatory calm-down treatments a couple times a week.” She recommends de-stressing with Oat Cleansing Polish from Naturopathica. Gently spreading onto skin in circular motions and leaving to set as an oh-so-soothing mask which works deep to calm inflammation. Other things, like meditation and more sleep, can help, too.

Besides redness, what else does inflammation look like so I can keep an eye out?

Inflammation causes our skin’s collagen and elastin to break down at a faster rate. This means that if you regularly expose your body to environments which cause inflammation (city dwellers, frequent flyers, and boozy brunchers!) fine lines and wrinkles will appear earlier. “If you’re interested in anti-aging products and looking long-term, inflammation can be a real hindrance,” our Skin Therapist, Suzanne warns. This is because the inflammation also causes a weakened moisture barrier, meaning you skin loses its ability to retain water. “Once you’re dehydrated, you’ll both see and feel the difference,” she adds.

We often have clients who come in saying that they have dry skin but when we do a skin analysis, we find that they’re actually presenting dry because of inflammation. “What we see during skin analysis under the Wood's Lamp depends on the inflammation and what’s causing it. If the skin is inflamed that will usually show up as dehydration, which is a purple or light violet in color under the lamp,” our Skin Therapist Bee says. “If it’s inflammation from acne especially cystic sometimes that will come up as just dark no specific fluorescent color to it. Looking under the lamp and not seeing much coloring is a sign that their skin is lacking, usually hydration, and very dehydrated skin is more susceptible to inflammation.”

Inflammation can also present at pigmentation, as they’re directly related. Wherever you see redness, such as in a breakout or sunburn, you are likely to see darkened skin pigmentation afterward. “Pigmentation is one of the hardest conditions to treat because it’s within so many layers of the skin. It’s not impossible, but sometimes you might even need lasers to see long-term success,” our Skin Therapist, Wanda advises.

Aha! Is this why my breakout always leaves a dark spot behind? So frustrating!

Yes! The inflammation associated with adult breakout activity is much more likely to leave behind a darkened spot. Plus, picking those breakouts introduces trauma that causes more inflammation, which equals longer healing time. We recommend an anti-inflammatory spot treatment, like the Volcanic Ash + Sage Earth Mask from Shaffali, instead of reaching for a super drying one, that way we can calm your breakout faster and prevent the dreaded spot to follow.

Calm the inflammation, got it. But is there a way to prevent inflammation all together?

While it’s hard to avoid all inflammatory triggers from our lifestyle and environment, your self-care efforts from getting proper sleep and exercise combined with nourishing the body inside and out will help to keep inflammation at bay. Jenna also recommends minding what you eat. “What we put inside our body truly reflects on the outside, so do your best to avoid foods that cause inflammation. Turns out these are the foods generally recommended to limit for your overall health anyway, which includes saturated fats, fried foods, sugar, and refined carbohydrates.”

Focus on skincare loaded with antioxidant-rich fruits and botanicals, healthy omega 3 & 6 essential fatty acids, and Vitamins A, C & E.

While we're at it, here are our recommendations from Jenna for getting some anti-inflammatory products for each part of your routine.

For soothing cleansers, check out Lavender + Turmeric Facial Cleanser from Shaffali and Chamomile Cleansing Milk from Naturopathica. Our top inflammation-inhibiting moisturizers include Calendula Cream from Naturopathica and Kantic Calming Cream from Alchimie Forever. To protect you skin from damage even further, add a super-charged nutritive serum such as Plant Stem Cell Serum from Naturopathica. And as always, a broad-spectrum SPF such as the Skincare Prevention+ Daily Ultimate Protection Moisturizer SPF 50 from Image.


Bulk up your routine with protective nutrients from natural sources to prevent inflammation, and you’ll never have to choose which skincare goal you to focus on. You’ll be multitasking for the win!



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