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What exactly is inflammaging? The experts weigh in.

By Hana Hong
Updated March 11, 2020
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In the beauty world, products targeted towards inflammation and aging take up the vast majority of skincare shelves. But have you heard of inflammaging, the literal fusion of inflammation and aging, and a trending buzzword in the dermatology lexicon? If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it refers to the chronic, low-grade inflammation that is associated with age-related changes in stem cells. It happens when your body faces low levels of inflammation every day—often from lifestyle factors such as environment, diet, UV exposure, and lack of sleep—which build up over time.

One Google search will also reveal a swarm of studies linking inflammaging to a number of age-related diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular changes, and cancer. The skin is particularly sensitive to inflammaging as it is exposed to stress from both outside and inside our bodies.

According to Sapna Palep, MD, board-certified dermatologist at Spring Street Dermatology in New York City, when pigment-forming cells are exposed to chronic oxidative stress, it leads to accelerated tissue damage. “This chronic inflammation weakens the skin structure, which ends up in the breakdown of elastin and collagen that impairs the barrier function of the skin.” These signs can emerge as wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, and uneven skin tone and texture. What’s most tricky about inflammaging is that once it’s there, it’s even harder to get rid of it, which makes preventative measures all the more important.

So what can you do to stave off inflammaging? According to Ben Van Handel, PhD, a stem cell biologist at the University of Southern California and co-founder of Heraux, “The sources of inflammaging are things we may already identify with steps we can take to improve our overall health. A balanced diet coupled with regular exercise can go a long way to supporting the optimal function of stem cells in the body, relieving stress on them. Consistent sleep patterns can also keep inflammaging in check.”

Handel also stresses not skimping on sunscreen. Because UV exposure occurs constantly and drives consistent production of pro-inflammaging factors, wearing sunscreen can reduce the impact of UV light and slow down the process.

Skincare is getting smarter, too. The right ingredients can act as a guardian against stress molecules, shielding skin stem cells from their effects and interrupting the cycle of inflammaging. Antioxidants like Vitamins C and E are a great tool in fighting inflammaging as they help skin cells respond and adapt to inflammaging stimuli like sun exposure and pollution.

Jeanette Jacknin, MD, a holistic dermatologist in San Diego, Calif., says several studies have shown that incorporating CBD into your routine can also help with preventing inflammation. “When incorporating CBD into your skincare routine, it's important to choose a company that is leading the charge in manufacturing, transparency, and testing for their products," she says. "I recommend something like Medterra CBD + Manuka Cream ($35; medterracbd.com), which works as a great preventative product to avoid inflammaging.”

According to Handel, “The scientific community has just discovered the underlying molecular causes of inflammaging; these are proteins that circulate in the body and interact with all of our stem cells, including in the skin. I suspect many more ingredients and products will come out in the next few years that target inflammaging, as this mechanism is now understood and foundational to skin aging.”

Here are some of the best science-driven products on the market that can fight back against inflammaging on a topical level.

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Credit: Courtesy of brand

1
Heraux Molecular Anti-Inflammaging Serum

The science behind this product (and their impressive clinicals) backs up the price tag. This patented biomimetic lipid has one hero molecule, dubbed HX-1, engineered in the lab to directly protect stem cells from the main cause of inflammaging, shielding them from stress and breaking the cycle of cellular toxicity.

To buy: $250, herauxskin.com.

paulas-choice-defense-moisturizer
Credit: Courtesy of brand

2
Paula’s Choice Defense Essential Glow Moisturizer

In addition to the SPF 30 factor, this formula is packed with salicylic acid and a blend of antioxidants to flush out your pores. A dose of Vitamin C brightens skin and combats signs of environmental stress, while Vitamin E defends against pollutant exposure.

To buy: $29, dermstore.com.

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Credit: Courtesy of brand

3
Dior Prestige La Micro-Lotion

Your skin will drink up this silky moisturizing formula. Infused with a zinc-rich rose extract, one pump a day can help reduce inflammatory cytokine and fight microinflammation. Plus, the dreamy Parisian garden scent doesn’t hurt.

To buy: $150, bloomingdales.com.

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Credit: Courtesy of brand

4
iS Clinical Cleansing Complex

Nothing is more damaging than going to bed with a face full of inflammaging gunk. Give yourself a detox with this powerful cleanser that employs white willow bark to boost cell turnover and tighten the appearance of pores. Chamomile and centella asiatica extracts heal skin damage that’s already happened and while preventing free radicals from wreaking more havoc on your complexion.

To buy: $44, dermstore.com.

elizabeth-arden-hydrating-shield
Credit: Courtesy of brand

5
Elizabeth Arden City Smart Broad Spectrum SPF 50 Hydrating Shield

This skin shield has attained cult status among the beauty community for combining powerful pollution and 98% UVB protection with a DNA enzyme complex to screen out inflammaging elements. Although the protection factor is thick, the actual formula is super sheer and sits beautifully even under a layer of foundation.

To buy: $68, ulta.com.