What Is Inflammation?
Inflammation is the body’s response to an injury, infection, or irritation.
The purpose of inflammation is to contain an injury and clear out the infection. It prevents the spread of infection and prepares the tissue for wound repair.
Inflammation occurs when tissue has been injured or abnormally stimulated. There are two kinds of inflammation: local and chronic.
Local inflammation occurs when there has been an ‘injury’ to skin, such as a cut, insect bite, or harsh chemical. Local inflammation is obvious.
The signs of a local inflammation are:
- Redness or Flush
- Loss of Function
Redness is caused by increased blood flow to the site of injury. Blood vessels dilate in order to allow more blood flow. The blood carries immune defense chemicals to the injured area.
Swelling is due to blood plasma leaking into the tissue surrounding the injury.
Pain is due to the site of injury becoming engorged with blood. The increase in blood puts pressure on blood vessel walls.
Chronic inflammation is one of the main underlying causes of aging.
It is low intensity inflammation that you cannot see happening. This kind of inflammation slowly ages your skin.
Chronic inflammation can last for days to a lifetime.
What Causes Inflammation?
Inflammation can be caused by a variety of stimulants that are physical, chemical, or biological in nature.
- sunlight (UV)
- cosmetic ingredients
- chemical irritants
- physical trauma
- bacteria and viruses
- diet (foods that elevate blood sugar)
- adverse weather
The stimulant triggers free radicals, which in turn starts an extremely destructive chain of events, called the inflammation cascade.
In the first part of this cascade, the free radicals activate the release of arachidonic acid, which starts the chain. After a series of steps, white blood cells (leukocytes) are transported to the site of injury.
At the end of this cascade, a group of enzymes called Matrix Metallo Proteinases (MMP’s) are released.
What Are MMP’s (Matrix Metallo Proteinases)?
Matrix Metallo Proteinases (MMP’s) are enzymes that break down tissue. After an injury or ‘insult’ to skin, the body’s natural response is to destroy the injured tissue and create new tissue. MMP’s are needed for remodeling skin in wound healing.
This make sense if there is a real wound, such as a cut from a knife. But it is not a good thing if ‘normal’ skin with low-level, chronic inflammation is broken down.
And how exactly do MMP’s affect skin with chronic inflammation? MMP’s break down healthy collagen and elastin fibers as well as GAG’s and other connective tissue.
These MMP enzymes literally chew them up, leading to disorganized and clumping fibers. And you can guess what happens next. Collagen, elastin, and GAG’s that have been degraded lead to a thin, flattened dermis. Skin ages. MMP’s are also responsible for the acne scar pitting that is caused by acute inflammation.
MMP’s are not discriminating in the wound healing response. They do not differentiate between inflammation that is acute or chronic. Those MMP’s will break down tissue when there is any kind of inflammation. As soon as that inflammatory cascade is triggered, MMP’s go to work.
There are more than 30 MMPs. The top 3 types of MMP’s that we need to be concerned with are:
- Collagenase – breaks down collagen
- Elastinase – breaks down elastin
- Hyaluronidase – breaks down hyaluronic acid
MMP’s can be neutralized by natural inhibitors in the body known as TIMP’s (Tissue Inhibitors of MMP’s). There are 4 types of TIMP’s, and they are produced at the same time as MMP’s (to control the MMP’s).
Beginning in our third decade, MMP’s begin to degrade collagen and elastin (not just during an inflammatory response). This is accompanied by a decline in new collagen production. The net effect of the two trends is an increase in wrinkles and sagging.
As we age, the level of TIMP’s alsp decline. With MMP’s outnumbering TIMP’s, skin ages faster.
The Effect of Inflammation on Skin
Skin is ALWAYS subject to inflammation, because free radicals are unavoidable. But we can control it.
Immediate Effects of Inflammation On Skin:
- Cracked skin
- Dry patches
- Spots (post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation)
How to Mitigate Chronic Inflammation
The easiest way is by choosing the right products and watching what you eat.
Use products with anti-inflammatory ingredients daily and follow an anti-inflammatorydiet.
An anti-inflammatory diet is
There are a number of ingredients that can inhibit the 3 main MMP’s (collagenase, elastinase, hyaluronidase).
One familiar one is Retinol. Not only does Retinol increase certain types of collagen (type 1 and 3), it decreases MMP’s by upregulating TIMP’s.
Chlorella vulgaris (a green algae) is an effective upregulator of TIMP’s too (all four). It also happens to be a natural detoxifier.
Anti-inflammatory ingredients (COX inhibitors and 5-LOX inhibitors) also suppress MMP enzymes. An example is Resveratrol, a COX inhibitor.
- Oligomeric Proanthocyanidins (OPCs)
- Vitamin C
- EGCG (in white and green tea)
- Chlorella vulgaris (upregulates all four TIMP’s)
- Boswellia serrata (suppresses the effects of elastase)
- Lupine (suppresses the effects of collagenase)