How is Inflammation Related to Aging?

In Our Formulation Philosophy, we explained that Chronic Inflammation is the biggest threat to long-term skin health, and that a lot of the effort we put into formulation is to combat this threat. But what is Chronic Inflammation?

Well, first let’s establish what normal Inflammation is. We are going to talk about "Acute Inflammation" related to cuts and bruises; something that never fails to take me right back to my childhood.


Acute Inflammation is your body’s immune response to tissue trauma: like cuts, scrapes, bruises, and bites; or infection: from fungii, parasites, bacteria and viruses. Acute Inflammation responds to these events, facilitates protection and repair functions, and finally ramps down the inflammatory response when the trigger event has been dealt with.

Acute Inflammation has four specific signs that help to identify it:

  • Your immune system detects the trauma or infection, blood flow is diverted to the site to bring more white (immune) blood cells, redness and heat result from the increased blood flow
  • As fluid accumulates at the site, swelling occurs
  • The swelling can compress tissue causing pain at the site
  • If the site is near a joint a fifth sign can occur; impairment of function; where joint movement is limited

Acute inflammation is clearly an evolutionary immune response to trauma and infection. It has a specific role: of protection and healing. And the entire mechanism resolves itself when the trauma has been healed or the infection fought.

You will see that Chronic Inflammation has none of these characteristics.


Chronic (or Low-Level) Inflammation is only similar to Acute Inflammation in that it is an immune system response to a negative stimulus. Unlike Acute Inflammation, Chronic Inflammation is a corruption of our immune system because it causes our immune system to attack our own cells. Chronic Inflammation is also a response specifically to cellular stress and dysfunction and pro-inflammatory enzymes, not tissue trauma.

Common triggers for Chronic Inflammation include:

  • Toxins from environmental sources
  • Oxidative stress from exposure to free radicals
  • Obesity, both independently of and especially in conjunction with diets high in saturated fat
  • Excessive calorie consumption
  • By-products of combustion such as cigarette smoke
  • Declines in sex hormones, as occurs suddenly in women at menopause, and gradually in men as they age
  • Sleep disorders and stress
  • Excess blood sugar which causes “glycation”

These are considered inflammatory “stressors”. They all impact cells in your body negatively, giving rise to cellular stress and dysfunction. This cellular dysfunction raises levels of pro-inflammatory enzymes that instigate the inflammatory response.

To simplify a very complicated phenomenon: as our immune system’s effectiveness declines with age, under the continuing onslaught of modern stress, and if the initiating stressors remain (if we don’t change our diet, lifestyle habits, or our management of stress) the inflammatory response never resolves itself, resulting in Chronic (long-term), Low-Level Inflammation.

One theory for the way that Chronic Inflammation has turned our immune systems against us, is that evolution does not exert influence past the age of fertility. We are living longer than evolution ever intended, so our immune systems have been easily corrupted. 

To illustrate how destructive Chronic Inflammation can be: seven of the top ten causes of mortality in the United States have been linked with Chronic Inflammation, namely: Heart Disease, Chronic Lower Respiratory Disease, Stroke, Alzheimer’s Disease, Diabetes and Nephritis (Inflammation of the Kidneys).


In skin, Chronic Inflammation attacks Collagen and Elastin proteins causing loss of firmness and elasticity; it causes dysfunction in “melanocytes” which produce the skin pigment “melanin”, creating uneven pigmentation; and it impairs your skin’s ability to create and sustain the lipids necessary for an effective natural barrier function, leading to intolerance. Together these consequences constitute the bulk of what we consider “aging” in skin. Chronic Inflammation is clearly a major factor in skin aging.

What all of this means is actually quite simple: if we start to work to remove stressors which incite Chronic Inflammation we can combat aging in our bodies and in our skin. We can aim to make long-term skin health a reality.

The first steps toward this must include:

  • Using broad-spectrum sunscreen everyday, to reduce the biggest cause of free radicals in skin
  • Committing to a healthy diet low in heavily-processed foods, high in antioxidant-rich vegetables and fruits and lower in saturated fat and processed sugars
  • Committing to healthy lifestyle changes like regular exercise, adequate sleep and stress management
  • For smokers: quitting smoking


Science has not quite finished with the study of Chronic Inflammation, more consequences may yet emerge, but enough clinical studies have been concluded to have established that Chronic Inflammation is a factor in almost all degenerative aging. What is clear is that the age-old advice of moderation in everything, regular exercise and a commitment to relaxation are now clinically proven to be effective, and not just “the wisdom of our grandparents”.


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