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Inflammaging: Changing the Face of Skin Care

By: Noureddine Mriouah
Posted: April 3, 2013, from the May 2013 issue of GCI Magazine.

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Two different classes of anti-inflammatory agents seem to show promising results: cyclooxygenase (COX) inhibitors and 5-lipoxygenase (LOX) inhibitors. Boswellic acid from the boswellia serrata tree; resveratol, found in grapes; and tamanu oil, from tamanu tree nuts, are just some of the natural inhibitors that can be used in skin care products.

Although anti-inflammatory ingredients are essential in the fight against inflammaging, successful treatment must also address two major skin issues. The first is reinforcing and protecting the integrity of the barrier function, which can be achieved through targeted topical care; and the second is the use of broad-spectrum UV protection.

As with any skin concern, inflammaging can worsen with prolonged sun exposure. Combined with treatments that target the source of inflammation, proper UV defense and barrier support can help minimize the visible effects of inflammaging.

Alternatives to Common Irritants

Equally as important as using anti-inflammatory ingredients is avoiding aggressive ingredients that can further wound the skin and prolong the inflammaging cycle.

Certain acids—particularly those of smaller molecular size, such as glycolic acid—are a major source of irritation in many cosmetic products. Because of their size, they have been shown to reach the dermis where inflammation takes place.8,9 Molecularly larger acids, such as lactic, malic, pyruvic and tartaric, don’t tend to penetrate the dermis, making them gentler on the skin and less likely to spark inflammation. It has also been found that using the chirally correct version of these acids can help further maintain the efficacy of the ingredients and minimize the risk of adverse side effects, including irritation.8

Another common irritant to avoid is benzoyl peroxide. A mainstay of professional and at-home acne treatments, benzoyl peroxide can contribute to irritating oxidative damage.10,11 However, gentler alternatives exist in the forms of salicylic acid and sulfur, which have been shown to be similarly effective.

Of course, no discussion of inflammaging would be complete without addressing skin care’s anti-aging hero: retinol. The gold standard in renewal, retinol achieves its goal often at the cost of irritating the skin. Although retinoids themselves aren’t likely to change, science has found new ways to deliver these key ingredients through encapsulated systems that bypass their inflammatory side effects.

Inflammaging and the Future of Skin Care

In an industry that moves at breakneck speed, the advent of inflammaging serves as both a wake-up call and an ultimatum to product developers, cosmetic companies and skin care professionals alike. The skin care game is changing, and if companies don’t keep up, their customers will look elsewhere. As science continues to explore the dynamics of inflammaging, new products and treatments will emerge to address this nascent concern.


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  3. C Franceschi and M Bonafé, Centenarians as a model for healthy aging, Biochem Soc Trans, 31 457–461 (Apr 2003)
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  8. WP Smith, Comparative effectiveness of alpha-hydroxy acids on skin properties, Int J Cosmet Sci, 18(2) 75–83. (Apr 1996)
  9. KS Park, et al., Effect of glycolic acid on UVB-induced skin damage and inflammation in guinea pigs, Skin Pharmacol Appl Skin Physiol, 15(4) 236–45 (Jul/Aug 2002)
  10. RD Wilkinson, et al., Benzoyl peroxide and sulfur: Foundation for acne management, Can Med Assoc J 2, 95(1) 28–29. (Jul 1966)
  11. SH Ibbotson, et al., Benzoyl peroxide increases UVA-induced plasma membrane damage and lipid oxidation in murine leukemia L1210 cells, J Invest Dermatol, 110(1) 79–83. (Jan 1998)

Noureddine Mriouah is the product development director and principal scientist for CosMedix and Results Rx. With extensive training and education, including a masters of chemical engineering from the University of Paris, Mriouah is a recognized leader and expert in product formulation, research and development, production, process engineering and GMP regulations. He can be contacted at 678-303-1850 or