What Triggers Skin Inflammation?
Inflammation is a complex mechanism that naturally happens throughout our bodies as a response to pain, trauma, or injury. However, chronic inflammation can lead to a variety of diseases and conditions. Many skin conditions are caused by underlying inflammation, including eczema, rosacea, psoriasis, melasma, skin aging, and acne. While genetics and other factors play a role in the development of inflammatory skin diseases, many external factors can also trigger symptom flare-ups.
This article will explain some of the science behind why inflammation happens, common internal and external triggers for inflammation, and how you can best manage chronic inflammatory conditions.
There are many pathways that can lead to inflammation, but they all have one thing in common: dilation of capillaries. The resulting increase in diameter of capillaries during inflammation causes the hallmark sign of inflammation: redness. This redness can be seen in acne, rosacea, allergic dermatitis, atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, insect bites, and many other skin conditions. The increase size of the capillaries can also lead to the other signs of inflammation: increased skin temperature, pain, and itching.
What Causes Itching in Inflammation ?
Inflammatory factors within your body may send signals to specialized immune cells called mast cells. One signal could be an IgE antibody, which is what you develop when you have an allergy. Other signals can come directly from toxins or venom as in insect and reptile bites. When these signals reach mast cells, they break apart or “degranulate.” This means that the histamine granules inside the mast cells break open and release histamine into the surrounding tissue. A compound called histamine is released. Histamine stimulates your blood vessels to dilate and become leaky. This leads to the redness, swelling, and itching that you experience during an allergic reaction or as a result of an injury or trauma.
Friction can also be a signal in some people to degranulate mast cells. If you can scratch your skin and leave a red welt, this is called “dermatographism” and is caused by the release of histamine from the scratching. Antihistamines block this process, preventing the release of histamine. They should be taken before the injury to prevent this process.
There Are Many Inflammatory Pathways
There are various causes of this inflammatory response within your body and they all lead to the same thing — dilated, and sometimes leaky blood vessels. There are many pathways including the arachidonic acid pathway, bradykinin, cytokines, interleukins, and other pathways that originate with toll-like receptors or CAMP 2 pathways. There are too many to know, so I like to lump them together. I use the character Infla-Man™ to lump all the inflammatory pathways together when I teach dermatologists about inflammation. He represents all of the pathways that lead to inflammation. I often show him throwing an “inflammatory factor” to make my point that many factors trigger inflammation.
Inflammation Causes More Inflammation
Inflammatory pathways stimulate other complex pathways, which can wreak havoc throughout your body by increasing prostaglandin production and therefore causing damage to your skin and other cells. Once these pathways are “turned on,” they cause a vicious cycle that affects other pathways and makes inflammation very difficult to turn back off.
Many people do not realize that inflammation is the underlying cause of so many different skin conditions, including aging skin, uneven pigmentation, scaling, redness, pimples, and a dull, lackluster complexion. Although we do not yet know the exact cause of chronic skin conditions like eczema and rosacea, we do know that underlying inflammation is at the root of symptom flare-ups.
What Triggers Inflammation?
A large variety of internal and external factors can trigger your body’s inflammatory response system, thus causing red, itchy, or swollen skin. Just some of the most common triggers for inflammation are:
- The immune system. Cells such as mast cells play a role. Mast cells release histamine, which leads to dilation of blood vessels and leaky blood vessels that release water (resulting in swelling such as hives).
- Other immune cells such as T cells, B cells, and macrophages
- Stimulation of toll-like receptors
- Arachidonic acid
- Low pH (acidity)
- Very high pH
- Disrupted skin barrier
- Bacteria such as P. acnes
- Fungus such as tinea versicolor
- Irritants and allergens
- Many more causes
What Can I Do for Red, Inflamed Skin?
The first step is to find a physician in your area who can administer the Baumann Skin Type® quiz to determine your Baumann Skin Type®. There are many different types of sensitive skin that experience redness, itching, and other signs of inflammation. Therefore, it is important that you know your skin type first so you know you’re not using any skincare products or ingredients that could irritate it or aggravate existing symptoms.
Once you know your skin type, you can work with a top dermatologist to develop a customized skincare regimen to help minimize inflammation and control your symptoms. You should also be aware of the triggers that tend to cause your skin to become irritated and inflamed, and try to avoid them whenever possible. For example, using a toner might cause a flare-up of rosacea, even if you have oilier skin. Avoiding this product and other drying ingredients in skincare can help to reduce flares and manage your symptoms. On the other hand, your doctor can recommend products that contain anti-inflammatory ingredients, such as feverfew, green tea, and chamomile.
Even though many skincare products are marketed as appropriate for “sensitive” or “irritated” skin, it is best to seek professional help from your doctor. Some ingredients can be problematic for certain skin types, even if the product as a whole claims to be suitable for sensitive skin in general. There are many different types of sensitive skin, and each needs to follow a specific regimen.
Additionally, if your inflammation is associated with a condition like rosacea, for example, early treatment is crucial so you can reduce your symptoms and keep them from getting worse over time.
Many different factors can contribute to inflamed skin, including genetics and external factors like bacteria, fungi, and the skincare products you use. Work with a qualified physician to find out your Baumann Skin Type® and develop the right treatment regimen for your skin type and condition.
Wishing you great skin!
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