Mane class is in session and today we’re covering inflammaging, which is when inflammation combines with aging to wreak havoc on our health and hair. We chatted with Barbara Paldus, the CEO of Codex Beauty Labs who is committed to lessening the effects of inflammaging and providing education on what it is and how to stop or lessen it. Read her expert advice below!
What Is Hair Inflammaging?
“Inflammaging is the persistent, low-grade inflammation associated with aging,” says Barbara. There are many inflammaging culprits, be it environmental and urban aggressors such as UV radiation and air pollution, high fat diet, hormones, smoking, alcohol consumption, lack of sleep, and stress. This causes damage which leads to dehydration and can cause increased TEWL (transepidermal water loss) as well as premature aging. While this process is more acute in the skin, it’s also happening in your mane.
To counteract inflammaging, you have to “protect, restore, and strengthen” your scalp and hair follicles (note: hair is comprised of dead cells, so they can’t get inflammation – they can only further dehydrate and get brittle). “This means managing reactive oxidative stress (ROS),” says Barbara, “to allow the physical defense mechanism (skin cells surrounded by oily compounds) to recover while supporting the microbiome (the biological defense mechanism also known as the acid mantle). Anti-oxidants are required to counteract the oxidative stress,” she shares—noting that too much can cause a burning or may not penetrate through the skin/scalp fully, which is why careful formulation is a must.
“The issue is that inflamed follicles are caused by bacteria. Folliculitis is a common skin condition in which hair follicles become inflamed. It’s usually caused by a bacterial or fungal infection.”
The inflammatory aging process “depends on the severity of the environmental factors causing inflammation, the length of exposure, and steps taken to mitigate it,” shares Barbara. “For example, someone who is 50 and has been exposed to a lot of UV radiation (without SPF) over 30 years will have significantly more inflammation compared to someone who is 25 and has lived for 5 years in a polluted urban environment. Typically, it will take about a decade of severe exposure to see aging effects for a healthy person, but a poor diet (lacking in fruit and vegetables), lack of sleep, smoking, and excessive drinking can lead to visible aging within a few years.” Can we all get a collective ahhhh!
How to Fight Hair Inflammaging
To fight inflammation that’s already present, make sure to take care of yourself. “You should try hydrating, getting sufficient sleep, and exercising regularly. Eating a lot of fruits and vegetables with vitamin C, as well as prebiotics (oats, bananas, soy milk, legumes, apples, garlic, onions, asparagus, seaweed, or cocoa beans) and probiotics (fermented foods like yogurt or kefir) will help stimulate beneficial skin bacteria through the skin-gut axis,” she notes. You can also use products that deliver antioxidants to prevent water loss, which will help start recovery by reducing oxidative stress.
Barb suggested something along the lines of this: “Regular exposure to environmental stressors like UV radiation from the sun and pollution *can* lead to premature hair loss because they create oxidative stress in the scalp. Similarly to skin aging where oxidative stress leads to collagen breakdown, oxidative stress in your scalp can weaken its hold on your hair. In addition, oxidative stress leading to an unhealthy scalp may also compromise pre-emergent hair formation and results in poorly formed hair as it grows. To achieve healthy looking and feeling hair, the scalp health must be normalized first, by reducing the oxidative stress.”
The same logic goes for preventing future inflammation. Aside from opting for products that remove pollution and add in antioxidants, “it should be stressed how important a good regimen of proper diet, exercise, sleep, and hydration are in preventing inflammation in the future.”
How to Be Tested for Inflammaging
If you’re curious about your inflammation levels, you can test the body in general, but there’s no specific skin or hair test available on the market. “The most common way is to conduct a blood test for C-reactive protein (hs-CRP), which is a marker of inflammation. Doctors also measure homocysteine levels to evaluate chronic inflammation. Finally, physicians test for HbA1C—a measurement of blood sugar—to assess damage to red blood cells. Because these markers are nonspecific, the tests are not diagnostic for any particular condition, but they may help to identify a generalized inflammatory state along with other tests and aid in the differential diagnosis,” Barbara notes. She also shares that DNA tests are being developed that will “help provide indicators of skin sensitivity and potential for conditions like psoriasis or acne; these will help assess the potential for inflammaging in the future.”