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Aging and Inflammation

By: Peter T. Pugliese, MD
Posted: November 24, 2009, from the December 2009 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

Editor’s note: Skin Inc. magazine recommends that all clients check with their physicians before incorporating any dietary changes.

A vast difference exists between chronological aging and physiological aging. Chronological aging is measured in years, while physiological aging is measured in decreased biological functionality. No hard and fast biological law states that after 80 years you must pack it in, yet experience tells you that maybe it is best not to make a 20-year plan.

Scientists throughout the world are studying the fundamental processes underlying aging changes, and although a great deal of progress has been made, there is much more yet to be learned. Using an analogy to farming, many fields still need to be plowed. One field that is yielding some early fruit, however, is that of inflammation and how it relates to aging. Just about every disease has some aspect of inflammation. For the esthetician to have a good understanding of aging and how it relates to acute and chronic conditions, a knowledge of the principles of inflammation is essential. Learning the basic concepts of immunology and inflammation will help the esthetician to appreciate the complexity of biological mechanisms and provide insight into the mysteries of aging.

Basic inflammatory reaction

Most texts illustrate inflammation by using a cut or break in the skin to show how the body first defends itself from potential invaders and then heals the wound. Actually, bacteria, viruses and even biochemicals, such as bee venom or pollen particles, can initiate an inflammatory reaction; in fact, just about any abnormal occurrence, trauma, infection or metabolic accident can do it. Let’s choose a cut with an accompanying bacteria to make a real gooey wound. If you do nothing about it in 24–48 hours, you will see and experience the four classic signs of inflammation: redness, swelling, heat and pain. Even a little pimple will produce these four reactions, and there are underlying basic processes that cause them.

Redness. Because the epidermis is transparent, the dilated capillaries at the site of the wound can be seen, but why would the blood vessels dilate first? Easy—they are the transport system that carries everything else to the wound site. The more vessels and the bigger the vessels, the more blood and the more goodies go to the wound. Depending on the type of wound and how much bleeding is associated with it, the blood vessels may first contract.