Inflammation is a defense mechanism in the body. When it happens, the immune system recognizes damaged cells, irritants, and pathogens, and it begins the healing process. When you experience skin inflammation, it often hurts because pain, stiffness, discomfort, and even agony can accompany it, depending on its severity. This pain occurs because the swelling thrusts against sensitive nerve endings, sending pain signals to the brain. Other biochemical processes that affect how nerves behave can also occur during inflammation.

Skin Inflammation Is Also Called Dermatitis and the Main Types of This Condition Include:

  • Contact dermatitis: A rash caused when contact with a certain substance occurs.
  • Stasis dermatitis: Skin inflammation in the lower legs, caused by fluid buildup.
  • Atopic dermatitis: An itchy inflammation of the skin.
  • Dermatitis herpetiformis: A chronic, very itchy skin rash made up of bumps and blisters.
  • Seborrheic dermatitis: A condition that causes scaly patches and red skin, mainly on the scalp.
  • Nummular dermatitis: Coin-shaped rashes or sores.

Inflammatory skin ailments are the most common complaint in dermatology. As mentioned, they come in many forms, from occasional rashes accompanied by skin itching and redness to chronic conditions such as eczema, rosacea, seborrheic dermatitis, and psoriasis.

What Is It?

Inflammation is part of the body's immune response, and symptoms can vary depending on whether the reaction is acute or chronic. Without inflammation, infections and wounds would never heal. Our immediate reaction to a swelling is to try to decrease it, but it's important to remember that inflammation is an essential part of the healing process. The first stage is called irritation, followed by skin inflammation, and then sometimes a discharging of pus. Lastly comes the granulation stage when the skin forms new tissue.

What Is Acute Skin Inflammation?

Acute skin inflammation can result from exposure to UV radiation, allergens, or through contact with chemical irritants such as soaps or hair dyes. This type of inflammation usually resolves itself within 1 to 2 weeks with little tissue destruction. An acute inflammation is one that starts rapidly and becomes severe in a short space of time. Signs and symptoms are normally only present for a few days but sometimes may persist for a few weeks.

Three Main Processes Occur Before and During Acute Inflammation

  • The small branches of arteries enlarge when supplying blood to the damaged region, resulting in increased blood flow.
  • Capillaries become easier for fluids and proteins to infiltrate, meaning they can move between blood and cells.
  • The body releases neutrophils. A neutrophil is a type of white blood cell filled with tiny sacs that contain enzymes and digest microorganisms.

The Effects of Acute Inflammation Include

Skin irritation

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  • Pain: The inflamed area is painful, particularly during and after touching. It releases chemicals that stimulate nerve endings, making the area more sensitive.
  • Redness: This happens because the capillaries in the affected area are filled with more blood than usual.
  • Immobility: There may be some loss of function in the region of the inflammation.Swelling: Caused by a buildup of fluid.
  • Heat: More blood flows to the affected area, making it feel warm to the touch.

These five signs of acute inflammation only apply to inflammations of the skin. If inflammation occurs deep within the body, like in an internal organ, only some signs may be noticeable.

What Is Chronic Skin Inflammation?

Although damaged tissue cannot heal without inflammation, chronic inflammation can eventually cause several illnesses including cancers, rheumatoid arthritis, atherosclerosis, and hay fever. Chronic inflammation results from a sustained immune cell-mediated inflammatory response within the skin itself, and is a long-term condition and can last for several months and even years. This inflammation is long lasting and can cause significant and serious tissue destruction. Inflammatory skin conditions affect 35 million Americans who spend more than $2 billion each year to treat their symptoms.

Chronic Inflammation Can Result From

  • Failure to eliminate whatever was causing an acute inflammation
  • An autoimmune disorder that attacks normal healthy tissue, mistaking it for a pathogen that causes disease
  • Exposure to a low level of an irritant, such as an industrial chemical, over a long period

Symptoms of Chronic Inflammation Can Include

  • Fatigue
  • Mouth sores
  • Chest pain
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fever
  • Rash
  • Joint pain

What Are the Causes

Inflammation is caused by several physical reactions triggered by the immune system in response to a physical injury or an infection. Inflammation does not mean that there is an infection, but an infection can cause inflammation. The process of skin inflammation is multifaceted and still not completely understood.

When skin is exposed to a triggering stimulus, such as UV radiation, an irritant (such as soaps or fragrances), or allergens, the cells in the skin produce a variety of inflammatory “hormones” called cytokines and chemokines. These “inflammatory messengers” bind to specific receptors on target cells and stimulate the production of additional inflammatory signaling “hormones.“

These "messengers" trigger the beginning of the intensification of a huge inflammatory response that, while designed to help the skin fight infection from invading bacteria, causes considerable irritation and damage to the affected skin. That is why it is so important to manage skin inflammation.

Top 10 Worst Inflammatory Food Groups

Sadly, skin inflammation is so widespread because about 90% of what we find in grocery stores falls into a food group that causes it.

Avoid these foods to avoid skin inflammation:

  • Dairy, such as pasteurized homogenized milk, cheese, yogurt, cream.
  • Fortified wheat products sprayed with pesticides which may disrupt hormone levels.
  • Sugar, because high glycemic index spikes your blood sugar and leads to glycation and persistent inflammation.
  • Vegetable oils like canola, sunflower, safflower, soybean, cottonseed, or corn oil.
  • Trans fats – included in commercially baked goods, margarine, fast foods, and deep-fried foods.
  • Feedlot-raised meat which uses artificial hormones, antibiotics, and omega-6 fats.
  • Processed meats that have nitrites, nitrates, other preservatives
  • Alcohol – here we mean over one glass of wine per day.
  • Refined grains and white flour.
  • Food additives, preservatives, and artificial flavors.

Ways to Avoid It

Though there is no magic potion to completely avoid skin inflammation, by following these four tips, we can help prevent chronically inflamed skin:

1. As much as possible, avoid triggers such as those included in the food groups above. If you notice that certain foods or circumstances trigger your rosacea or exacerbate your psoriasis, try healthy alternatives.  Plant-based diets stress-relieving activities such as exercise and healthy weight loss can all help ease chronic inflammation.

2. Reduce your consumption of animal dairy. Limiting dairy can help decrease episodes of atopic dermatitis. Similar to fatty meats, cheeses, and whole milk contain high amounts of saturated fat.

3. Increase your intake of anti-inflammatory foods. Fruits, vegetables (particularly dark green, leafy ones), turmeric, flax seed, and tofu, are excellent for reducing inflammation.  Foods rich in fiber and unprocessed whole grains, antioxidant vitamins such as vitamin C, minerals such as zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids also help decrease inflammatory markers. If you truly load up on these, you will not have room for refined and processed foods like enriched pasta and bagels, which contribute to the inflammatory cycle.

4. Sleep. Homeostasis happens when internal conditions remain stable. Sleep is an important homeostatic regulator; however, when the body is even slightly sleep deprived, thus affecting homeostasis, inflammatory mediators rise. Three key markers of inflammation become elevated in people with less than 6 hours of sleep: interleukin-6, fibrinogen, and CRP.



Image via Pixabay

When something harmful or irritating affects a part of our body, there is a biological response to try and remove it. The signs and symptoms of inflammation can be uncomfortable but are a show that the body is trying to heal itself.

Benjamin Franklin once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," and this definitely rings true in regards to skin inflammation. While there is no magic wand for preventing inflammation of the skin, we can take steps to keep our skin away from inflammation. For example, applying sunscreen before your day at the beach, for example, can prevent that terrible sunburn.

The best way to heal inflamed skin is to see a doctor. However, if you’d like to try home treatments, first apply cucumber slices or honey to your skin. If your skin is irritated because of a burn, try aloe vera gel. If your inflammation is a result of extremely dry skin, try mashing avocado and applying it to your skin for 10 minutes at a time. You can also help heal your skin by making sure that every product you use is good for your skin type. This applies to any moisturizer, cleanser, or cosmetic.

If you have a chronic, recurring or persistent case of skin inflammation, it might be time to visit a dermatologist who can help you figure out the underlying cause of your skin issue and prescribe any necessary medication. 

Featured Image via Pixabay