This Sneaky Skin-Care Foe Is Aging You—Here's How To Slow It Down

Experts’ tips ahead.

By: Hannah Baxter

We’re all familiar with the usual culprits that lead to skin aging, like not wearing a daily SPF, smoking, lack of hydration, genetics, stress, etc. But in the realm of internal and external factors that can zap your skin of its youthful bounce and glow, there’s one important factor that isn’t discussed nearly enough: inflammation.

While you might think of this condition only as it relates to a sprained ankle or a particularly aggressive zit, inflammation actually touches our daily lives in a multitude of ways. It’s the result of those well-known aging factors (again, like stress and UV rays), but it’s not always a singular response, like redness or irritation. Says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Joshua Zeichner, “Inflammation leads to free-radical damage in the skin, activation of matrix metalloproteinases, and [recruitment of] inflammatory blood cells. Collectively, this leads to damage to skin cells themselves along with destruction of supporting tissue like collagen and elastin. This explains why chronic inflammation can lead to weakening of the skin, premature wrinkling, and sagging.”

Brands are starting to take note of how inflammation plays a central role in the aging process, particularly as it relates to the look and feel of our skin, and have dubbed this sequence of events as “inflammaging.” The beauty industry loves a trendy marketing term, sure, but in this case, there is some real data to back it up.

As Amir Nobakht, MD, MBA, and co-founder of Heraux, explains, “Inflammation is supposed to be a temporary response to stress, activating stem cells to regenerate the skin after stress and injuries. However, if inflammation persists, the increased burden on stem cells accelerates the aging process as they are constantly in overdrive. This link between chronic inflammation and aging is referred to as inflammaging.”

Together with his business partner Ben Van Handel, PhD, and a stem cell biologist at the University of Southern California, they founded their brand Heraux (which consists of a singular targeted serum with their proprietary molecule, HX-1) to address the signs and symptoms of this detrimental process and “modulate the inflammatory pathway in the skin.” Full disclosure: This editor has used their serum for as long as it’s been available, with no plans to stop anytime soon.

So why is this inflammation issue notable if you already know that things like smoking and tanning are bad for you? Well, unfortunately, inflammation is a rather stealthy foe, which can pop up in your skin without any visible indication that it’s happening. Dr. Nobakht emphasizes, “Once [inflammation] is visible on the skin, that indicates a more severe response. This can include redness, rough texture, irritation, and even a burning sensation (think post-sunburn). Again, your skin is experiencing inflammation by its very nature as a barrier between the external and internal in our body. Inflammaging occurs when your skin’s ability to buffer inflammation is exceeded by the stressors present.”

Essentially, the aging process is a slow, silent one—this we know—but is exacerbated and accelerated by all the choices we make and the inflammatory responses they generate. Once your skin has weathered years and years of this type of inflammation, your defenses are weakened, and those signs of aging, like fine lines, hyperpigmentation, and sagging, inevitably appear.

As bleak as this may sound, there are things you can do to help slow the overall inflammaging progression and prevent premature signs of skin aging. Dr. Zeichner recommends a healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet and plenty of exercise to start, followed by a skin-care routine that incorporates daily sunscreen, gentle cleansers, antioxidant-rich products (“think of antioxidants like fire extinguishers that put out inflammation caused by free radicals”), a generous helping of moisturizer (particularly at night), and products that promote collagen production like retinoids and bakuchiol.


Check out a few more product recommendations from our experts:

Heraux Molecular Anti-inflammaging Serum


Dr. Ben Van Handel: “[This serum] has such great results in minimizing the appearance of acne, redness, and inflamed skin. HX-1, the revolutionary lipid that was engineered in the lab after a decade of stem-cell research and is found in the serum, is able to help counter the mechanism that is responsible for not only inflammaging, but other inflammatory skin manifestations including breakouts, irritation, and redness. When formulating the final serum, we took great care to select ingredients supported by objective data. We chose red maple bark extract specifically for its broad antioxidant effects arising from the carotenoids and polyphenols present. These can be indirectly anti-inflammatory, adding yet another layer of protection for skin stem cells.”


Dove Beauty Bar with Deep Moisture, 4-Pack


Dr. Zeichner: “You don’t have to spend a lot to get a great cleanser. This soap-free bar contains the same types of hydrating ingredients found in traditional moisturizers.”



Neogen Dermalogy Real Vita C Serum


Dr. Zeichner: “This serum contains an ultra-high concentration of vitamin C at 22 percent along with niacinamide to protect and calm the skin.”


Solara Suncare Time Traveler Ageless Daily Face Sunscreen


Dr. Zeichner: “This all-natural sunscreen uses zinc oxide to protect the skin in a formula with copper peptides and antioxidants to prevent and repair damage.”



Innbeauty Project Next Level No BS Moisturizer


Dr. Zeichner: “This botanical-based moisturizer both hydrates and protects the skin, while niacinamide has anti-inflammatory effects to soothe the skin and even skin tone.”


Alpha-H Vitamin A Serum with 0.5% Retinol


Dr. Zeichner: “This retinol serum has a hydrating formula with natural oils to minimize irritation, while a combination of two forms of retinol help strengthen the skin.”


Part of the series: