Do you ever suffer from redness, itching, rashes, swelling, blisters, and hives on the skin? These symptoms are generally known to result from skin inflammation. Most of us have struggled with these skin issues at some point.
While skin inflammation may seem to be a frustrating skin problem, it’s a sign of our skin telling us that our immune system is reacting to certain internal or external factors. These include allergens, environmental stressors, infection, dysfunctional immune system, and genetics. Foreign substances are the common reason behind the skin acting up to fight against these factors and protect the skin and the body from their adverse effects. Keep reading to uncover the causes, symptoms, and treatment of skin inflammation.
What is Skin Inflammation?
Inflammation is a complex process involving several signaling proteins and cells that work to protect the body, including white blood cells. These proteins help your body fight infections and external agents. At times, the body’s immune system activates an inappropriate inflammatory reaction. Many autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system reacts to healthy tissue taking it as infected or abnormal, causing inflammation. Hence, the body sometimes tries to protect itself from inflammation by attacking healthy tissues.
When inflammation in the body starts, the white blood cells discharge chemicals into the bloodstream and the damaged tissues to defend the body. These chemicals cause blood flow to the affected area to amp up, resulting in redness and heat. These chemicals can leak fluids into the tissues, which may cause swelling and damage to the affected body parts. This process triggers nerves and tissues, which leads to swelling and pain.
Types of Inflammation
Skin inflammation is categorized into two types according to its duration, causes, and symptoms. Here are two main types of skin inflammation:
- Acute Inflammation: This type of skin inflammation generally persists for six weeks or less. Acute inflammation is characterized by warmth or heat in the affected parts of the body. It’s considered a healthy or necessary type of inflammation that functions to aid the body in attacking and combating foreign substances, such as bacteria, viruses, and toxic chemicals, which enter the body. Acute inflammation commonly arises due to specific health or skin issues. Some examples of acute inflammation include acne, allergic reactions, dermatitis, infected ingrown toenail, and sunburns. Once the body recovers or heals, this type of inflammation also goes away on its own.¹
- Chronic Inflammation: While you can notice acute inflammation on your skin through rashes, hives, scaling, and swelling, chronic inflammation is not visible to the eyes. This type of inflammation can last in the body for more than six weeks and may even persist for years in some cases. If chronic inflammation doesn’t subside, it can start attacking healthy areas of the body. Chronic inflammation often co-occurs with inflammatory skin conditions, like psoriasis and eczema, that can lead to flare-ups and do not diminish quickly.
Causes of Skin Inflammation
As mentioned earlier, several internal and external factors can pave the way to skin inflammation. Below are common causes behind skin inflammation:
- Allergens - Allergens are elements that initiate an allergic reaction in some people. Common allergens most individuals are exposed to include pollen, certain foods, certain medications, insect bites, and pet dander. When the skin touches these substances, it can cause an allergic skin reaction and inflammation.
- Autoimmune Disorders - Some autoimmune conditions, such as psoriasis, dermatitis, and lupus, can cause skin inflammation.² In individuals with these conditions, the immune system mistakenly begins to attack the body's healthy tissues, including the skin. This may give rise to chronic inflammation.
- Infections - Skin infections caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi can trigger inflammation. Examples include cellulitis, herpes simplex, and fungal infections. The body's immune response to these infections can result in redness, swelling, and other signs of inflammation.
- Irritants - Various materials that come in contact with the skin can directly aggravate the skin, leading to skin inflammation. Examples of skin irritants include fragrances, dyes, harsh soaps, detergents, and chemicals in cosmetics. Extended or recurrent exposure to these elements can irritate the skin and cause inflammation.
- Genetics - Sometimes, you may have a genetic predisposition to certain skin problems like atopic dermatitis and psoriasis, which are associated with chronic skin inflammation. Numerous genetic factors can have an adverse effect on the skin's protective barrier, making it more vulnerable to inflammation.
- Hormonal Changes -We all know that many skin conditions, particularly acne, eczema, and dermatitis, can be affected by hormonal fluctuations in the body. Hormonal variations during puberty, pregnancy, and menopause, can also lead to skin inflammation.
- Stress - Psychological stress and emotional factors are also known to influence the skin negatively and lead to inflammation. Stress hormones, particularly cortisol, can initiate or worsen certain inflammatory skin conditions, including eczema and psoriasis.
- Environmental Factors - Environmental agents like humidity, extreme temperatures, dry air, free radicals, and ultraviolet (UV) radiation can irritate the skin, contributing to skin inflammation.
Treatment Options for Skin Inflammation
Here are some treatments to choose from to help get rid of skin inflammation, depending on the severity and cause of your skin inflammation:
Home Remedies - Note that it’s imperative to consult with your healthcare provider for proper examination, diagnosis, and instructions before trying any treatment option, especially home remedies. Following are some home remedies that may help to calm your skin inflammation:
- Cold Compress - This method involves wrapping the affected area of the body with a wet cloth or cold pack. The aim is to keep that area hydrated and soothe the symptom of inflammation. This technique isn’t suitable if there are wounds or flaking on the skin.
- Ultraviolet Light -Ultraviolet A and B light is widely used to reduce skin inflammation in clinics. Although licensed healthcare providers mainly perform this therapy, various at-home devices can help treat skin inflammation.
- Protect and Moisturize - It’s best to prevent skin inflammation by avoiding the factors that can irritate and induce inflammation, such as rough clothing, allergens, and irritants. Sunscreen can help you protect your skin. Also, apply generous amounts of moisturizing products to the affected areas of the skin to keep it calm and hydrated.
- Avoid Heat - Since heat can also aggravate the skin, keep your environment cool and avoid taking a hot bath. Moreover, stay clear of spaces with high humidity.
Topical Products - Topical creams and ointments are one of the most effective and fast-acting treatment options for reducing skin inflammation. You can apply these products directly to inflamed areas of the skin. Here are some topical products for treating skin inflammation:
- Corticosteroid creams for skin inflammation
- Antibacterial/antifungal creams for skin inflammation due to infections
- OTC anti-itching creams like hydrocortisone or calamine lotion³
- Skincare products with antioxidant elements, such as vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, green tea, and niacinamide.
A Balanced Diet - Diet plays a vital role in sustaining the health and integrity of the skin. It can also be beneficial in preventing and treating skin inflammation. Plenty of foods can result in inflammation, such as fried food, sweetened drinks, red meat, processed foods, and refined flour.
Be sure to avoid these inflammation-causing foods and pack your diet with foods rich in anti-inflammatory compounds. Some foods that reduce inflammation and provide high amounts of antioxidants include berries, citrus fruits, olive oil, green vegetables, tomatoes, nuts, and fatty fish.
Oral Medication - Sometimes, more than the above treatment methods are needed to treat skin inflammation, and your dermatologist may prescribe oral medications. A healthcare professional may prescribe oral antibacterial or antifungal medication in case of infections.
On the other hand, antihistamines are prescribed for skin inflammation caused by an allergic reaction that manifests as skin redness, irritation, swelling, and scaling. Your healthcare provider can guide you to the proper treatment according to your skin needs and condition.
Skin inflammation affects many people. Irritation, rashes, redness, and itching indicate the immune system fighting an allergic reaction, immune system malfunction, infection, environmental factors, genetics, injury, and photosensitivity. The cause of skin inflammation may vary, but the symptoms are almost always the same. You can look for the symptoms and try different treatment methods to reduce inflammation and soothe the skin. Some treatment options to tone down skin inflammation include home remedies, topical creams, a balanced diet, and medications. The suitable treatment for skin inflammation mainly depends on the cause behind it.
- S. Brooklyn. (2022). ‘Adult Acne: What It Is and How to Treat it’, Sundree, Accessed June 22, 2023. Available at: https://sundree.com/blogs/news/adult-acne-what-it-is-and-how-to-treat-it
- Mayo Clinic Staff. (2023). ‘Dermatitis’, Mayo Clinic, Accessed June 22, 2023. Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dermatitis-eczema/symptoms-causes/syc-20352380
- WebMD. (2023). ‘Hydrocortisone Cream – Uses, Side Effects, and More’, WebMD, Accessed June 23, 2023. Available at: https://www.webmd.com/drugs/2/drug-10402-859/hydrocortisone-topical/hydrocortisone-topical/details