A new study has found that the regular use of moisturiser reduces ‘inflamm-aging’ linked to chronic diseases such as Alzheimer’s, heart disease and diabetes.
In the study by scientists at the University of California and the San Francisco Veterans Administration Health Care System, 33 participants aged 58 to 95 applied an over-the-counter skin cream containing “a beneficial ratio” of three types of lipids (cholesterol, free fatty acids and ceramides) all over their bodies twice daily.
After a month, the researchers measured blood levels of three cytokines ‒ interleukin-1 beta, interleukin-6, and tumor necrosis factor (TNF) alpha ‒ that have been implicated in age-related inflammatory diseases.
According to the University, using the cream reduced the amount of all three cytokines compared to both the participants’ levels before using the cream and the levels of similarly aged adults who did not use the cream.
“In fact, using the cream lowered participants’ cytokine levels to be nearly equivalent with people in their 30s, suggesting that rejuvenating the skin can reverse ‘inflamm-aging’. The cream also improved skin hydration, lowered pH, and repaired the permeability barrier.”
Speaking after the publication of the study in the Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, senior author Dr Mao-Qiang Man said the scientists conducted the study based on the belief that skin might be to blame for body-wide inflammation linked to chronic diseases of ageing ‒ rather than the more commonly held belief that inflammation is caused by the immune system or the liver.
“The inflammation must come from an organ big enough that very minor inflammation can affect the whole body,” he said.
“Skin is a good candidate for this because of its size.
“Once we get old, we have dermatological symptoms like itchiness, dryness, and changes in acidity. It could be that the skin has very minor inflammation, and because it’s such a large organ it elevates circulating cytokine levels.”
The study’s lead author,Dr Theodora Mauro, added that until recently the scientific community didn’t believe that skin could contribute to systemic inflammation and disease but “in the last five years studies of psoriasis and dermatitis have shown that skin inflammation from these diseases likely increases the risk of heart disease”.
“Ageing skin is much more common than psoriasis or dermatitis, so the overall risk to the population from ageing skin could far outweigh that seen from skin diseases,” she said.
“Decreasing inflammation simply by treating the skin dysfunction seen in ageing could have profound health effects.”
The scientists now plan to conduct a longer, larger study to test if lowering cytokine levels with the cream can delay or prevent age-related inflammatory diseases.
“We’re going to see whether using the cream to keep epidermal function normal as people age will prevent the development of those downstream diseases,” said co-author Dr Peter Elias.
“If we do, the implication would be that after the age of 50, you would want to be applying an effective topical barrier repair preparation daily for the rest of your life.”
For more news and updates, subscribe to our weekly newsletter.