How Spa Pros Can Treat Inflammation

skin-inflammation[Images: Getty Images]Inflammation, an immune response to a real or perceived threat, affects more than 35 million Americans annually; and they spend more than $2 billion to treat their symptoms—many of which affect their largest organ. Howard Murad, MD, founder of skincare brand Murad, describes the condition as a “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” situation. “On one hand we need inflammatory responses for healing to occur—it’s a normal process that keeps us alive,” he explains. “But overwhelming and chronic inflammation is deleterious to our health. With long-term stress, cell membranes become inflamed, causing our cells to lose water and dehydrate us.”

Inflammation primarily results from sun exposure, stress, underlying health conditions, environmental aggressors, poor diet, genetic predisposition and lack of sleep. It can manifest in a number of ways, including rosacea, rashes, eczema, psoriasis, acne and wrinkles. “It’s a complex, unpredictable and uncomfortable condition, which often begins by altering the skin’s microbiome and barrier,” says Katherine Tomasso, national director of education for Yon-Ka Paris. Because estheticians are in a unique position to help clients manage this increasingly common issue, DAYSPA turned to seasoned skincare pros to gain a better understanding of how inflammation takes hold, and the best ways to manage it.

The Burning Truth

In its beneficial form, inflammation is the body’s attempt to heal wounds and repel bacteria. When you fall and cut your knee, or undergo a chemical peel that causes your skin to become temporarily inflamed, that’s acute inflammation. “Acute activities can also go awry, in which case the body tells the face to become inflamed—to the client’s discomfort and detriment,” notes Charlene DeHaven, MD, clinical director of Innovative Skincare.

Chronic inflammation happens over an extensive period of time, and may or may not be visible. “It occurs in all disease processes, as well as the aging process,” says Dr. DeHaven, adding that wrinkles are often scars that result from ongoing, sun-induced inflammation. “‘Inflammaging’ is the term that’s emerged,” she says.

New York City-based dermatologist Doris Day, MD, agrees: “We’re learning that inflammation is one of the most powerful stressors that accelerates the aging process, and that by controlling it, we can reverse some of the signs.” After all, chronic inflammation tends to result from dehydration and sustained exposure to free radicals. “Our skin experiences about 85 percent of its free radical damage from solar rays,” says Dr. DeHaven. “Smoking also causes a lot of free radical damage and ongoing inflammation; it ages the skin and all other organs, too.”

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Some other reasons chronic inflammation manifests in the dermis? “Skin is a reflection of internal health—it indicates how an inflammatory condition is affecting you,” explains Dr. Day. “It shows when you’re not getting enough sleep, when you’re suffering from poor nutrition—or consuming too much sugar, alcohol, carbs or caffeine—and when you’re dehydrated.” The longer this goes on, the more serious the consequences will be. “Chronic inflammation leads to unhealthy skin mutations, impaired skin function and immunity, and a worn extracellular matrix,” warns Tomasso. “It can cause permanent skin damage, including redness and advanced aging.”

Although anyone can suffer from chronic inflammation, genetics plays a significant role and those with sensitive skin are particularly at risk. “These clients have a lower tolerance threshold than those with normal skin,” explains Tomasso. “Sensitive skin also lets in more aggressive agents, so the inflammatory reaction is disproportionately high, repeated and difficult to control.”

Recently, scientists have been studying less obvious sources of inflammation, including those free radicals contained in pollution (distressing, as the World Health Organization estimates that 92 percent of the planet’s population lives with substandard-quality air), as well as in the blue light emitting from electronic devices. “Sixty percent of blue light exposure now comes from our cell phones, computers and televisions,” reports Dr. DeHaven. Luckily, there
are already apps—such as Redshift, SunsetScreen and Iris—that address this issue by decreasing blue light exposure.



There’s no one solution to such a comprehensive problem, but for starters, recommend sunscreen to every client. Repairing the skin barrier is also of utmost importance. “You need an appropriate moisturizer that protects and reinforces the barrier, and also protects you from blue light, heavy metals and pollution,” says Dr. Murad.

In terms of skincare ingredients, these guests will benefit from topicals rich in antioxidants—and there’s something to be said for finding them in nature. “Many anti-inflammatory and antioxidant ingredients are botanically derived, because plants are unable to move away from the sun, as we can, and so have developed very efficient protective systems,” notes Dr. DeHaven.

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In addition to antioxidants like vitamin C, Dr. Day suggests hydrating masks. Not only do they nourish and soothe the skin, but they’re emotionally calming,
she says. Probiotics like lactobacillus can also be beneficial, notes Tomasso. These epidermal microorganisms support the growth of good bacteria while inhibiting inflammation-triggering pathogens. “Lactobacillus is a naturally occurring bacteria that upholds the growth of healthy microflora, and promotes healing by boosting fibroblasts,” she adds.

You can also advise clients about a number of inflammation-diminishing lifestyle and dietary habits. After all, as Dr. Day points out, managing the condition is a full-service task. “Our training is grounded in science, but there’s another level here. As a healer, you can help clients understand treatment beyond using creams or products,” she says. “A lot of rosacea and eczema management comes down to getting more sleep, smoking less, drinking more water, and eating more vegetables and fish—just taking small steps and adding on a little bit every day.” Tomasso recommends clients limit or avoid some additional triggers that
can exacerbate inflammation: weather extremes; alcohol; caffeine; hot showers; steam rooms; saunas; heavy exercise; abrasive skin care, such as harsh peels
and scrubs; and histamine-rich foods.

Dr. Murad adds that pros can help guests find ways to relax even after they leave the spa. “Consider recommending activities like yoga or art therapy,” he suggests. “Keep books and articles on hand that’ll guide clients to pinpoint and reduce sources of loneliness, isolation, anger, hostility and perfectionism to help them conquer their stress.”

Finally, offer some guidance on physical activity. Exercise (when not too intense) can be extremely beneficial, particularly when dehydrated cells are at the root of inflammatory issues. “Muscle is 70 percent water, whereas fat is only 10 percent water,” explains Dr. Murad. In fact, he notes, moderate exercisers have been found to be 15 percent less likely than sedentary individuals to suffer from chronic inflammation. It all goes to show that an active, healthy lifestyle pays off.

RELATED: 7 Tips to Help Your Clients Achieve Healthier Skin

Diet Do’s and Don’ts

Clients looking to address their inflammation concerns should be advised of these healthy eating habits. Because a total shift can be a bit daunting, experts suggest introducing or removing one food type at a time.


Leafy greens
Cruciferous vegetables (e.g., broccoli and Brussels sprouts)
Whole grains
Red- and blue-colored fruits (e.g., berries and pomegranates)
Cold-water fish (e.g., salmon, tuna, mackerel and herring)


Meat (especially beef and pork)
Processed foods
Nightshade vegetables (e.g., eggplant and tomatoes) Histamine-rich foods (e.g., citrus and dairy)
Pickled or fermented foods

–by Katie O’Reilly

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