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Anti-Inflammatory Skincare Ingredients Explained

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Expert-approved

This article has been reviewed by Dr. Luisa Fanzani, a Los Angeles-based cosmetic chemist dedicated to educating people on skincare.

If you feel your skin is too itchy, easily reactive, can’t tolerate harsh products, or have breakouts, you know you need anti-inflammatory skincare ingredients. Anti-inflammatory ingredients have always had a crucial role in skincare, without which acne, redness, and rosacea couldn’t have ever been soothed. They are great to help calm irritations and comfort the skin, whether it’s about dealing with inflammatory skin conditions or a simple sensitivity to a chemical compound. Which, by the way, happens quite often. Since so many factors (UV exposure, chemicals, bacteria, and environmental damage) can cause inflammations, almost everyone needs anti-inflammatory skincare ingredients in their life at some point.

Rest assured, with these best anti-inflammatory skincare ingredients featured ahead, you’ll be able to soothe your sensitive, irritated skin, as well as manage inflammatory conditions. 

How do anti-inflammatory ingredients soothe sensitive skin?

Anti-inflammatory skincare ingredients are those elements, chemically or naturally sourced, that prevent, target, and relieve skin inflammations. Skin inflammation is an immune response triggered the moment the body precepts a foreign intruder and tries to fight it.

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For example, a common intruder is free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that damage skin cells and are known to trigger chronic inflammations.[1] Most antioxidants are considered anti-inflammatory agents as they neutralize these molecules and prevent tissue damage. UV exposure, smoking, and pollution are known factors that inflame the skin because they lead to an increase in free radicals. 

A chemical penetrating through your protective skin barrier and affecting your skin cells is another scenario that happens quite often and leads to skin inflammation. Even natural extracts can cause severe irritations if your skin has an oversensitivity to them.

Other causes involve genetics, injuries, bacterial infections, and inflammatory conditions like psoriasis, acne, or dermatitis. A diet high in processed carbs and gluten also often causes a generalized inflammation that may affect the skin.

Last but not least, whether the reasons, skin inflammation usually manifests as redness, swelling, flaky skin, and itchiness. If you face these symptoms, you have to add anti-inflammatory skincare ingredients to your routine to alleviate inflammation and protect your skin. Like these:

Niacinamide

Niacinamide, or nicotinamide, is a form of vitamin B3 commonly used in skincare thanks to its ability to strengthen skin defense against environmental damage. It does that by increasing skin’s moisture content and reducing water loss which helps consolidate skin barrier function.

As a result, niacinamide helps prevent skin inflammation since a compromised barrier is more easily affected by external aggressors’ damage, including free radicals. Besides, niacinamide is also considered a powerful antioxidant and has anti-inflammatory effects in acne- and rosacea-induced inflammations.[2]

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Azelaic acid

Azelaic acid is a naturally occurring acid found in barley, rye, and wheat. It’s working to exfoliate the skin layers and remove old, weakened cells that can clog the pores and attract bacteria, causing inflammations like pimples and breakouts. Because azelaic acid is also antibacterial, it’s often used to fight acne, considered equally effective as 0.05% tretinoin cream.[3] As if that wasn’t enough, azelaic acid is known to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidants activities and was found to be especially effective in soothing chronic inflammatory conditions, like rosacea.[4]

Green tea

Green tea is a rich source of polyphenols, which possess high anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.[5] Polyphenols, especially EGCG, the most abundant catechin in green tea, help skin cells fight free radicals, which in turn prevent inflammations. And since EGCG has antimicrobial activities, topical application of green tea may also improve acne and relieve irritations. For this reason, green tea is considered one of the most effective anti-inflammatory skincare ingredients. 

Omega-3 fatty acids

These essential fatty acids are found in fish, nuts, and seeds and are renowned for lowering inflammation and softening rough, dry skin. Both topical application and oral supplementation of omega-3 fatty acids can reduce UV-induced damage, minimize aging signs, and lessen skin inflammations.[6] On top of that, it was shown multiple times that omega-3 fatty acids have the potential to alleviate inflammatory skin conditions, including psoriasis and acne.[7]

Rosehip oil

Rosehip oil is another popular anti-inflammatory skincare ingredient since it has a high content of polyphenols, vitamins, and fatty acids that aid in hydrating, protecting, and softening the skin. As it’s rich in antioxidants from polyphenols, vitamins C and E, rosehip oil works great to reduce inflammation and calm irritation resulting from rosacea, psoriasis, eczema, or dermatitis.[8] More than that, rosehip oil contains linoleic, oleic, palmitic, and stearic acids, which keep skin moisturized and healthy. 

Licorice

The licorice extract comes from the root of the licorice plant (Glycyrrhiza glabra) and is one of the world’s oldest natural skin remedies. Licorice is composed of a lot of polyphenols, of which 13 are known to have powerful anti-inflammatory properties.[9] Some of its active compounds are also known to possess antimicrobial activities. As a result, licorice is frequently recommended for acne and eczema.

Another commonly used anti-inflammatory agent isolated from the licorice root is potassium glycyrrhizinate, a skin-conditioning agent. It’s widely added to skincare products as a soothing agent since it’s known to help calm inflammation in the skin. Briefly, licorice works excellent to soften itchiness, redness, and irritations, being touted as one of the best anti-inflammatory skincare ingredients.

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Aloe vera

Aloe vera is the first that comes to mind when I think of a soothing ingredient. The gel-like substance extracted from the plant’s leave has been used for centuries to heal wounds and reduce inflammations.

What makes aloe vera such a great anti-inflammatory skincare ingredient is its 75 active compounds, including vitamins, enzymes, minerals, and amino acids.[10] More precisely, it contains vitamins A, C, E, B12, folic acid, and choline, which are all antioxidants that neutralize free radicals and decrease skin cells damage. Then aloe vera contains eight enzymes that help reduce inflammation when applied to the skin and fatty acids with anti-inflammatory properties. 

Chamomile

Because chamomile contains 36 flavonoids, it’s a rich source of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds.[11] For this reason, eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, and other inflammations of the skin are oftentimes treated with chamomile. It also helps alleviate redness and skin irritations, including sunburn and swelling.

Another chamomile-derived compound worth attention for its anti-inflammatory properties: bisabolol. Most probably, you’re no stranger to it since it’s the main component of chamomile essential oil, commonly found in skincare products. This thick liquid is known to soothe skin inflammation, being great acne, rashes, and rosacea fighter.[12] Plus, bisabolol does excellent at calming the skin after UV exposure, toning down sunburns. You’ll want to keep this ingredient nearby, especially if you’ve got easily reactive skin.

Witch hazel

When applied to the skin, witch hazel reduces itching and swelling and is commonly used to calm inflammation caused by acne or eczema. Gallic acid and tannins, two active compounds in witch hazel, have anti-inflammatory properties that treat skin irritations. Witch hazel also has antioxidants, repairing and protecting skin cells from free radicals.

Colloidal Oatmeal

Colloidal oatmeal is obtained by grinding oat grain to a fine powder. It has been used for centuries to soothe dry and itchy skin due to its content of fats, proteins, vitamins, and minerals. On top of this, colloidal oatmeal packs avenanthramides, polyphenols, and beta-glucan, all praised for their anti-inflammatory effects on the skin.[13] The colloidal oatmeal composition makes it an ideal natural skin-soother and one of the best anti-inflammatory agents that contributes to alleviating dry, irritated skin.[14]

Resveratrol

Resveratrol is a polyphenol mainly produced by grapes and blueberries, but it can actually be obtained from more than 70 natural sources. As it possesses high antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, resveratrol is often used in skincare to prevent photoaging, reduce inflammations and redness, and soothe rough skin and wrinkles.[15]

Studies confirmed that resveratrol could protect skin cells against the effects of free radicals, targeting the causes of inflammations before they break out. However, even if resveratrol is better at anti-aging than targeting inflammations, it’s still worth a spot on the best anti-inflammatory skincare ingredients list. 

Beta-glucans

Beta-glucans are polysaccharide sugars found in cell walls, derived from yeast, mushrooms, seaweeds, and cereals. These compounds are known to possess multiple skin benefits, including antioxidant, hydrating, barrier boosting, and anti-inflammatory. Due to their soothing effect, beta-glucans are often used in skincare to calm the skin and reduce redness, making these sugar molecules ideal to use after exfoliation. 

What are the best anti-inflammatory skincare ingredients?

Without further ado, the best anti-inflammatory skincare ingredients include niacinamide, green tea extract, aloe vera, licorice, chamomile, and colloidal oatmeal.

References
  1. Pham-Huy LA, He H, Pham-Huy C. Free radicals, antioxidants in disease and health. Int J Biomed Sci. 2008;4(2):89-96.
  2. Gehring W. Nicotinic acid/niacinamide and the skin. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2004 Apr;3(2):88-93. doi: 10.1111/j.1473-2130.2004.00115.x. PMID: 17147561.
  3. Katsambas A, Graupe K, Stratigos J. Clinical studies of 20% azelaic acid cream in the treatment of acne vulgaris. Comparison with vehicle and topical tretinoin. Acta Derm Venereol Suppl (Stockh). 1989;143:35-9. doi: 10.2340/000155551433539. PMID: 2528257.
  4. Jones DA. Rosacea, reactive oxygen species, and azelaic Acid. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2009;2(1):26-30.
  5. Ohishi T, Goto S, Monira P, Isemura M, Nakamura Y. Anti-inflammatory Action of Green Tea. Antiinflamm Antiallergy Agents Med Chem. 2016;15(2):74-90. doi: 10.2174/1871523015666160915154443. PMID: 27634207.
  6. https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/health-disease/skin-health/essential-fatty-acids#functions
  7. Balić A, Vlašić D, Žužul K, Marinović B, Bukvić Mokos Z. Omega-3 Versus Omega-6 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids in the Prevention and Treatment of Inflammatory Skin Diseases. Int J Mol Sci. 2020;21(3):741. Published 2020 Jan 23. doi:10.3390/ijms21030741
  8. Mármol I, Sánchez-de-Diego C, Jiménez-Moreno N, Ancín-Azpilicueta C, Rodríguez-Yoldi MJ. Therapeutic Applications of Rose Hips from Different Rosa Species. Int J Mol Sci. 2017;18(6):1137. Published 2017 May 25. doi:10.3390/ijms18061137
  9. Yang R, Yuan BC, Ma YS, Zhou S, Liu Y. The anti-inflammatory activity of licorice, a widely used Chinese herb. Pharm Biol. 2017;55(1):5-18. doi:10.1080/13880209.2016.1225775
  10. Surjushe A, Vasani R, Saple DG. Aloe vera: a short review. Indian J Dermatol. 2008;53(4):163-166. doi:10.4103/0019-5154.44785
  11. Srivastava JK, Shankar E, Gupta S. Chamomile: A herbal medicine of the past with bright future. Mol Med Rep. 2010;3(6):895-901. doi:10.3892/mmr.2010.377
  12. Maurya AK, Singh M, Dubey V, Srivastava S, Luqman S, Bawankule DU. α-(-)-bisabolol reduces pro-inflammatory cytokine production and ameliorates skin inflammation. Curr Pharm Biotechnol. 2014;15(2):173-81. doi: 10.2174/1389201015666140528152946. PMID: 24894548.
  13. Meydani M. Potential health benefits of avenanthramides of oats. Nutr Rev. 2009 Dec;67(12):731-5. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2009.00256.x. PMID: 19941618.
  14. Reynertson KA, Garay M, Nebus J, Chon S, Kaur S, Mahmood K, Kizoulis M, Southall MD. Anti-inflammatory activities of colloidal oatmeal (Avena sativa) contribute to the effectiveness of oats in treatment of itch associated with dry, irritated skin. J Drugs Dermatol. 2015 Jan;14(1):43-8. PMID: 25607907.
  15. Salehi B, Mishra AP, Nigam M, et al. Resveratrol: A Double-Edged Sword in Health Benefits. Biomedicines. 2018;6(3):91. Published 2018 Sep 9. doi:10.3390/biomedicines6030091
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