The Ins and Outs of Inflammation
Redness, heat, swelling, puffiness, roughness. Do they sound unfortunately familiar?
They’re all signs of inflammation – a reaction of skin to outside influences and environmental factors like stress, winter weather, allergies, and a compromised immune system. Every skin shows inflammation differently, but often the triggers that bring it to the surface are the same.
When skin is exposed to the environmental triggers that cause irritation, cells react with an immune response that shows up as inflammation. The underlying cause of the symptoms of inflammation – that redness, heat, swelling and puffiness – is often a weakened skin barrier. When skin is healthy, the cells of the stratum corneum – the outermost layer of skin – are masters of keeping harmful bacteria and materials out of the skin. But when the barrier cells are compromised, toxins are more easily able to infiltrate the deeper dermal layers, leaving our skin more vulnerable to irritation.
Certain skin conditions can make inflammation more common – one of the most prominent being Eczema, or Atopic Dermatitis. In this case, toxin-producing bacteria is more heavily prevalent on the skin, causing cells to react more vigorously. When the reaction is greater, the symptoms of inflammation we experience can become more severe.
The Difference for Melanated Skin
Extensive research studies have determined that Eczema is more prominent in individuals with melanated skin than those with lighter skin. This is largely attributed to genetic factors and mutations, but also the differences in skin cell and melanin structure found in darker skin tones.
The symptoms of inflammation can be a bit more challenging to address in melanated skin, mainly because they don’t often show as the red, patchy skin eczema is commonly associated with. For those with darker skin, inflammation can look like dark patches - sometimes even more purple in color - or rough grey areas, usually referred to as "ashen." Small bumps may also be present on the face and other parts of the body, making skin rough and irritable to the touch.
A unique challenge that faces melanated skin is post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) – a process where inflamed skin becomes prone to discoloration and dark spots or patches. PIH is more prevalent in darker skin tones because of elevated pigmentation caused by greater levels of melanin production when compared to lighter skin tones.
Skin can become initially irritated by a variety of environmental factors including acne, mild or severe burns, allergic reactions, infection, insect bites, psoriasis, or even dry and inclement weather. For melanated skin, it’s especially important to combat inflammation and its symptoms before they result in escalated challenges like PIH.
The most vital step you can take to treat inflammation in melanated skin is prevention – which means providing skin what it needs to protect itself. That starts by building a strong, vibrant skin barrier. A powerful barrier will keep toxins and harmful bacteria out of the skin while sealing in the essential nutrients and moisture it needs to remain hydrated and healthy.
In addition to a dynamic first line of defense, melanated skin needs elevated amounts of hydration that penetrates even the deepest dermal layers where the symptoms of inflammation begin to brew. Selecting moisturizers that also offer heavy hydration should be your must-haves in your melanated skincare routine.
But while prevention is key, there is no way to entirely avoid irritants and toxins infiltrating our layers. Choosing products that offer soothing and healing properties to already-present irritation can help to eliminate existing inflammatory symptoms.
Because it faces so many unique challenges, and its needs are so multi-dimensional when it comes to prevention, protection, and treatment – caring for melanated skin requires going well beneath the surface.
John Hopkins Medicine. Science Daily Journal. 2017. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171108124217.htm
Kaufman, Bridget, MD. National Eczema Organization. https://nationaleczema.org/eczema-in-skin-of-color/
Lucas, Chere, MD. SOCS Skin of Color Society. https://skinofcolorsociety.org/patient-dermatology-education/post-inflammatory-hyperpigmentation-pih/