Any number of ingredients can trigger inflammation—at times, a desired result, and at others, an unexpected occurrence, according to Karen Asquith, director of education at G.M. Collin Skincare. “Alpha hydroxy acids and retinols can cause inflammation, but when they’re used correctly, the controlled inflammation provides excellent results,” she says. Indeed, inflammation is the name of the retinoidal game. While numerous treatment modalities rely on inflammation to minimize the signs of aging, one size definitely doesn’t fit all. “Active anti-aging ingredients need to be used in the correct dose, the correct delivery system, and the correct formulation to enhance results and not cause inflammation,” says DermAware’s founder and CEO Gül Ç. Zone. Control is the key word here, per Rhonda Allison’s CEO and Director of Education Shannon Esau. Overuse of high-percentage AHAs and other acids can bring on chronic inflammation and cause damage to skin, she says. Microdermabrasion and chemical peels both create inflammation, but it must be controlled.
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Inflammation can also occur as a side effect of invasive procedures such as dermal injections and surgery, or after more superficial services like microblading, dermaplaning, microdermabrasion, and waxing, notes LightStim’s director of education Amy Gardner. According to Clarins’s national spa trainer Genny Smith, most spa-based inflammation is due to overexposure to glycolic acid and peels. Goodwin concurs: “Virtually every type of acid in chemical peels triggers an inflammatory response, potentially intended to stimulate collagen production, repair elastin, or chemically break down skin cells,” he says. Then again, any active ingredient or acid can cause inflammation if not used correctly, says Sesha’s owner Phyllis Hsieh. Think too many layers of a certain peel, or too high a percentage of a particular ingredient. “One client’s skin may not be able to withstand a higher strength, while another client may be able to withstand stronger,” she says. Everyday items and ingredients, from harsh soaps and preservatives to more benign substances like essential oils, can trigger inflammation, as well. Artificial fragrances and dyes can be especially harmful.