Treat dry skin to reduce proinflammatory cytokines contributing to age-related diseases

Keeping your skin hydrated as you age is necessary to maintain your skin’s barrier function and inhibit the formation of dry skin. Research now indicates that a collateral benefit of hydrating skin care is a reduction in proinflammatory cytokines circulating in blood. These agents in blood plasma have been associated with inflammaging, which is low level, subclinical inflammation prevalent in aging populations.

Cytokines and inflammaging

Cytokines are small proteins that are involved in cell signaling, which supports the functioning of cells. Their presence in blood increases as people age along with the inflammaging linked to chronic diseases such as type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Cytokines are also connected to other health endpoints such as eczema, which is an inflammatory skin condition (Man and Elias, 2019).

One potential source of circulating cytokines is skin because (1) it produces them in response to inflammatory conditions including dry skin, elevated skin pH, and pruritis (itchy skin)—all of which are elevated in aging populations (e.g., > 50 years), and (2) it is one of the larger organs in the body.

Hydrating dry skin reduces circulating cytokines in the elderly

To test whether proinflammatory cytokines could be reduced by treating dry skin with a moisturizer, Ye et al. (2019) conducted a pilot study that included 3 test groups: (1) young controls (median age 32 years), (2) aged group with no hydrating skin treatment (median age 73 years), and aged group with skin treatment (median age 82 years). Before the treatments began, the baseline cytokine levels in the blood plasma of the aged subjects were significantly higher than in the young human controls.

The treatment protocol consisted of twice daily applications of a moisturizer for 30 days. At the end of the treatment period, there were large declines in the levels of cytokines in the treated group compared with the aged controls. Moreover, two of the cytokine plasma levels were actually comparable to those of the young control group!

These findings are consistent with previous work by Hu et al. (2017) with laboratory mice that showed that cytokine levels increase in aged mice and that hydrating the skin of aged mice reduced the levels of circulating cytokines.

If you’re over 50 years old, you’ll want to re-evaluate your skin–care practices to ensure that you are keeping your skin properly hydrated. Hydrated skin supports the barrier function of the stratum corneum and lowers levels of proinflammatory cytokines circulating in blood.


  • The levels of proinflammatory cytokines circulating in blood increase as we age and are involved with inflammaging health disorders.
  • Cytokines in blood plasma can be significantly reduced in aged individuals by hydrating the outer layer of skin.
  • Reducing cytokine levels by improving barrier skin function may offer a strategy for managing the risks of inflammatory-based health disorders.


Hu, L., Mauro, T.M., Dang, E., Man, G., Zhang, J., Lee, D., Wang, G., Feingold, K.R., Elias, P.M. and Man, M.Q., 2017. Epidermal dysfunction leads to an age-associated increase in levels of serum inflammatory cytokines. Journal of Investigative Dermatology137(6), pp.1277-1285.

Man, M.Q. and Elias, P.M., 2019. Could Inflammaging and Its Sequelae Be Prevented or Mitigated?. Clinical Interventions in Aging14, p.2301.

Ye, L., Mauro, T.M., Dang, E., Wang, G., Hu, L.Z., Yu, C., Jeong, S., Feingold, K., Elias, P.M., Lv, C.Z. and Man, M.Q., 2019. Topical applications of an emollient reduce circulating pro‐inflammatory cytokine levels in chronically aged humans: a pilot clinical study. Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology33(11), pp.2197-2201.

cytokines, inflammaging

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