You’ve heard of inflammation—probably as it relates to the entire body, and particularly to what we eat. While inflammation itself isn’t always a bad thing (it’s actually the body’s natural response to help heal itself), long-term or chronic inflammation is another story. It happens when your body faces low levels of inflammation every day—often from lifestyle factors such as environment, diet, UV exposure and lack of sleep—which build up over time and can even contribute to disease. It’s been dubbed “inflammaging” by some in the scientific community, referring to low-grade, chronic inflammation that contributes to a variety of age-related illnesses.1 But now, the term has started crossing over into the beauty world.
A new skincare company called Heraux, which was born out of the stem cell biology labs at USC, claims to have discovered an ingredient that can help curb inflammaging of the skin. And let me tell you, their new serum (the brand’s only product offering so far) is no joke—but I’ll get to that. First, I had to find out more about inflammaging, including whether or not the term holds actual merit aside from being a catchy marketing slogan.
“The concept behind inflammaging is that aging in general is a result of chronic and progressive increases in inflammation as the body ages,” explains NYC-based dermatologist Shari Marchbein, who is not affiliated with the brand. “In the case of skin, oxidative stress, inflammatory cytokines and the gut microbiome have been proposed to contribute to inflammaging.”
To try to curb the inflammaging process, the brand infused a proprietary ingredient (called HX-1) which was developed by stem cell researchers (and the brand co-founders) as a way to regenerate cartilage in joints.
“We have specialized stem cells in most of our tissues that replace cells lost to damage or aging throughout our lives,” Amir Nobakht, co-founder of Heraux, tells us. “Over time as the levels of stress molecules in our bodies increase, our stem cells start to get tired and don’t function as well.”
How does a molecule that was discovered to regrow cartilage in joints have benefits for the skin, you ask? “Cells in the skin and in the joints respond remarkably similarly to stress, and that’s why HX-1 can have rejuvenating effects in both the skin and cartilage,” Nobakht says. “HX-1 acts as a guardian against stress molecules, shielding skin stem cells from their effects and interrupting the cycle of inflammaging.”
Sticking to their science-backed ethos (Nobakht met co-founder Ben Van Handel while they were both working at USC’s stem cell biology labs), Heraux conducted a clinical trial to back up their claims. They looked at 30 patients who used only HX-1 for eight weeks, measuring common markers of skin aging including fine lines and wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, texture and elasticity. According to Nobakht, the results of the trial showed an “84 percent reduction in the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and significant improvements in the other categories as well.”
Of course, before just taking a brand co-founder’s word for it, I had to consult some more outside (re: non-biased sources) for their insight on the concept of skin inflammaging, as well as the product formulation. Ginger King, a cosmetic chemist in New York City, says that the term inflammaging typically applies to the body as a whole (indeed, a quick Google search will pull up many scientific research studies about the topic as it pertains to the entire body, rather than the skin). “Everything has an expiration date, including humans, [and] it’s the chronological accumulation [of] inflammation that leads to aging,” King says. “Theoretically, this makes sense what they are doing, [and it] looks like a well-formulated product.”
Caren Campbell, a dermatologist in San Francisco, isn’t so sure about the term inflammaging—because she says it basically just means the same thing as oxidative stress, which is a more accurate description of what it refers to. Terminology aside, she concedes, as do probably all of the other dermatologists I’ve ever interviewed, that chronic oxidative stress doesn’t bode well for the skin. “Oxidative stress and free radicals can lead to break down of collagen and elastin in the skin, which is the scaffolding or structural support that prevents wrinkles, fine lines and sagging skin,” Campbell says.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been testing out the serum myself as part of my nightly skincare routine. The texture is silky and lightweight, and it absorbs into skin quickly and easily. It smells pleasant too, a bit like lemon but not too strong. I layered it on just like you would any other serum, post-toner and before moisturizer. Overall, I’m happy to report that I truly love it. The formula itself feels very soothing. My skin almost drinks it up, and it always feels much softer to the touch the next morning. I have also noticed diminished smile lines and dark spots around my chin area, which are currently both of my biggest skin woes, but to be honest, I test out a number of different products so it’s difficult to attribute it to just this one. It’s certainly pricey at $250 for one bottle of serum, but I will say this: it takes a lot—I mean, a lot—for a product to earn its way into my regular daily rotation, and this one definitely has.