Inflamed skin in older adults may contribute to a wide range of age-related conditions including heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease, but regular moisturization may cool the inflammation and lower disease risk in the process, according to a pilot study.

In the study, 33 adults aged 58 and 95 applied a lipid-balanced cream all over their bodies twice a day for 30 days. After a month, the researchers measured blood levels of three cytokines—interleukin-1 beta, interleukin-6, and tumor necrosis factor (TNF) alpha—that have all been implicated in age-related inflammatory diseases. Using the cream reduced the amount of all three cytokines compared to both the participants’ levels before using the cream and the levels of similarly aged adults who did not use the cream. In fact, using the cream lowered participants’ cytokine levels to be nearly equivalent with people in their 30s, suggesting that rejuvenating the skin can reverse “inflamm-aging.” The cream also improved skin hydration, lowered pH, and repaired the permeability barrier, the study showed.

The findings appear in the Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology.

Now, “we're going to see whether using the cream to keep epidermal function normal as people age will prevent the development of those downstream diseases,” says study co-author Peter Elias, MD, a UCSF professor of dermatology based at the San Francisco VA Health Care System. “If we do, the implication would be that after the age of 50, you would want to be applying an effective topical barrier repair preparation daily for the rest of your life.”

Dr. Elias and Mao-Qiang Man, MD, a research scientist in the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Department of Dermatology who is based at the San Francisco VA Health Care System and is also a visiting professor at Southern Medical University in Guangzhou, China, serve as consultants to South Korea–based Neopharm, Ltd., which produces the moisturizer used in the study. An invention disclosure has been filed with the UCSF Office of Innovation, Technology & Alliances for the concept of preventing/treating systemic disorders using strategies that improve epidermal function.