Inflammation inhibition versus immunosuppression – what’s the difference?

Anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive treatments are often used for various skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and acne. While both types of treatments aim to reduce the inflammation in the skin, they have different mechanisms of action and effects on the immune system.

Inflammation can be caused by several factors. Essentially, there are two groups of causes of inflammation: inflammation due to infection, which can be caused by bacteria, yeast, parasites or viruses, and sterile inflammation, which does not involve infection. Inflammation can lead to various skin conditions, such as infection, acne, eczema and psoriasis.

In this blog, we discuss the differences between anti-inflammatory and immunosuppression. And we discuss cosmetic ingredients with an anti-inflammatory effect.

Anti-inflammatory, aka anti-inflammatory – what is that?

Anti-inflammatory, also called anti-inflammatory refers to reducing inflammatory responses in the body. Inflammation is a response of the immune system to a stimulus that is harmful to the body, such as bacteria, viruses, damaged tissue or irritants. During this response, pro-inflammatory cytokines, such as TNF-alpha, Interleukin-1 (IL-1), and IL-6, are produced and released. These cytokines attract immune cells, such as neutrophils, macrophages, and T cells, to the affected area, where they fight infection or clear damaged tissue.

While an inflammatory response is essential to protecting the body, excessive or chronic inflammation can be harmful and lead to tissue damage and disease. Anti-inflammatory treatments aim to reduce the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines and suppress inflammatory responses. This can be achieved with medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), corticosteroids, and immunosuppressants, or with natural remedies, which we discuss below. Reducing inflammatory responses can help reduce symptoms of inflammation, such as redness, swelling, and pain, and improve overall health and well-being.

Immunosuppression, what does this mean?

Immunosuppressive treatments are aimed at suppressing the immune system itself, it is intended to reduce inflammatory reactions in the skin, for example. The immune system is made up of different types of cells involved in defending the body against infections and other harmful stimuli. Immune suppression suppresses specific immune cells, such as T cells and B cells, which play an important role in causing inflammatory reactions in the skin.

For example, T cells are a type of white blood cell involved in the immune response. In skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema, too many overactive T cells are produced, leading to inflammation and symptoms such as itching and redness. Immunosuppressive treatments can suppress these T cells, reducing inflammation.

The difference between anti-inflammatory and immune suppression

The main difference between anti-inflammatory and immune suppression is that anti-inflammatory treatments aim to reduce the inflammation itself. So inhibition of the pro-inflammatory cytokines – inflammatory proteins. While immunosuppressive treatments aim to suppress the immune system, i.e. your immune cells, to reduce inflammatory responses. In conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, allergies and, for example, other autoimmune diseases such as lupus erythematosus, vitiligo, Crohn’s disease, Ulcerative Colitis, your own immune system is overactive. This hyperactivity can lead to physical, but also psychological problems. Immune suppression is necessary to calm the overactive immune system.

Immune suppression is needed to calm hyperactive immune system

In immune suppression, specific immune cells are suppressed, including T cells, B cells, and antigen presenting cells (APCs). This can lead to a diminished immune response, which is why hormone ointments are often only prescribed for short-term use and on specific areas of the skin to minimize the potential for systemic immune suppression.

Anti-Inflammation Immunosuppression
Immune Suppression Vs. Anti-Inflammation

Hormone ointment

A hormone ointment can have both anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive properties, depending on the type of hormone and its concentration in the ointment.

Immunosuppressive properties of hormone ointments are due to the fact that some hormones can suppress the immune system. The immune system plays an important role in fighting infection and other harmful stimuli, but it can also cause inflammation if it is too active. By suppressing the immune system, a hormone ointment can reduce inflammation caused by an overactive immune system such as in eczema or psoriasis. However, applying a hormone ointment to infected skin can actually make the infection worse, because hormone ointments suppress the skin’s immune response, allowing the infection to spread.

While hormone ointments can be very effective in reducing sterile skin inflammations such as psoriasis and eczema, their long-term use can also carry risks. Because it suppresses the immune response, it can lead to an increased risk of skin infections. In addition, prolonged use can lead to skin atrophy, which means that the skin becomes thinner and more susceptible to damage. More on: how to properly lubricate a hormone ointment

11 Cosmetic Ingredients With Anti-Inflammatory Properties:

Anti-inflammatory is increasingly recognized as an important factor in cosmetic product development as it can help improve the overall health of the skin. Cosmetic products containing anti-inflammatory ingredients can help reduce skin aging, wrinkles and dry skin.

These ingredients work by reducing the production of inflammatory mediators in the skin and strengthening the skin’s natural barrier, keeping the skin hydrated and healthy. Due to these properties, anti-inflammatory ingredients are increasingly found in cosmetic products such as moisturizers, serums and eye creams. Fortunately, these ingredients do not cause immunosuppression, meaning they are safe for long-term use.
However, it is important to understand that this is not a substitute for dermatological treatments, but rather a complement to them.


Oats, or Avena sativa, have been used for centuries for their soothing and moisturizing properties. In addition to these benefits, Avena Sativa also has anti-inflammatory properties. The active compounds in oatmeal, such as avenanthramides and beta-glucans, can inhibit the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines, reducing inflammation. This makes oatmeal a useful ingredient in skin care products for people with sensitive, inflamed or irritated skin.d.

Marshmallow root, also known as Althaea officinalis, has been used for centuries for its medicinal properties, including anti-inflammatory properties. The root of this plant contains high levels of mucilages that can form a protective layer on the skin and reduce inflammation. When applied to the skin, marshmallow root can help soothe and calm irritation and inflammation. It can be used in various skin conditions, including eczema and dermatitis, to reduce the symptoms of inflammation such as redness and itching.

NiacinamideThis ingredient is derived from vitamin B3 and is known for its soothing and strengthening properties for the skin. It works by inhibiting the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines, including interleukin-6 (IL-6) and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha). This can help reduce the symptoms of inflammation and allow the skin to recover.

Green tea extract contains polyphenols, such as catechins and EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate), which are known for their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It can help reduce inflammation and redness. Studies have shown that green tea extract can inhibit the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines and reduce the immune response in the skin.

Turmeric, derived from the turmeric plant, contains curcumin, a promising cosmetic ingredient with anti-inflammatory properties. It works by inhibiting the activity of enzymes involved in inflammatory processes and reducing the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines. Curcumin is also commonly used in traditional medicine for its anti-inflammatory properties. It can help reduce inflammation and redness and may also help reduce the appearance of scars.

Known for its anti-inflammatory properties, Arnica contains compounds such as Helenaline and Dyhydrohelenaline, which can help reduce inflammation, swelling and pain. Arnica is commonly used in creams and ointments to treat muscle aches, sprains, bruises, and other inflammation-related conditions. Indeed, there is some evidence that arnica may help reduce inflammation associated with conditions such as arthritis. It has a variable effect on eczema skin, it can aggravate eczema. However, more research is needed to confirm these effects. Arnica is generally considered safe for topical use, but it should not be taken without medical advice due to possible side effects.

Aloë vera is known for its anti-inflammatory properties caused by substances present such as anthraquinones and glycosides. These substances can reduce inflammation and reduce skin redness, making aloe vera an ingredient that can help treat skin conditions such as irritated skin, eczema and acne. In addition, Aloe vera also contains antiseptic substances, including lupeol, salicylic acid, urea nitrogen, cinnamic acid, phenols and sulfur. These substances all have an inhibitory effect on fungi, bacteria and viruses, making Aloe vera a useful ingredient in the prevention of skin infections.

Licorice root extract contains an active ingredient called glycyrrhizic acid, which has anti-inflammatory properties and is therefore an effective means of reducing redness and irritation in the skin. In addition, the use of licorice root extract can reduce the appearance of pigment spots, making the skin look smoother and healthier. Glycyrrhizic acid works by reducing the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines. It is important to note that the concentration of glycyrrhizic acid is dose-dependent and using higher concentrations can lead to side effects, such as skin irritation.

Tea tree oil is extracted from the leaves of the Australian tea tree plant and is known for its antibacterial, antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties. The active ingredient in tea tree oil is terpinen-4-ol, which helps reduce inflammation by inhibiting pro-inflammatory compounds.

Boswellia Serrata Extract: is extracted from the resin of the boswellia tree. This extract is known for its anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. Het bevat boswelliazuur, een actief bestanddeel dat de productie van ontstekingsbevorderende stoffen remt en de activiteit van ontstekingscellen vermindert. Boswellia serrata extract is commonly used in the treatment of inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. Animal experimentally, it has anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce redness and irritation.

Centella asiatica, also known as “tiger grass,” contains active ingredients such as asiaticoside and asiatic acid that have anti-inflammatory and healing properties. These substances can help reduce redness and irritation of the skin, making the extract an effective ingredient in the treatment of sensitive and irritated skin. In addition, Centella Asiatica extract (animal or cell culture studies) can help treat wounds and scars by stimulating collagen production and accelerating skin healing.

Did you know that Iconic Elements has products with Avena Sativa (oat extracts), Marshmallow Root and Niacinamide?

Our Calming Cream includes the soothing properties of Marshmallow Root and Avena Sativa, while the Spotreducer Cream contains Niacinamide. Finally, our Iconic Elements Sensitive Cream is enriched with Avena Sativa.

Look at the ingredients list; Anti-inflammatory products often contain natural extracts or substances such as niacinamide, while immunosuppressants may contain strong pharmaceutical ingredients that are medically prescribed.

Anti-inflammatory helps reduce chronic inflammation, a factor contributing to skin aging, by reducing collagen breakdown and maintaining skin elasticity.

Yes, ingredient examples such as turmeric, green tea extract, and aloe vera are known for their anti-inflammatory properties and can be a healthy addition to your skin care routine.

Certainly, a diet high in antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids and low in sugar and saturated fats can help reduce inflammation in the body, which can reflect positively on your skin health.

Prolonged stress can lead to elevated cortisol levels, which can suppress immunity and increase inflammation, making the skin more susceptible to disease and aging. Learn more about how hormones affect your skin.

In other words

The difference between anti-inflammatory and immune suppression is that anti-inflammatory drugs reduce the inflammatory response in the skin without suppressing the immune response whereas immunosuppressant drugs suppress the immune response and reduce inflammation in the skin. There are several cosmetic ingredients that have anti-inflammatory properties and can be safely used to reduce inflammatory reactions in the skin. It is important to know that for severe skin conditions, immunosuppressant medications may be the only effective treatment.

Picture of Dr. Francis Wu

Dr. Francis Wu

Dr. Francis Wu, een vooraanstaande dermatoloog, is de drijvende kracht achter Iconic Elements. Hij heeft sinds 2004 zijn expertise ingezet om een veilige en effectieve huidverzorgingslijn te creëren, geschikt voor zowel gezonde huid als huidproblemen. Iconic Elements, opgericht in 2016, is de eerste brede skincare lijn in Nederland ontwikkeld door een dermatoloog. Als medisch specialist streeft Dr. Wu naar het bevorderen van het welzijn van mensen door hoogwaardige en effectieve huidverzorgingsproducten te bieden. De proefdiervrije en vegan producten vermijden schadelijke chemicaliën en bevatten natuurlijke ingrediënten.
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