If you were paying attention in biology class, you may remember that collagen is an integral part of the skin. You may have also seen collagen popping up in everything from skincare to vitamin gummies and “beauty elixirs.” Collagen is also what’s fueling the current bone broth craze. But what exactly is collagen, and why is it so important to skincare?
What is Collagen?
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body and makes up around 70-80% of the dry weight of skin, according to the US National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health. It is found in connective tissues, such as cartilage, tendons and fat. It is also found in skin, bones, organs, and eyeballs as well as hair and nails. Collagen in joints is what helps us move smoothly without feeling bones grate against each other.
There are around 16 types of collagen in the body. Each one is made of different amino acids or “peptides.” Around 90% of collagens are Type I, which is found in skin, bones, tendons, and ligaments while Type II is in cartilage such as the larynx, ears, and smaller respiratory tubes.
Why is Collagen Important for Skin?
Collagen essentially acts as the support structure – or scaffolding- for the skin. It’s what keeps skin firm and plump, and gives skin the ability to retain moisture. Just picture a baby’s soft, rounded cheek – it looks nice and juicy because it’s full of collagen. Starting around the age of 25, our bodies stop producing as much collagen which eventually leads to a loss of volume and firmness. Skin that was once plump and firm can look dry, flat and papery. Think of the difference between a toddler cheek and that of an 80-year-old.
Collagen also plays a vital role in wound repairs such as skin grafts and second-degree burns. According to Wound Care Advisor, collagen “attracts cells, such as fibroblasts and keratinocytes, to the wound, which encourages debridement, angiogenesis, and reepithelialization. In addition, collagen provides a natural scaffold or substrate for new tissue growth.”
What Causes Loss of Collagen?
As we get older, our bodies don’t produce as much collagen. By some estimates, skin loses 1% of its collagen every year starting in the mid-thirties and then it nose dives. The dermatologist Dr. Ohara Aivaz told Cedars-Sinai’s blog that “For women, we can lose up to 30% of our collagen production in the first 5 years of menopause.”
Collagen loss can also be accelerated by smoking, the sun, pollution, and a poor diet. As collagen production dips, the connective tissue between the skin becomes thinner and the layer of fat underneath it becomes more visible, leading to cellulite on the body. On the face, skin can become thinner and more fragile, and wrinkles may be more visible. Hair and nails can become weaker and joint pain may become more noticeable.
According to The Cleveland Clinic, as collagen levels decrease with age this not only leads to wrinkles and crepey looking skin but also stiffer, less flexible tendons and ligaments, as well as shrinking and weakening of muscles. Joint pain or osteoarthritis may occur due to worn cartilage, along with gastrointestinal problems due to thinning of the lining in the digestive tract.
Where is Collagen Found?
Collagen is produced naturally in the human body. As the Cleveland Clinic explains, the body makes collagen by combining amino acids which are found in protein-rich foods, like beef, chicken, fish, beans, eggs and dairy products. The process also requires vitamin C, zinc and copper, notes the Clinic.
According to Healthline, foods like chicken skin, pork skin, beef, and fish are sources of collagen along with foods that contain gelatin, such as bone broth. Bone broth is easy enough to make at home by boiling up chicken or beef bones but is also sold in supermarkets.
What is Elastin- And How Does it Relate to Collagen?
Elastin is what gives skin its “bounce back” property, as the name implies. According to the University of Leeds, elastin is what makes tissue recoil after being stretched, just like a rubber band – but elastic fibers are five times more extensible than an elastic band. Like collagen, elastin is a protein that is found in the body’s connective tissue. It is found in the skin as well as the lungs, intestines and artery walls. As elastin levels decline, skin can wrinkle and sag.
Collagen and elastin are often mentioned together as they are jointly responsible for the skin’s firmness and shape but they have different functions. According to the Merck Manual, the dermis, the layer of skin below the epidermis, is a thick layer of fibrous and elastic tissue, made mostly of collagen, with a small but important component of elastin that gives the skin its flexibility and strength.
They do have their differences. Collagen is produced by the body continuously (although levels decline with age) while the body creates elastin mainly during the fetal stage. Another key difference is that collagen is a fibrous protein while elastin is a protein that has the ability to stretch and return to its original form. According to Science Direct, elastin is roughly 1,000 times more flexible than collagen. Put another way, collagen makes skin plump while elastin makes it pliable.
Can Collagen Levels be Boosted With Collagen Supplements?
Collagen supplements are a growing industry. According to WedMD, in 2018 US consumers spent $18 million on collagen supplements. They are sold as powders, pills, and drinks that are often called “elixirs.” The collagen is usually derived from fish, pigs, and cows and can include animal by-products such as skin, bones or fish scales.
Collagen supplements claim to help ease joint pain; slow muscle loss and promote heart health along with improving the skin. Whether or not they work is up for debate.
A 2014 study in Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, excerpted in the National Center for Biotechnology Information, gave a group of women aged 35-55 oral collagen peptides. At the end of the study, “skin elasticity in both CH dosage groups showed a statistically significant improvement in comparison to placebo. After 4 weeks of follow-up treatment, a statistically significantly higher skin elasticity level was determined in elderly women.”
But others are skeptical about oral collagen supplements. As Georgia-based dermatologist Lauren Eckert Ploch told WebMD in 2018, stomach acid breaks down the collagen proteins you eat before they reach the skin intact. “It is unlikely that someone would see any benefit from it,” she said.
One issue is that collagen molecules are too large to be absorbed into the bloodstream. Some companies “shrink” the size of collagen, with the concept that it becomes more easily absorbed by the body. But critics of supplements point out that consuming collagen doesn’t mean it gets converted into more collagen in our skin. Even if the collagen makes it past the gut into the bloodstream, you cannot control where it ends up. As much as you’d like the collagen to focus on your face rather than your joints, you can’t.
Can Collagen Levels Be Stimulated?
Some procedures performed by dermatologists and aestheticians are meant to help stimulate collagen production through a controlled wound, such as lasers, chemical peels and micro-needling. The concept is that a controlled injury triggers the body’s healing process which in turn stimulates collagen.
Dr. Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital, explained it this way to Harper’s Bazaar: “Lasers work by punching microscopic holes in the skin, creating a controlled burn and taking advantage of the skin’s ability to heal itself after wounds. In the healing process the body makes new, healthy collagen to improve skin texture, radiance, and strengthen the skin foundation, eliminating wrinkles.”
What About Collagen Creams?
Collagen creams can mean multiple things, including creams that protect existing collagen; creams that promote collagen production; and creams that contain collagen.
Retinol is the main skincare ingredient that is thought to help promote collagen production. As Dr. Aivaz told Cedars-Sinai, “topical treatments like retinol and tretinoin are scientifically proven to promote collagen formation.” A 2006 paper in Clinical Interventions in Aging cites several studies noting this. As the authors noted, “… Bhawan and colleagues (1995) evaluated the changes occurring at the dermal level in Caucasian skin after daily application of 0.05% tretinoin cream for a period of 12 months… However, after 12 months, formation of new collagen fibers as well as reduction in nodularly degenerated microfibrillar material was observed in the tretinoin-treated group.”
The creams that contain collagen are generally packed with marine collagen or hydrolyzed collagen, and they are thought to help minimize the look of wrinkles. Creams formulated to help protect collagen often contain hyaluronic acid as well as vitamin C.
How to Protect the Collagen and Elastin You Have
One of the most important ways to care for existing collagen and elastin is to protect it from the sun’s damaging rays. This means wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen every single day, no matter what the weather forecast is predicting. Antioxidants in serums and creams can also help. Powerhouse ingredients such as vitamins C, E, as well as green tea and pomegranate work by blocking the damage caused by free radicals, which attack collagen and elastin.
Another key part of protecting your collagen and elastin is using the right skincare products. One of the most effective ways to do this is with a holistic approach that incorporates prevention, protection, and treatment, where all products work synergistically. Consider Formulyst.
Formulyst makes it easy to create your own skincare routine. Each skincare concern is assigned a number, and your personal combination will be just as unique as you (and your skin) are. All you have to do is find your formula, and follow the numbers.
Formulyst’s Pro-Collagen Serum contains a highly concentrated mix of peptides and proteins, as well as hydrating hyaluronic acid formulated for aging skin. Apply a few drops of this hydrating serum to help skin look smoother and younger.
Some of the biggest causes of aging are environmental, such as the sun and pollution, so protecting skin from these aggressors is key to help it looking and feeling its best. Formulyst’s Active Serum – Vitamin B, C, E, Ferulic + Niacinamide is packed with a cocktail of antioxidants and vitamins to help protect skin and keep it looking bright and healthy. The potent blend leaves skin looking smooth and hydrated.
Wrinkles can be caused by a wide variety of factors, from sun damage to smoking and repeated facial expressions – not to mention the loss of collagen and elastin as we age. The right serum can help keep the telltale signs of aging at bay. The Anti-Wrinkle Peptide Serum is packed with six different types of peptides to help leave skin looking and feeling smoother, stronger and more radiant.
Sources: US National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health; Wound Care Advisor; Cedars-Sinai; The Cleveland Clinic; the University of Leeds; Merck Manual; Science Direct; Healthline; Skin Pharmacology and Physiology/NCBI; WebMD; Harper’s Bazaar; Clinical Interventions in Aging/NCBI.