Collagen is one of the most talked about beauty ingredients. It shows up in everything from face creams to supplements, and is an element that fuels the bone broth madness. But what exactly is collagen, what does it do, and why is it so important to skin care?
What is collagen
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body. Think of this as a framework that holds skin, muscles, bones, and ligaments in place. Thanks to collagen, nails and hair are healthy, shiny and strong. Collagen in cartilage allows us to flex and stretch our bodies without feeling bones rubbing against each other.
What does collagen do for the skin?
When it comes to the skin, collagen is located deep in the dermis and makes up around 70-80% of it. It is what gives the skin a plump, firm and youthful appearance. Collagen gives the skin its rebound quality and contributes to the skin’s ability to retain moisture. Another way to imagine the effects of collagen is to tell the difference between a plump, juicy baby cheek and an older person’s flat, papery cheek.
The body produces collagen and when everything is working properly, fibroblasts (or cEllular collagen-making machines) create new collagen while the body’s own enzymes break down and carry away old or damaged collagen. But as we get older, collagen is created slows down naturally, resulting in wrinkles around the eyes and forehead and flatter skin. Some estimates suggest that skin loses 1 percent of its collagen every year from the mid-thirties onwards. Without the support structure of collagen, fine lines and wrinkles show up on the face and eyes. The connective tissue between the skin becomes thinner and the underlying fat layer becomes more visible, which leads to cellulite.
Collagen also plays a role in skin repair as it helps replace and restore dead skin cells. Animal-derived collagen patches are widely used to treat burns and to treat new skin cells on the wound site. They also promote healing by creating a scaffold for new tissue growth.
Are there different types of collagen?
There are roughly 16 different types of collagen, and the most common are known as Type I, II, III and IV. According to HealthlineType I makes up 90% of the body’s collagen. It consists of tightly packed fibers and structures the skin, tendons, bones, cartilage, teeth and connective tissue. Type II occurs in the cartilage and cushions the joints, while Type III supports the structure of muscles, organs, and arteries. Healthline notes that Type IV works at filtration and is located in the skin.
What causes the collagen content to decrease?
The aging process is just one factor that contributes to collagen loss. The sun, smoking, diet, and environmental damage can also speed up this process. As the Mayo Clinic notes that exposure to ultraviolet light is one of the biggest culprits. “Ultraviolet radiation, which speeds up the natural aging process, is the main cause of early wrinkling. Exposure to UV Light destroys the connective tissue of your skin – collagen and elastin fibers that lie in the deeper layer of the skin (dermis). “
But there are things you can do to protect the collagen that is already there and encourage the body to make more of it.
How can I protect and restore my collagen?
One of the most important ways to protect your collagen is to put on sunscreens with a high SPF every day. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) states that “pProtecting your skin from the sun can reduce your risk of skin cancer, sunburn, and premature aging. “Remember that sun damage is often cumulative. “Spending time outdoors without protecting your skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays can add years to your looks.”
The best defense is to avoid the sun and use a broad spectrum sun protection factor. The AAD recommends the use of a sunscreen with a sun protection factor of 30 or higher. According to the AADBroad spectrum sunscreens protect against both UVA and UVB rays. What is the difference? “Sunlight is made up of two types of harmful rays that reach the earth – UVA rays and UVB rays. Overexposure can lead to skin cancer. UVA rays (or aging rays) can age your skin prematurely, cause wrinkles and age spots, and pass through window glass. UVB rays (or burning rays) are the main cause of sunburn and are blocked by window glass.”
Another way to protect collagen is to use the right cream, which may mean a collagen infused cream or which will help protect the collagen that is present. A cream enriched with collagen nourishes and moisturizes the skin, making wrinkles less noticeable. In skin care products, hydrolyzed collagen is basically collagen that has been broken down into smaller chains of amino acids called peptides. It is believed that peptides can penetrate deep into the skin and aid in collagen production.
What helps with collagen production?
Other ways to protect and restore your collagen include healthy lifestyle habits like quitting smoking, staying hydrated (both internal and external), and eating a balanced, healthy diet. WebMd states that “many of the chemicals in cigarette smoke can be damaged [collagen]which can cause the skin to become saggy and wrinkled. “
Eating a healthy diet can also make a difference, especially when it comes to restoring collagen. According to WebMD, Certain foods can help increase collagen levels. “You can help your body make more collagen by eating healthy foods. To do it, your body puts together amino acids called glycine and proline. You can find these acids in high protein foods like chicken, fish, beef, eggs, dairy products, and beans. Other nutrients like vitamin C, zinc, and copper also play a role. You can get vitamin C in citrus fruits, tomatoes, and leafy vegetables. For zinc and copper, try shellfish, nuts, whole grains, and beans. “Bone broth is another option – but what exactly is it?
What do collagen creams do?
Another way to increase collagen production is through the right beauty product. Collagen face creams fall into two categories. There are products that contain collagen and others that help increase collagen production.
One of the best collagen-boosting ingredients is the vitamin A derivative retinol. It works two ways. It prevents collagen from breaking down after UV exposure (known as Collagenase), but it also increases the amount of collagen produced by “Switch on” genes and cells that are involved in collagen production.
DR. Lauren Eckert Ploch, a dermatologist, shared this tip with the American Academy of Dermatology. She recommends women in their thirties use a retinoid for antiaging problems. “Retinoids are my first anti-wrinkle treatment for women in this age group,” she says. “Not only do they improve the current appearance of your skin, but they also help build collagen, which can lead to more voluminous skin in your forties and fifties.”
What are the best ingredients in collagen creams?
Vitamin A isn’t the only collagen-friendly ingredient. Search Collagen moisturizers and serums with antioxidants like vitamins C, E and powerhouses like green tea and pomegranate. They work by blocking the damage caused by free radicals that attack collagen and elastin.
When choosing your collagen cream, look for ingredients like hyaluronic acid (a great moisturizer), as well as peptides, stem cells, and growth factors to help with collagen production. Hydrolyzed collagen is the same thing as a peptide – it basically means collagen that has been shrunk. It is believed that peptides act as “messengers” to signal the body to make collagen when the body needs to heal after an injury. When peptides are applied topically, the concept is that the peptides trick the body into believing that there is an injury, thereby triggering a collagen reaction.
Growth factors are not to be confused with growth hormones. They are found in skin cells and promote the formation of collagen and elastin. Another way to think about growth factors is to have them support, repair, and heal the skin.
Stem cells in skin care come from plants like apples and melons, and sometimes from animals, and contain proteins and amino acids that instruct the body’s skin cells to repair and rejuvenate themselves. They also act as antioxidants, protecting the skin cells that produce collagen.