It has been called the body’s glue and the Fountain of Youth with both being true in some ways. Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body. It is found as sequences of amino acids that are wound to form long strings known as fibrils, forming structures that resemble ropes in the body. These act as scaffolding for many of its tissues, including the skin.
The layer of the skin which contains most collagen is the dermis. This is the second layer beneath the outermost epidermis. This mesh of collagen retains moisture and supports a smooth, strong skin. The renewal of this scaffolding, and therefore of its collagen content, is continuous. Certain factors slow down the production of collagen. For a number of reasons, the skin on the face shows the earliest and more obvious signs of ageing.
What happens as we age?
The most direct and constant factor affecting collagen production is ageing together with genetic and environmental factors,. As early as age 25, collagen starts to get depleted from the body at a faster rate than it is produced. The synthesis of new collagen decreases dramatically during menopause in women. By the age of 60 it is normal to experience a considerable decline in collagen production.
While collagen continues to be depleted from the body, and its production slows down, the strength and integrity of the skin gets jeopardised. The decrease in collagen affects the skins’ elasticity. As elasticity starts to change and suppleness decreases, the skin becomes thinner and more fragile. Since we use the muscles on our face to form expressions such as frowning or smiling, these movements start to leave their mark on a skin that is losing some bounce. Think of it as an elastic band that starts to lose some of its stretch and does not quite return to its ‘normal’ state after some use.
While age is the primary factor affecting the decrease of collagen in the skin, there are other factors that are easier to control.
- Diet: a healthy diet maintains a balance in the collagen content of the skin. It has been found that a diet high in sugars accelerates the depletion of collagen as one ages.
- Exposure to UV: skin that has had much exposure to the sun without UV protection (sunscreen) ages quicker as collagen reserves are depleted.
- Smoking: the chemicals found in tobacco have a direct effect on collagen and elastin to cause premature ageing in direct correlation to the amount of cigarettes smoked. Nicotine causes narrowing of the blood vessels of the outermost layers of the skin, decreasing the supply of oxygen and nutrients to the skin.
- Pollution: this causes inflammation which disrupts the skin surface. The depletion of collagen leads to loss of elasticity. This effect on collagen is mainly seen on the skin.
Protecting the skin
- Diet: Collagen is found in bone broth and organ meats. Red vegetables such as tomatoes and beetroots contain the antioxidant lycopene which acts as a natural sunblock. Vitamin C helps fibroblasts in collagen production and also acts as an antioxidant. Vitamin A and copper are also essential building blocks for collagen production. Collagen can also be found as supplements.
- Creams: Collagen itself is too large to penetrate the skin layers, but shorter chains of amino acids called peptides can be used to aid penetration. Once inside the dermis these stimulate the production of collagen and encourage skin healing, reversing some of the signs of skin ageing. Peptides therefore act as messengers in the skin, either inducing more production of collagen, or reducing its destruction.
Equipped with more knowledge on what collagen is, and what it does in the body, we can take steps to protect the collagen we have and help our body to replenish its stores.
Your Collagen Story. Vichy Laboratories.
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Trookman NS, Rizer RL, Ford R, Ho E, Gotz V. Immediate and Long-term Clinical Benefits of a Topical Treatment for Facial Lines and Wrinkles. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2009;2(3):38-43.