What is collagen?
Collagen is the most abundant form of protein in the body. It’s found throughout the body, but especially in the skin, bones, and connective tissues. Collagen holds our bodies together by acting like a scaffolding that provides strength and structure.
There are at least 16 different types of collagen, but 80 to 90 percent of it belong to types 1, 2, and 3. The different types have different structures and functions. In most collagen, the molecules are packed together to form long, thin fibrils. These act as supportive structures and anchor cells to one another. Collagen fibrils are what allow the shape of tissues to be defined and maintained.
Collagen and aging
Collagen gives skin strength and resilience and is what makes younger skin look full and less wrinkled. Collagen helps skin cells renew and repair themselves and helps to keep the skin moist. When collagen levels are high, the skin is soft, smooth, and firm.
As we age our bodies begin to produce less collagen; wrinkles, sagging skin, and stiff joints are all signs that the body is no longer producing as much collagen. Women experience a dramatic reduction in collagen synthesis after menopause.
Ways to boost collagen
There are several ways to increase collagen levels. You can add different foods to your diet, or add a new supplement or treatment to your beauty routine:
Vitamin C plays a vital role in protecting the skin and creating more collagen in the body. The human body cannot make C, so it is essential to get it from the diet. Vitamin C can also be taken as a supplement. Many skin care products contain this vitamin. Read more about choosing a Vitamin C product here.
People often use Aloe vera gel to treat the skin after a sunburn or to soothe irritation. But new research suggests that aloe may have additional benefits. Researchers gave people an extract of aloe called Aloe sterols to take orally.
After eight weeks the production of hyaluronic acid and collagen nearly doubled in participants! There was also a significant reduction in facial wrinkles. It seemed that the aloe sterols stimulated the correct cells to grow. (Study published in Clinical, Cosmetic, and Investigational Dermatology in 2015).
Hyaluronic acid is an important compound for collagen in the skin. Adding hyaluronic acid to the diet can help to boost collagen levels. It is found in foods rich in amino acids, like beans, root vegetables, and soy. Hyaluronic acid also comes as a supplement, or you can purchase a topical version. It’s a prevalent ingredient in skincare lately.
A study found that ginseng increases the amount of collagen present in the bloodstream. Researchers also noted that ginseng might have the potential to stop skin cells from aging. (The Journal of Ginseng Research, 2012)
Ginseng also has anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative properties. Ginseng can be found in the form of tea, tinctures, and supplements.
Antioxidants help protect the body from free radicals. Free radicals are molecules that can damage the body. Not all antioxidants boost collagen production, but many help protect the collagen that is already present.
Several antioxidants can support and rejuvenate the skin. Foods and drinks that contain antioxidants include:
- green tea (or EGCG, the active component)
- yerba mate
- licorice extract
- mulberry extract
- pomegranate extract
- coffee extract
- basil, oregano, and thyme essential oils
Retinoids are used topically to treat acne, improve scarring, and to reduce uneven skin tone and wrinkles. They also increase the lifespan of collagen and block specific enzymes that destroy collagen. Retinoids can help stimulate your body’s collagen production by increasing skin cell turnover. Find more detailed information about retinoids here.
Anti-aging creams or serums containing copper peptides or certain other “peptides” have been shown to increase collagen production. These creams help wounds heal faster, as well. Ideally look for products that contain multiple beneficial ingredients such as Vitamins C, E, B3, B5, alpha or beta hydroxy acid and retinoids.
Red light therapy, sometimes called phototherapy, has been shown to increase collagen growth, improve wrinkles and elasticity. Red light therapy is a non-invasive treatment with no real side effects. Treatment options like masks or panels are available over the counter, to facilitate treatment at home. Find out more about phototherapy here.
Laser therapy stimulates the growth of collagen and elastin in the skin. It’s a treatment that should be done by a medical professional. To read more about laser therapy and my experiences with it check here.
Another great way to encourage the production of collagen is through microneedling. It is sometimes referred to as collagen induction therapy. Controlled injury to the skin activates the natural healing process to bring about freshly renovated skin. Find out more about how it works here.
PRP or platelet-rich plasma is often used in conjunction with microneedling (they combine to make the famous Vampire Facial). New collagen and blood vessels begin to grow three to six weeks after treatment with PRP, with reduction of fine lines and wrinkles over the next three to six months. Read more about treatment with PRP here.
The ultrasound technology utilized in Ultherapy initiates the body’s healing process to thicken and tighten the skin. The ultrasound energy reaches collagen and the muscles underlying the skin, triggering a healing and rebuilding phase that ultimately results in a tighter and more lifted appearance.
PDO Threads and Fillers
In this post, I wrote about PDO threads and how they not only lift and reshape the face but how their very presence triggers a response from the body that ultimately results in tighter and thicker skin. This same “selective inflammatory response” is why dermal fillers increase the production of collagen. The introduction of a dermal filler initiates a repair and rebuilding response in the dermis. Part of this response is fibroblast cells that begin to synthesize collagen fibers.
Any of the aesthetic treatments I’ve mentioned so far can be done somewhere like One Aesthetics in Winter Park, Florida (my medical spa of choice).
A healthy diet will also support the body’s collagen production. The building blocks that make up all proteins, including collagen, are called amino acids. If you lack the amino acids that must combine to form collagen, your body’s cells can’t produce enough of it. Here’s a list of specific nutrients that have been shown to help support the formation of collagen:
- Proline: egg whites, wheat germ, dairy products, soy, cabbage, and asparagus
- Threonine: Lentils, peanuts, eggs, milk, pork, beef and chicken, soybeans, chickpeas,
- Glycine: pork skin, chicken, beef pastrami, lamb, crab, lobster, gelatin (Jell-O), and seaweed
- Vitamin C: oranges, strawberries, peppers, and broccoli
- Anthocyanidins: Found in blackberries, blueberries, cherries, and raspberries.
- Copper: shellfish, nuts, cocoa powder, lentils and red meat.
- Vitamin A: liver, carrots, pumpkin, papaya, tomato, sweet potato, green leafy vegetables, dairy products, mango
Check back for part two to this post on August 11, where I’ll outline ways to help prevent the loss of collagen and debunk some myths about collagen…