Preventing collagen loss
This is the second part of a two-part post. If you haven’t already, you should first read part one on collagen here.
What damages collagen?
There are several factors that deplete levels of collagen in the skin. Avoiding them will keep your skin healthier for longer.
High sugar consumption
In this post, I wrote about how a diet high in sugar increases the rate of something called glycation. Glycation is a process where blood sugars attach to proteins to form new molecules. The new molecules called AGEs (advanced glycation end products) damage collagen. Collagen becomes dry, weak, and brittle as more AGEs begin to accumulate.
Sugar is found in many foods. In addition to desserts and candy, sugar is often added to tomato sauces, yogurt, granola bars, cereals and more. It also occurs naturally in fruit, honey, and maple syrup. Eating a diet high in carbohydrates contributes to high blood sugar as well, so it isn’t just added sugar that can damage collagen.
Several of the chemicals in cigarette smoke do damage to collagen and elastin in the skin. Nicotine also narrows blood vessels, compromising skin health by preventing enough oxygen and nutrients from being delivered to the skin.
The ultraviolet rays in sunlight cause collagen to break down more rapidly. These rays damage collagen fibers and cause abnormal elastin to build up, which is how wrinkles form. You can read extensively about sun damage and proper sun protection here and here.
Research published in Drug Design, Development, and Therapy in 2014 demonstrated that caffeine can have a negative impact on the skin. According to the study, caffeine inhibits collagen synthesis.
If collagen and skin health is a big concern for you, it’s probably best to avoid caffeine.
Some autoimmune disorders cause antibodies to target collagen. Examples of these are rheumatoid arthritis or lupus.
Genetic changes can cause a decrease in collagen production, or sometimes the collagen that’s produced will be dysfunctional or mutated.
Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome is a collagen-related disease arising from genetic defects.
The natural aging process
Aging causes collagen levels to deplete gradually over time. By age 60 a significant decline in collagen production is typical.
Aging is inevitable, but avoiding sun exposure, tobacco, and following a healthy diet and exercise regimen can help protect collagen; keeping the skin (and bones, muscles, and joints) healthy for longer.
Keeping the skin clean and protected
Skin cells are always in a cycle of being created and destroyed, but certain factors cause more destruction than necessary to occur. Harsh weather, pollution, sun exposure, and dust are all capable of damaging skin cells. The process of replacing damaged skin cells reduces collagen levels. Keeping the skin clean and exfoliated is one way to help preserve it. Topical antioxidants and sunscreen are a must to protect the skin as well.
Myths about collagen
A lot of people believe you can boost collagen by applying creams containing collagen to the skin. For many years skincare products containing collagen have made these claims. In reality, collagen molecules are too big to penetrate the skin and can’t do anything to increase collagen levels. Any benefit seen is probably due to the moisturizing effects of the product.
Skincare products are not classified as drugs, so claims regarding their effects don’t need scientific substantiation. Always be skeptical of claims that seem too good to be true.
Some people believe you can consume collagen pills or powders to help boost natural collagen levels. There is no consensus on these supplements yet though. Like skincare, these products aren’t monitored by the U.S. FDA for safety or efficacy. A quick internet search returns answers in support of and opposed to the use of collagen supplements. I’ve attempted to get to the bottom of this debate…
A 2002 study showed that the stomach’s digestive enzymes and acids break down the type of collagen found in most powders before it can reach the skin. But the same study found that type-II collagen may exit your stomach without losing its chemical structure. (Type-II collagen is found mainly in our cartilage and eyes.)
Two studies conducted in 2013 found that daily oral intake of specific collagen peptides (brand name Verisol®) over eight weeks reduced eye wrinkles and showed a statistically significant improvement in skin elasticity versus a placebo group. Two years later another study on Verisol® showed that a daily dose for six months significantly reduced the appearance of cellulite in women with a BMI measuring less than 25.
Remember though that when you eat any kind of meat, fish, or poultry, you’re ingesting collagen. Protein gets broken down and absorbed in the intestines to build our protein-rich parts, which include the muscles, bones, and skin. But certain collagen supplements provide a fair supply of different amino acids, which the body can then use to make its own collagen.
If you don’t mind parting with the cash, most experts agree that these supplements are unlikely to do any harm. If you want to try one, look for a product that contains Verisol®. (Both the Maxi-Collagen and the Collagen + C products pictured here are Verisol® based products.)
The manufacturer of Verisol® does not sell directly to the public but instead sells to manufacturers of supplements. Be aware that different manufacturers can add a variety of other ingredients to their supplements, so one brand containing Verisol® could have a different formula from another.
If you care about the long-term health and beauty of your skin, you should always use sunscreen, protective antioxidants, and retinoids. Don’t smoke and avoid excess sugar and caffeine. As outlined in Part I, treatments like lasers, radio frequency, microneedling, and ultrasound will thicken and tighten skin.
Avoid stress, get enough sleep, and eat foods rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Getting enough Vitamin C in your diet will also help the body produce collagen. If you do all this, supplements won’t be necessary.