Maybe the only time you think about copper is when you leave an Abraham Lincoln in the “take-a-penny, leave-a-penny” jar at the checkout stand. Given how eager people are to unload their change purses of pennies, you’d think copper is worthless. It’s not! Copper has been regarded as a precious metal for thousands of years. The ancient Greeks used this reflective metal to make mirrors. And they valued copper so highly that they chose Aphrodite – the goddess of love – to represent this precious metal.
And practitioners of ayurvedic medicine – which dates back 3,000 years – recommend drinking water from a copper cup. These practitioners have long theorized that copper removes impurities and helps restore balance and health to the body. (It should be mentioned, however, that drinking alcohol or fruit juice out of copper cups should be avoided).1
And now contemporary scientific studies have brought reverence for copper into the modern age. And it’s no wonder. This metal helps improve skin texture, and it helps fight the visible signs of aging.2
Copper in the Body
Copper is a trace chemical element, with the symbol “Cu” on the periodic table. It provides benefits to body tissues and organs, including the brain, liver, heart, kidneys, and muscles. Copper is essential for joint and bone health, energy levels, heart health, red blood cell formation, a strong immune system, and proper hormone balance.3
Copper is also a key component in collagen production. Collagen is an abundant protein in our body that provides the structure for skin, bone, and connective tissue. In fact, collagen is responsible for making up 75 percent of our skin composition.4 Skin with plenty of collagen tends to be firm, elastic, and youthful-looking. As our bodies age, collagen formation slows down. This reduction in collagen formation manifests itself in wrinkles, saggy skin, and a lack of elasticity.
This slowing down of collagen production is correlated with a decreased presence of something called “GHK-cu copper peptides” in blood plasma as we age. Studies have shown that at age 20, GHK-cu copper peptides exist in a concentration of about 200 ng/mL in blood plasma (that’s 200 nanograms per milliliter). By the age of 60, that number decreases to about 80 ng/mL.5 That’s quite a drop.
So, what exactly are these copper peptides? And what do they have to do with aging?
Well, they’re small fragments of protein that bind with copper – which is found in trace amounts throughout the body’s cells. When these peptides are at work, they encourage blood vessel growth, help promote skin regeneration, stimulate collagen, and boost antioxidant activities.6 Essentially, copper acts as a conveyer that carries nourishing, restorative proteins to the skin. When there’s not enough copper in the body to carry out this work, the visible signs of aging become more obvious.
The Anti Aging Benefits of Copper
1. Helps Develop Collagen and Elastin
Copper is essential in collagen production. Collagen proteins are some of the fibers that make up the connective tissue in the body. This connective tissue is the “glue” that holds the body together, giving tissue its shape and keeping it strong.
And these shaping and strengthening qualities translate to the skin as well. Collagen exists in the deep layers of the dermis, providing a foundation, or a framework, of sorts, for the rest of the skin. So, when you think of collagen as it relates to the skin, think strength and firmness.
Elastin usually exists in conjunction with collagen. Elastin is the protein that gives skin its elastic quality, allowing it to move with facial expressions and then snap back into place.
Of course, just as collagen breaks down over time, so does elastin. After stretching so many times, the fibers lose their resilience, and things don’t snap back into place quite so easily.
As you now know, copper plays an important role in the synthesis of collagen and elastin.7
But can copper also encourage the production of collagen? In 2015, a placebo-controlled study found that skin quality was significantly improved with consistent application of copper peptides via a skin cream. After one month of GHK-peptide application, 70 percent of the study’s participants showed increased skin collagen production.8
And after 12 weeks of GHK-cu application to the face, women found an improvement in skin clarity and density, and saw a reduction in fine lines and depth of wrinkles. So, a topical application of copper may help encourage the body to produce collagen and elastin, making for firmer and more elastic skin with fewer wrinkles.9
2. Helps Repair and Protect Skin From Sun Damage
Sun damage – also known as “photodamage” – occurs when the skin is exposed to the sun’s harmful UVA and UVB rays. Exposure to the sun is one of the leading causes of premature aging in the skin. In fact, a staggering 80 percent of facial skin aging is due to the effects of damaging UV rays. When photodamage occurs, it can manifest in several ways: thinning or crepey skin, hyperpigmentation (also known as “sun spotting”), a reduction in elasticity, and a deepening of wrinkles.10
One of the reasons why UV rays are so damaging to the skin is because they increase the presence of free radicals in the body. These free radicals are are generated by environmental pollutants, like cigarette smoke, UV rays, and smog.11
Free radicals attack skin cells and wreak havoc, causing a condition known as “oxidative stress.”
And it’s this oxidative stress that leads to the appearance of wrinkles, fine lines, and crepey skin.
We already know that copper works to help build up collagen and elastin that get destroyed by oxidative stress. But what else does copper do to combat the signs of sun damage on the skin?
Well, it turns out that copper has antioxidant properties. As an antioxidant, copper works to fight off, or neutralize, the free radicals that are scavenging your skin cells. When these free radicals are neutralized, they no longer attack your cells. This allows the cells, and your skin, to retain the tissues that keep it strong and healthy.
3. Promotes the Production of Hyaluronic Acid
Hyaluronic acid is gaining popularity as a cosmetic ingredient. This acid is a key component to keeping skin looking young. As skin ages, it loses a lot of its moisture-retention abilities. This results in skin that looks dry and thin. When skin is well-hydrated, on the other hand, it gives off a smooth, plump, and supple appearance.
Hyaluronic acid helps retain skin’s moisture. It has the unique ability of binding to water molecules and retaining them in the skin. Hyaluronic actually draws moisture to the skin and keeps it there. This moisture retention is absolutely essential to keeping skin firm and youthful.12
Not only does hyaluronic acid help moisturize the skin, it also helps with collagen retention.
Hyaluronic acid is required to repair any collagen that has been damaged and is necessary to replace any collagen that has been destroyed. 13
And guess what? Copper helps promote the production of hyaluronic acid! 14
So, to make sure your body’s producing enough of this moisturizing, collagen-boosting acid, make sure your skin is getting enough copper.
For a copper boost — try incorporating these copper-rich foods into your diet:
- Oysters and other shellfish
- Dark, leafy greens
Copper Proves Its Mettle
Copper is taking its rightful place as a beneficial addition in any anti-aging skin care practice. It boosts collagen and elastin production, protects against oxidative stress, and helps promote skin hydration. All of these elements add up to skin that’s firmer, more elastic, and less wrinkled.