Collagen is a precious commodity, a goldmine of a skincare ingredient that can help keep skin looking young. It shows up in serums, moisturizers, creams, and even drinkable supplements.
But how does collagen create younger looking skin?
Collagen: A Precious Commodity
Collagen is a protein that makes up much of the connective tissue in the body. And it makes up a great deal of your skin tissue – 75 percent, to be exact. Collagen exists in the dermis – which is the deep, living tissue of your skin. It’s here that collagen helps build the foundation for the rest of your skin, providing strength and firmness.1
Elastin is usually found side by side with collagen, and it’s responsible for giving skin its elasticity. Elastin allows your skin to move and stretch – and then snap back into place.
Skin that’s rich in collagen and elastin tends to look smooth, plump, and firm. When you think of “youthful skin,” you’re likely thinking of skin that’s abundant in collagen.
The Great Collagen Heist
As they say, all good things must come to an end. And unfortunately, that sentiment extends to the amount of collagen your body produces. As you age, various factors work to slow down collagen production. And the collagen your body does produce tends to be vulnerable to breakdown.2
You’ve probably already seen evidence of this collagen breakdown throughout the years. Maybe you’ve noticed a few more fine lines popping up around the eyes? Perhaps the furrow between your brows is becoming deeper? Or maybe the skin under your neck isn’t quite as taut as it used to be?
You see, this decrease in collagen contributes a lot to what we think of as “aging skin”: wrinkles, sagging, and lack of firmness.
What contributes to the breakdown of collagen?
Well, several things. Here are a few:
- Oxidative Stress: “Oxidative stress” is the condition your body experiences when it’s exposed to free radicals – unpaired molecules that result from exposure to environmental toxins. These toxins can be anything from air pollution to smoking or even fried foods. Now, these molecules are meant to be paired, and when they’re not – they’ll scavenge the human body, looking for molecules to pair up with. This free radical scavenging contributes to collagen breakdown, and the development of the visible signs of aging. 3,4
- Sun Exposure: The UV rays from sun exposure are actually a form of free radical activity – but sun exposure is worth mentioning on its own. Exposure to UV rays is a one of the biggest culprits when it comes to collagen reduction.5 In fact, UV rays account for a staggering 80 percent of skin aging.6
- Intrinsic Aging: Of course, a decrease in collagen is also just the result of natural wear and tear, or “intrinsic aging.”7 Intrinsic aging isn’t caused by any external sources – it’s just a part of growing older.
Collagen Can Make a Comeback
So, the bad news is that collagen production slows down, and your existing collagen breaks down. Does that mean firm, smooth skin is a lost cause? Not at all. You can actually take steps to increase the amount of collagen in your body.
One way you can increase collagen is by incorporating peptides into your skincare routine.
In short, peptides are chains of amino acids. These chains of amino acids form proteins. And collagen? It’s a protein! Here’s how it works:
- Amino Acids: Amino acids are organic compounds that are formed from the elements carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen. Amino acids help give proteins their structure. They’re also responsible for delivering nutrients to cells and sending signals to other cells.8
- Peptides: Peptides are created when amino acids link together to form chains. These chains can be either short or long, but longer chains become the building blocks of protein.9
- Proteins: Proteins make up much of the body’s tissue, organs, and skin.10 And the body’s most abundant protein is … collagen.11
Use a Collagen-Boosting Serum
Peptides are being integrated into many skincare products, including serums. Serums are lightweight formulations that pack a punch when it comes to delivering nourishing nutrients to the skin. Because of their light molecular weight, serums are better able to penetrate the skin – so their skin-boosting ingredients can sink in to perform deep, restorative work.
Because of their penetrative qualities, serums with collagen-building ingredients will go a long way in helping to encourage firmness and strength below the surface of the skin. Several studies have shown the effectiveness of peptides in diminishing the appearance of wrinkles. In one study, topical application of peptides resulted in a significant reduction in wrinkles. When measured, wrinkles were found to be less deep, shorter, and fewer in number.12
Another study found that after three months, peptide use improved the appearance of both fine lines and deep wrinkles.13
Take a Collagen Supplement
Of course, a holistic approach is best with most things – and that includes collagen.
You see, you can put peptides on your skin, but you can also drink them. These peptides are also known as “hydrolyzed collagen” – and they come in the form of a flavorless powder. You can add this powdered supplement to soups, oatmeal, smoothies, juice, and even water.
Okay, but what’s hydrolyzed collagen? It’s collagen that’s been broken down into smaller amino acids. You see, your body can have a difficult time absorbing and utilizing collagen when it’s ingested in its pure form. But when collagen is broken down into this smaller amino acid form, your digestive tract has an easier time absorbing it – and can put it to better use.14
And scientific studies show that this method works. In 2015, a clinical trial showed that 8 weeks’ supplementation of collagen resulted in an increase in collagen density and a reduction in collagen breakdown.15
Another trial pointed also pointed to the benefits of collagen supplements. After 8 weeks, subjects were found to have better skin elasticity and an increase in skin moisture.16
And plenty of collagen combined with skin elasticity and skin moisture? That’s a recipe for youthful skin.
Eat Collagen-Boosting Foods
Let’s take the holistic approach even further. There are foods – many of which you may already eat – that can help boost your body’s own collagen production. Three of the most important nutrients that work together to form collagen are:
Lysine – this is converted into the amino acid hydroxylysine.
Proline – this is converted into the amino acid hydroxyproline.
Vitamin C – this is necessary to help convert lysine and proline into hydroxylysine and hydroxyproline.17
Foods high in lysine include: red meat, poultry, pork, cheese, eggs, tofu, spirulina, and fenugreek seeds.18
Foods high in proline include: cottage cheese, gelatin, beef, soybeans, and cabbage.19
Foods high in vitamin C include: citrus, green and red peppers, kiwi, strawberries, and tomatoes.20
Since we’re on the subject of vitamin C, it’s worth mentioning that it’s a heavyweight antioxidant. Antioxidants work to combat or neutralize the effects of free radicals. So vitamin C and other antioxidants can work to keep collagen breakdown at bay.21
Just like peptides, you can eat antioxidants – and you can put them on your skin to help keep your complexion smooth, firm and youthful.
Collagen is a key to firm, smooth skin. Without it, you’re likely to experience wrinkles, sagging, and fine lines. But incorporating collagen, peptides, and collagen-boosting foods and antioxidants can help encourage plump, fresh, and young-looking skin.