The Importance of Collagen and Why You’re Never Too Young to Start Thinking About Aging Skin

model with beautiful skin

image: Imaxtree

What’s the difference between great and amazing skin? Collagen! It’s the unsung hero, the foundation of youthful-looking skin, ensuring factors ranging from elasticity to suppleness stay in check.

What Is Collagen?

“Collagen is a structural protein that gives skin strength and durability,” explains dermatologist and RealSelf contributor Dr. Joel Schlessinger. “Think of collagen as the structural wall that supports skin. Healthy collagen levels give skin a plump and smooth appearance. When collagen breaks down, skin loses its firmness and fine lines and wrinkles begin to form.”

Read on to learn more about how to pump up our collagen production levels for soft, smooth and hopefully ageless skin. Get ready to turn back the hands of time!

Start Off Strong — and Early

“After the age of 20, a person produces about 1 percent less collagen in the skin each year. As a result, the skin becomes thinner and more fragile with age,” explains Dr. Salma Pothiawala of Schweiger Dermatology Group. “Healthy sleep patterns and adequate water intake are a prerequisite to healthy collagen production. Plus, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents are also beneficial.”

Pothiawala recommends a potent blend of coffee berry, resveratrol, Pycnogenol, acai, green tea, vitamin C (try the ascorbyl palmitate version) and Nicomide for noticeable results. “Retinoids and retinols also increase collagen production, slow the loss of elastin, decrease the production of metalloproteases. [Just remember] retinoids are stronger than over-the-counter retinols.”

Dim the Lights

The amount of time you spend indoors may be equally as detrimental as the time you spend outdoors. “As much as 80 percent of the aging effects on our face are due to photoaging — a result of outdoor sun and indoor lights,” explains dermatologist, dermatopathologist and founder of VMV Hypoallergenics Dr. Vermén M. Verallo-Rowell. “In addition to sun exposure, the eco-friendly single capsule compact fluorescent units have been shown to emit UVA, B and even C rays. Decreased healing time and collagen production from photoaging is due to skin exposure to these radiation types or as an immunologic reaction. With time and chronicity of exposure to these lights and to the sun, the MMPs break down collagen, disorganize them and make them clump up.”

Keep Slathering on Sunscreen

It’s no secret that sunscreen is considered to be the number one weapon against aging. According to Pothiawala, a recent study of more than 900 participants was conducted across a four-year span to prove the effectiveness of sunscreen. “Some were told to use sunscreen daily and instructed in proper use, including reapplying sunscreen after being outside for a few hours, after going in the water or after sweating heavily. Other participants were given no directions with regard to using sunscreen — it was considered unethical to ask them to not use it,” she explains.

Skin changes were measured through a technique called microtopography, in which researchers made sensitive silicone impressions of the back of each participant’s hand. Damage was measured on a scale from one to six, with one signifying no damage and six meaning skin with severe aging. Participants were given a score at the start of a four-year period and another score at the end. The result? Researchers found that those who used sunscreen daily were 24 percent less likely to show increased signs of aging.

Eat for the Skin You Want

We all know that diet plays a huge factor on more than just our weight. “Getting healthy skin and a glowing complexion is really different for everyone,” shares Dawn Russell, founder of Tasty Greens and 8G. “Of course supplements add value. I have tried them all, silica, biotin, bee pollen, omega supplements, but personally always found food more potent and effective and natural. I saw the biggest results from aloe vera, kale, wheatgrass, blue-green algae, barley grass, chlorophyll, chlorella, spirulina and spinach.”

Schlessinger reiterates the importance of making the right dietary decisions. “A poor diet (specifically one that is high in sugar) can also damage your skin from the inside out. Sugar molecules attach to collagen and elastin proteins in the skin through a process called glycation. This process produces advanced glycosylation end products or AGEs for short. AGEs are free radicals that lead to inflammation, breaking down collagen and elastin in the skin.”

Rub It Out

Believe us, your facialist or esthetician may be on to something. Those lengthy facial massages actually stimulate collagen production. “The results tend to be more subtle than those of facial injectables and fillers, but are better for your skin in the long run,” explains Pothiawala. “The combination of massage with your accompanying topical products allow them to work harder for noticeable results. The right techniques can help reduce puffiness, prevent wrinkles and sagging skin, increase the absorption of topical products and brighten dull complexions.”

All Fillers Aren’t Created Equal

The type of filler you should choose depends on the areas you want to treat and the results you hope to achieve. “Botox is the most popular wrinkle relaxer,” explains Schlessinger. “It works by blocking the nerve signals that affect facial muscles, causing the muscles to relax and diminishing the appearance of wrinkles. Hyaluronic acid fillers like Restylane and JUVÉDERM are also popular options. These fillers are injected underneath the skin’s surface to plump and firm the complexion, minimizing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.”

Injectables aren’t the only option, though. There are also in-office procedures that help stimulate collagen production. Schlessinger recommends Ultherapy, a procedure that uses ultrasound technology and the body’s natural healing process to lift, tone and tighten sagging skin. “The noninvasive procedure sends ultrasound waves deep into skin to heat the collagen and gently break it down, which tells your body to create new collagen. Then over the next few months, your body’s healing process stimulates new collagen production.”