The Anti-Aging Benefits of Collagen For Skin Health
By Dr. Chad Walding, DPT
November 10th, 2020
Although there’s a lot to be said for aging gracefully, most people would like to slow down that graceful process just a bit.
Your skin, especially the skin on your face, is your first tell-tale sign of aging. Even if your energy still feels great, your face may not have the same luster that it had ten years ago. Consuming a well-balanced diet will support your body on every level -- but is there anything you can do to delay your skin's aging process?
Research shows that supporting your skin's integrity on a cellular and structural level can slow down signs of aging. Collagen, in particular, can support the deepest layers of your skin and help you to maintain your youthful glow.
Let’s dive a little deeper into what happens as your skin ages, and what you can do about it.
Skin And Aging
One of the most obvious signs of aging is skin wrinkles. It can sometimes feel like it happens overnight, you take a look in the mirror one day, and where smooth skin once was, you start to notice deeper wrinkles.
Where do these wrinkles come from?
Skin aging is a complex process marked by both internal and external factors. As you age, your extracellular matrix begins to break down a bit and your production of collagen slows. The result is a loss of skin elasticity, and the increased appearance of wrinkles.
The primary culprit for the breakdown of your ECM is oxidative stress. Oxidation can come from natural processes in your body, but it can also occur due to sun damage (which is the primary external factor affecting skin health).
Some of the other common factors impacting skin health and aging include.
- Cellular metabolism
- Hormone and metabolic processes
- Chronic light exposure
- Ionizing radiation
When oxidation occurs in your body, it is the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) that causes damage. These molecules are unstable, and can produce damage as they interact with your cells and tissues. At this point, your immune system gets involved and releases antioxidants to combat the damage created by ROS.
As you age, however, your production of antioxidants declines -- leaving you vulnerable to the detrimental effects of ROS.
With the understanding that skin aging can occur due to both natural and external processes, researchers have been searching for the "fountain of youth" to maintain skin health and integrity.
While there is no magic pill, there are several things you can do to support the health of your skin and delay signs of aging.
5 Ways To Support Skin Health Naturally
Taking a collagen supplement is one way you can enhance your skin's health and provide nourishment to your extracellular matrix. However, if you want to properly care for your skin on all levels there are other dietary and lifestyle factors to take into account. Some of the most effective ways to support the health of your skin include:
#1 Use Sun Protection
As mentioned above, exposure to sunlight is one of the primary external causes of aging skin. Not to say that you should hide inside all day or avoid the sun altogether -- getting enough sunlight is vital for the production of vitamin D.
With that being said, overexposure to sunlight can result in oxidative damage to your skin. Therefore, always be mindful of the amount of sun exposure you’re getting, and use a natural sunscreen when you know that you’ll be outside for an extended amount of time.
#2 Consume Lots of Antioxidants
If oxidative stress is the underlying cause of skin aging, then antioxidants are your best bet to combat the damage of ROS.
The best way to get your antioxidants (AO) is through food. Fruits and vegetables are rich in AO compounds, along with other phytonutrients that support the health of your body on a cellular level.
Some excellent sources of antioxidants include blueberries, strawberries, cherries, dark leafy greens, broccoli, avocado, and red cabbage. When looking for antioxidant-rich foods, think of variety in color, the more colors you have in your diet, the wider the range of antioxidants you'll be providing your body.
#3 Don’t Smoke Cigarettes
Smoking speeds up the aging process of your skin, and often results in wrinkles. The chemicals in cigarettes can directly damage your ECM by degrading collagen and elastin, leaving your skin dull and less elastic. Meanwhile, the nicotine in cigarettes narrows the blood vessels in your skin, impairing blood and oxygen flow to your cells.
#4 Reduce Stress
Emotional stress can directly impact the health of your skin through several pathways, most notably inflammation and oxidative stress. Although reducing stress may be easier said than done, the potential benefits of lowering your stress levels are far-reaching for your overall health and well-being.
If you don’t know where to begin, try stress-reduction practices like meditation, breathwork, yoga, or journaling to calm your mind.
#5 Drink Plenty of Water
Water is a large component of your body ( around 60%), and plays a vital role in your physiology and maintenance of cellular processes. Every tissue and organ in your body needs water to function optimally, and your skin is no exception.
When you're dehydrated, your skin becomes dehydrated and may appear dry and dull. Therefore, if you want to keep your skin happy and healthy, be sure to drink at least six to eight glasses of water a day.
#6 Take Collagen Supplements
Collagen is a crucial component of the connective tissue in your body. You can think of your connective tissue as the binding substance of your body -- holding your organs and tissues in place while also providing insulation and protection.
Specifically, collagen makes up the vast majority of the protein component of the extracellular matrix (ECM) of your connective tissue. Your ECM is the part of connective tissue that provides scaffolding and structure. It occupies the space between your cells, connecting and holding everything in place.
In your skin, your ECM is your main source of support. The stronger your ECM, the more tight and firm your skin will appear. While there are at least 16 different types of collagen, type one and type three are the most abundant in your skin. In fact, 80-90% of the collagen in your body is made up of either type one, type two, or type three collagen.
With collagen being a vital component of your extracellular matrix, several studies have examined how collagen supplementation may impact aging skin with promising results.
Collagen And A Youthful Complexion: What The Research Says
Although you may find collagen-containing skin creams online and in beauty product stores, these are mostly just marketing. Unfortunately, research supporting the external application of collagen is weak at best.
However, studies conducted to determine the impact of taking collagen orally have produced some impressive results in the anti-aging space.
In one study, researchers aimed to determine the impact of a drinkable collagen supplement on skin health. The double-blind, placebo-controlled trial was performed on 72 women aged 35 and or older for twelve weeks. The women were divided into two groups, one placebo group, and one intervention group.
During the twelve weeks, skin assessments were conducted to assess skin hydration, elasticity, roughness, and density. At the end of the twelve weeks the intervention group showed significant changes in all four assessment parameters with greater skin hydration, elasticity, and density, and reduced roughness.
What's more, the collagen supplementation's positive effects were substantially retained when the researchers reassessed the participant's skin four weeks later.
In another study, 69 women aged 35-55 years were randomized to receive 2.5 grams or 5 grams of collagen or placebo once daily for eight weeks. Skin assessments for elasticity, moisture, and roughness were carried out at four weeks and eight weeks of the study.
After just four weeks, researchers noted a statistically significant increase in skin elasticity, with positive effects on both skin moisture and roughness.
In yet another study, supplementation with collagen on a daily basis for 60 days led to a noticeable reduction in skin dryness, wrinkles, and smile lines. In addition, a significant increase in collagen density and skin firmness was observed after 12 weeks.
Collagen And ECM Proteins
Collagen isn’t the only component of your ECM that contributes to healthy skin. In fact, each component of your ECM is crucial for the integrity and longevity of your skin.
So how does collagen supplementation impact the rest of your ECM?
Elastin and fibrillin are two more components of your extracellular matrix that play a key role in skin health.
Elastin is a protein that’s highly elastic in nature (hence the name), and allows tissues to resume their shape after stretching or contracting. As you can imagine, having a healthy amount of elastin in your skin is paramount for skin firmness, resilience, and elasticity.
Fibrillin is a glycoprotein which works with elastin, providing a scaffolding for elastin to sit on.
Research shows that collagen supplementation can support healthy elastin levels by increasing elastin synthesis while simultaneously inhibiting its degradation. Collagen specifically inhibits the activity of something called matrix metalloproteinases (MMP), which plays a role in aging by degrading proteins in your ECM.
One study showed that after just eight weeks of collagen supplementation, participants' skin had an 18% increase in elastin, along with a 6% increase in fibrillin. This increase in ECM synthesis resulted in a statistically significant reduction in wrinkles.
Although aging is a natural process, there’s a lot that you can do to support the health of your skin and reduce signs of aging. Collagen is one of the most well-studied nutrients for skin health. It not only supports the integrity of your extracellular matrix directly, but it also enhances your ability to produce other skin-supportive proteins like elastin.
If you're looking for ways to slow down the effects of aging on your skin, supplementing with collagen should be your first step. In addition, lifestyle practices like stress-reduction, drinking enough water, consuming antioxidants, and using sun protection are steps that can be taken to support your skin's health.
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