Collagen is the key to youthful and healthy skin, but as we age, we lose it gradually. Here are some expert-approved ways to replenish your collagen levels and keep your skin looking plump and radiant.
What is collagen and why do we need it?
Collagen is the most abundant protein in our body, and it is responsible for giving our skin its structure, elasticity, and firmness. Collagen also helps to heal wounds, repair tissues, and support our bones and jointsCollagen is the scaffolding that supports the skin, explains dermatologist Emma Craythorne, founder of Klira.
However, collagen production declines as we get older, starting from our mid-20s. This leads to signs of ageing, such as wrinkles, sagging, and enlarged pores. Factors such as sun exposure, smoking, pollution, and stress can also accelerate collagen breakdown and damage our skin.
How to prevent collagen loss
The first step to preserving our collagen levels is to protect our skin from external aggressors that can degrade it. The most important one is ultraviolet radiation or UV light, which is emitted by the sun and artificial sources, such as tanning beds. UV rays can cause oxidative stress, inflammation, and DNA damage in the skin, leading to collagen breakdown and ageing.
That’s why every dermatologist recommends using a broad-spectrum SPF (of at least factor 30) every day, regardless of the weather or season. SPF not only prevents skin cancer and hyperpigmentation, but also preserves collagen levels and keeps our skin youthful.
Another way to prevent collagen loss is to avoid smoking, which can impair blood flow to the skin and reduce the delivery of oxygen and nutrients. Smoking can also increase the production of enzymes that break down collagen and elastin, the two proteins that keep our skin supple and smooth.
How to stimulate collagen production
Besides preventing collagen loss, we can also boost our collagen production by using certain skincare ingredients and treatments. One of the most effective ones is retinoid, a derivative of vitamin A that can stimulate collagen synthesis and improve skin texture, tone, and elasticity.
Retinoids work by acting like hormones and passing messages to the fibroblasts in the skin’s dermis, instructing them to switch on and start making more collagen and hyaluronic acid, says Craythorne. Retinoids can also increase cell turnover, unclog pores, and reduce acne and pigmentation.
Retinoids are available in different forms and strengths, from over-the-counter products to prescription-grade ones. They can cause some side effects, such as dryness, irritation, and sensitivity, so it is advisable to start with a low concentration and frequency, and gradually increase them as the skin adapts.
Another ingredient that can support collagen production is vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant that can neutralize free radicals and protect the skin from oxidative stress. Vitamin C can also stimulate the activity of enzymes that are involved in collagen synthesis, and help to stabilize and cross-link collagen molecules.
Vitamin C can be found in various skincare products, such as serums, creams, and masks. It is best to use it in the morning, before applying SPF, to enhance its photoprotective effects. Vitamin C can also brighten the skin, fade dark spots, and reduce inflammation.
How to supplement collagen intake
Apart from topical skincare, we can also supplement our collagen intake by consuming certain foods and nutrients. Our body needs vitamin C, zinc, manganese, and copper to produce collagen, so it’s important to have these in our diet, says aesthetic doctor Sophie Shotter.
Some of the foods that are rich in these nutrients are citrus fruits, berries, peppers, broccoli, spinach, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, oysters, shellfish, and organ meats. These foods can also provide other benefits, such as antioxidants, fibre, and protein, that can support our overall health and wellness.
Another option is to take collagen supplements, which are usually made from hydrolysed collagen peptides derived from animal sources, such as fish, bovine, or porcine. These peptides are small enough to be absorbed and distributed via the bloodstream, working their way to the dermis via other organs.
There, they stimulate fibroblast proliferation, generating the production of fresh collagen, explains Anna Lahey, founder of Vida Glow, who stresses the importance of ingesting a high-quality hydrolysed marine collagen product. Lahey claims that collagen supplements can improve skin hydration, elasticity, and smoothness, as well as hair, nail, and joint health.
However, not all dermatologists are convinced by the efficacy of collagen supplements, as there is no strong evidence to show that collagen peptides actually make their way to the skin. Craythorne agrees that they are at least a great product to try for overall skin hydration when taken regularly.
How to enhance collagen with professional treatments
For those who want to take their collagen game to the next level, there are also professional treatments that can induce collagen production in the skin. These include microneedling, radiofrequency, ultrasound skin tightening, and laser.
Microneedling is a procedure that involves creating tiny punctures in the skin with fine needles, which triggers the skin’s natural healing response and stimulates collagen and elastin production. Microneedling can improve skin texture, firmness, and appearance, as well as reduce scars, stretch marks, and pores.
Radiofrequency and ultrasound are non-invasive treatments that use heat to create controlled damage in the deeper layers of the skin, which stimulates collagen and elastin synthesis and tightens the skin. These treatments can lift and contour the face, neck, and body, as well as smooth out wrinkles and fine lines.
Laser is another option that can boost collagen levels in the skin. There are different types of lasers, but the most effective ones for collagen stimulation are ablative lasers, which burn tiny holes into the skin that have to heal, a process that prompts collagen production, explains Craythorne.
Injectables also have a role to play, with some types of filler (such as Sculptra) specifically designed to stimulate collagen production. These create an immediate plumping effect (filler is made up of hyaluronic acid molecules), but also encourage the body to produce more collagen naturally.
Shotter has just introduced a new hybrid injectable, Allergan’s HArmonyCa, to her practice, which does exactly this. Over two separate treatments, she pairs it with Volite, a skin-boosting hyaluronic acid treatment, to hydrate and smooth texture and leave skin glowing.