You can't see collagen, but it's the essence of healthy skin—and research shows yours is at risk.

By By Beth Janes
Advertisement
Kate Powers / AUGUST

Let's start with what collagen is and why you definitely want it. Collagen is what makes your complexion firm, plump, and youthful. Sure, there's other important stuff in the mix, but this protein makes up 75 to 80 percent of your dermis. "Collagen fibers are like a bunch of sturdy, fat Roman columns placed close together, holding up the top layer of skin," says Dennis Gross, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City. "When you're young and healthy, the pillars are strong, straight, and plentiful, so skin looks smooth. And when you pinch your cheek, skin feels spongy and full." When skin is healthy, it repairs and makes new collagen. If everything is working as it should, then cellular collagen-making machines called fibroblasts churn out new collagen and your body produces enzymes that, like a microscopic wrecking crew, break down old or damaged collagen and carry it away, says Ronald Moy, M.D., a derm in Beverly Hills, California. The result: a collagen give-and-take that keeps skin looking smooth and young.

But things like ultraviolet rays, smoking, pollution, stress, and other factors wreak havoc by producing free radicals in your skin. "Free radicals are like little arrows that poke holes in and break down collagen fibers, causing skin to thin," Gross explains. Even more bad news: Excessive sun exposure reduces fibroblasts' collagen factories, causing a flimsier, weaker collagen layer, and overstimulates the wrecking crew that then clears out healthy collagen. (It's not just the sun you should be scared of; pollution might be your skin's biggest enemy.)

No matter how much sunscreen you wear, eventually these collagen-making cells lose steam. "When you're young, they make a lot of collagen, but they get worn down starting around age 35," Gross says. The enzymes that break down collagen, however, become overactive because of excess sun exposure and damage from years earlier. Then come wrinkles and sagging. Make an expression, and you usually create creases. When collagen is strong, your skin bounces right back. But if collagen is weak, repeated movements cause permanent creases. Skin doesn't have enough collagen to fill in the groove, so you see a line even when you're not squinting or furrowing, and it no longer has the same density to resist gravity, Gross says. (It doesn't help if you're in one of America's most wrinkle-prone cities.)

1. Start caring about your collagen now.

When you're relatively young and fibroblasts are at their peak-before you see the effects of sun or other damage-is the best time to protect collagen against future damage and begin shoring up skin's collagen layer. "Once skin starts to thin and sag, it's much harder to correct," Moy says. But it's never too late to adopt healthy-skin habits. One way to do it, which you're probably already doing: exercise and eat well. "Anything that increases oxygenation and blood supply to collagen will make skin healthier," he says. Antioxidant-rich fruits and veggies, meanwhile, help protect collagen from the inside.

2. Use antioxidants and sunscreen as your collagen's bodyguards.

It takes only two short exposures to UVA rays (two hours of strong sun over two days) to turn up the body's production of the collagen-degrading enzyme MMP1. Levels increase with additional exposures, according to University of Michigan researchers. On the other hand, fair-skinned people who ramped up their sunscreen use, applying it at least three to four times a week, showed no detectable signs of aging after four and a half years and had smoother skin (which in part indicates healthier collagen) compared with those who maintained usual, less-frequent sunscreen application, according to a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine of more than 900 Australians.

Using a broad-spectrum SPF 30 or higher is a must. Try DCL Super Sheer Sunscreen SPF 50 ($50; dclskincare.com) or one of these other super protective sunscreens. You'll also need antioxidants to neutralize damaging free radicals and extinguish inflammation. A few antioxidants pull double duty and stimulate collagen while protecting it. "Vitamin C is one key that fits into specific receptors on fibroblast cells, helping to turn them on," Gross says. The best serums combine vitamin C with vitamin E and ferulic acid, two antioxidants that boost vitamin C's power eight-fold, according to research. Copper peptides likewise can benefit skin as an antioxidant and collagen stimulator, says Ranella Hirsch, M.D., a derm in Boston. Try Dermadoctor Kakadu C 20% Vitamin C Serum With Ferulic Acid & Vitamin E ($95; dermadoctor.com) or Christie Brinkley Recapture Day + IR Defense ($69; kohls.com.)

3. Build collagen as you would a workout routine.

HIIT, yoga, Pilates: They all work in different ways to help you reach one goal-to get fit. The same goes for collagen building. "You want to expose fibroblasts to multiple ingredients, each of which targets different receptors but all of which tell cells to produce more collagen," Gross says. In addition to looking for key ingredients that help stimulate collagen growth, you ~can~ actually make it part of your workout routine by adding a supplement like NeoCell’s Super Collagen Powder to your go-to post-workout smoothie.

Along with sunscreen and vitamin C, this is what else helps get your collagen in shape:

Proven and Potent: Vitamin A Derivatives

Prescription retinoic acid (like Retin-A) and OTC retinol may be old news at this point, but that's a good thing: It means they've withstood the test of time because they work, says Hirsch. (New trends, like venom beauty products, don't have as much cred.) Both retinoic acid and retinol "turn on" genes and cells involved in collagen production. They also help organize new and existing collagen, Hirsch says. A recent study found that a four-week treatment with .1 percent retinol increased levels of procollagen types 1 and 3 (the body's precursor to collagen) and reduced wrinkles after 12 weeks. Retinol and Retin-A can be irritating, so limit yourself to a pea-size drop for your entire face, starting only every other night, she says. Try La Roche-Posay Redermic R Anti-Aging Concentrate Intensive With 0.1% retinol ($57; laroche-posay. us) or Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Ferulic + Retinol Wrinkle Recovery Overnight Serum ($88; drdennisgross.com).

Gentle Collagen Stimulators: Peptides and Growth Factors

Both have science to back up their collagen-building, antiwrinkle claims. Peptides, like the ones found in Olay Regenerist Micro-Sculpting Cream ($26; drugstores) and DDF Wrinkle Resist Plus Pore Minimizer Serum ($85; ulta.com), for example, act as messengers, telling cells to ramp up collagen production. Growth factors stimulate fibroblasts and stem cells to encourage new cells and collagen. (Try SkinMedica TNS Recovery Complex, $179; skinmedica.com.) The advantage over vitamin A: Both are less irritating, but results may take longer or be more subtle, which is why many experts recommend doubling up-retinoids at night or every other night, peptides and growth factors in the morning or on the night you skipped vitamin A. (Or try supplying vitamins from the inside: these are the best foods for any skin condition.)

4. Try the newest collagen skin-care products.

If collagen is the holy grail of healthy skin, ingredients that trigger its production are what unlock its power-and the search is on for the next best thing. These three newcomers show promise.

DNA repair enzymes, which were initially developed to thwart skin cancer, also have the benefit of reducing collagen loss. When you fix skin's damaged DNA, it becomes thicker and tighter, Moy says. Try his RM DNA Regeneration Serum ($145; dnaegfrenewal.com), which also contains growth factors.

Signaling proteins from snails seem odd, yes, but lab research shows that the proteins, which are a type of growth factor, tell dormant stem cells to reproduce and grow into collagen-making fibroblasts. Find them in Biopelle Tensage Stem Cell Cream ($180; biopelle.com).

Collagen-building supplements, meanwhile, sound too good to be true, but new research on a specific, more easily absorbed collagen peptide is noteworthy. Women who took 2.5 grams of a collagen peptide called Verisol for eight weeks showed an increase in procollagen type 1 (a precursor to skin's own collagen) of 65 percent compared with a placebo, according to a study in the journal Skin Pharmacology and Physiology. Eye-wrinkle depth also decreased by 20 percent compared with the control. But as with any supplements, buyer beware: Not every type of ingestible collagen has clinical trials backing up its promises, and even in those that do, results can be subtle. Want to give it a try? Verisol's collagen peptides are in ResVitále Collagen Renew ($25; gnc.com).

5. Go with a professional procedure.

Pro procedures take collagen building to the next level. Topical treatments are effective and easy, but it can take months to see results. The alternative: in-office treatments. (Speaking of which, there are procedures that can fix the trouble zones-cellulite, stubborn belly fat, etc.-that your workout can't.) They're pricier, of course-one can cost $1,000 or more, and you may need three to five-but they work (almost) at the speed of, well, light. Gross utilizes V-beam and Gentlemax lasers simultaneously during his 3-D collagen treatment to target multiple fibroblast receptors, with no recovery time.

Fractionated lasers, such as Fraxel, are another go-to, thanks to good results balanced with minimal downtime. They cause microscopic, controlled "injuries" in the collagen layer, which the body repairs by making, you guessed it, new collagen. Professional microneedling works in a similar, albeit lower-tech way; tiny puncture wounds on the surface of the skin jump-start the healing and collagen-building process, and also help collagen-building ingredients penetrate deeper, Moy says.

Another option in the dermatologists' toolkit: injectable hyaluronic acid fillers, such as Juvéderm and Restylane. Research shows that along with plumping wrinkles from below, they have an effect on skin's own collagen-making cells. "Skin cells are smart. When you inject fillers, they think, 'OK, this is how skin is structured now, let's produce more collagen to keep up,'" Hirsch says. "It's subtle, but over time, patients often find they need to come in less frequently-every five months instead of every three, for example." The right pro treatment depends on your skin and other factors; talk to your derm about what's best.

Comments (5)

Anonymous
January 12, 2019
What if I told you it’s now possible to make your skin cells get YOUNGER… So that you actually "turn back time" on your facial wrinkles and droopy skin? And what if I told you, you can do this all-naturally, and in just minutes per day, from the comfort of your home? Would you want to know this closely-guarded secret? I know you do...so real quick, let me introduce you to this ordinary, middle-aged woman who discovered this amazing, wrinkle-erasing secret while traveling through Asia... => http://bit.ly/agereversing
Anonymous
October 28, 2018
Do you want to make your face look younger naturally by following helpful advice from trusted sources? Reversing the clock may take some effort, but it will truly be worth your while, especially when others take notice and compliment you for your great-looking skin. Follow the tips that best fit your needs and preferences. Here are a few secret tips to make your face look younger naturally. Check out this article https://bit.ly/2OVmHYA
Anonymous
October 9, 2018
Hi, thank you for this good article, the first time when i googel about this product I founs some good reviews at www.medicalpages.info , and now with your post its completed the searching about feedback so thank you.
Anonymous
September 11, 2018
Not certain where to begin, I was overwhelmed lately trying to get out of a funk situation in a relationship. My fiancé was a whole other story. He was downright hurtful and ungrateful; his life and belongings were in shambles. He was someone addicted to drugs and women. He liked hiding behind excuses, giving me reasons to live a reckless life. But we share great bond, we can’t let go because we aren’t perfect after all. One thing we needed was someone or a spell doctor that will place himself in our spot to cure or tell us how easy it is to maintain or build a relationship surrounded by true love and healthy living. However, the reality of my story is that Dr. Wakina via (dr.wakinalovetemple@gmail.com) with a succeeding love spell made sure none of my pipe dreams at the expenses of a broken heart become reality.
Anonymous
June 4, 2017
Hi I made this quick video about Bone Broth Collagen, check it out if you get a chance! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sfbz8u2d9jg&t=63s