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What is Collagen?

Collagen is often referred to as the body’s scaffolding. It’s the most abundant protein in our bodies, making up about 30% of all the proteins in our system. This fibrous substance is found in our skin, bones, tendons, and many other parts. Imagine it as the glue that holds our body together.

Collagen isn’t just about keeping our skin plump and youthful. It plays a crucial role in maintaining the structural integrity of our joints, tendons, and organs. It provides strength and elasticity, especially to our skin. As we age, however, our collagen production starts to decline, leading to wrinkles, sagging skin, and weakened joints. In this post we’ll discuss commons reasons why collagen declines and how you can combat it!

1. Ageing

It’s a fact of life: as we grow older, our body’s ability to produce collagen diminishes. This natural ageing process is the primary reason behind the loss of skin elasticity and the formation of wrinkles.
As we age, the human skin fibroblasts which are responsible for producing collagen, become less active. This leads to a gradual decline in natural collagen production. By our mid-20s, collagen formation starts to wane, and levels decline by about 1% a year. It is further accelerated as we hit the first five years of menopause we lose a further 30% of collagen, meaning by around the age of 55 women have lost approximately 50% of the collagen in the skin and therefore appear to age quickly.

Not only does quantity decrease with age, but high quality collagen also deteriorates. The collagen fibres become thicker, more fragmented, and less organised, leading to a loss of skin elasticity. A popular method of prevention is called collagen banking which is when you boost production of collagen whilst your body is still able to produce it naturally.

Collagen, along with elastin, contributes to the skin’s thickness and suppleness. As collagen and elastin levels drop, the skin becomes thinner, making it more vulnerable to external aggressors and damage.

As collagen levels deplete, the skin loses its firmness and begins to sag. This, combined with the constant facial expressions we make, results in the formation of fine lines and wrinkles.

2. Sun Exposure

Who doesn’t love a bit of sun? However, excessive sun exposure, especially without protection, can seriously damage the skin and accelerate the loss of collagen.

UV radiation, particularly UVA, penetrates deep into the dermis, where most of our collagen resides. These rays stimulate the production of enzymes called matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs). While MMPs play a role in the natural turnover of collagen, excessive UV exposure causes an overproduction of these enzymes, leading to collagen degradation.

Chronic sun exposure not only breaks down existing collagen but also interferes with the synthesis of new collagen. UVB rays, which affect the skin’s outermost layers, can lead to direct DNA damage in skin cells, including fibroblasts, which produce collagen. 80% of damage to skin is via UV rays, this damage can hinder the cells’ collagen synthesis abilities. 

The effects of UV-induced collagen damage manifest as:

  • Premature wrinkles and fine lines.
  • Loss of skin elasticity, leading to saggy skin.
  • Thinner skin, making it more prone to bruising.
  • Hyperpigmentation, such as sunspots or age spots.
  • A rough, leathery skin texture.

3. Poor Diet

plate of healthy foods to help collagen

Our diet plays a pivotal role in our overall health, influencing everything from our energy levels to the quality of our skin. Collagen, the primary structural protein in our skin, is significantly affected by our dietary choices. A poor diet can compromise collagen integrity, leading to premature skin ageing and other health issues.

Sugar and Refined Carbohydrates: Consuming excessive amounts of sugar and refined carbs can lead to a process called glycation. In glycation, sugars in the bloodstream attach to proteins, forming harmful molecules called advanced glycation end products (AGEs). Collagen is particularly susceptible to AGEs, which can make it dry, brittle, and weak.

Lack of Protein: Collagen is a protein, and its synthesis requires adequate dietary protein. A diet lacking in protein can hinder the human body’s ability to produce collagen effectively.

Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies: Vitamins C and A, zinc, and copper are essential for collagen synthesis and stability. A diet deficient in these nutrients can impair collagen production and function. For instance, vitamin C is crucial for the hydroxylation of collagen molecules, a process vital for collagen’s triple helix structure.

Dehydration: Not consuming enough water can lead to dehydrated skin. Dehydrated skin can mask the appearance of collagen, making fine lines and wrinkles more pronounced.

Excessive Alcohol Consumption: Alcohol can lead to dehydration and can also deplete the body of vital nutrients necessary for collagen creation. Chronic alcohol consumption can also increase oxidative stress, which can damage collagen fibres.

Lack of Antioxidants: Antioxidants combat free radicals, which can damage collagen. A diet low in antioxidant-rich foods, such as fruits and vegetables, leaves collagen vulnerable to oxidative stress.

To help collagen production you should consume a healthy diet that consists of:

Protein-Rich Foods: Consuming lean meats, fish, poultry, beans, and legumes can provide the amino acids necessary for collagen creation.

Vitamin C Sources: Citrus fruits, strawberries, bell peppers, and broccoli are rich in vitamin C, essential for stimulating collagen production.

Antioxidant-Rich Foods: Fruits and vegetables, berries, nuts, dark chocolate, spinach, and artichokes are packed with antioxidants that protect collagen from damage.

Stay Hydrated: Drinking adequate water and consuming hydrating foods like cucumbers and watermelon can support skin hydration and collagen function.

4. Smoking

Smoking doesn’t just harm your lungs; it’s a disaster for your skin too, leading to premature ageing, sagging skin and deep wrinkles. Plus, the repetitive motion of smoking can cause lines around the mouth.

Smoking causes the blood vessels in the outermost layers of the skin to constrict, reducing blood flow. This deprives the skin of oxygen and essential nutrients, including vitamin C, which is crucial for collagen production.

Cigarette smoke contains thousands of chemicals, many of which are harmful to collagen. These chemicals increase the production of matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs), enzymes that break down collagen in the skin. Over time, this can lead to a loss of skin elasticity and the formation of wrinkles. Smoking generates a significant amount of free radicals, which cause oxidative stress in the skin. These free radicals damage collagen fibres, leading to premature skin ageing.

5. Stress

Whether physical or emotional, stress has a profound impact on our overall health. It can manifest in various ways, from mental health issues to physical ailments. One of the lesser-known effects of stress is its impact on our skin, particularly on collagen.

When we are stressed our bodies release a hormone called Cortisol. High levels of cortisol can lead to a decrease in collagen production. Cortisol activates enzymes called matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs). While these enzymes are naturally present in our skin and are involved in the repair and remodelling of tissues, excessive MMPs can break down collagen faster than our body can produce it.

To combat the loss of collagen because of stress you can:

Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques: Practices such as meditation, deep breathing, pilates and yoga can help to reduce stress levels.

Adequate Sleep: Ensuring you get a good night’s sleep can help lower cortisol levels and give your skin a chance to repair and regenerate.

Skin care: Using skin care products that boost collagen production and protect against environmental damage can help maintain skin health. There are also a number of skin treatments you can undergo such as RF Skin Tightening, HydraFacials, Ultherapy & Collagen Induction Therapy.

6. Genetics

Our genes play a pivotal role in determining many aspects of our physical appearance and health, including the quality of our skin and how it ages. While external factors like sun exposure, diet, and lifestyle choices significantly influence skin ageing, our genetic makeup lays the foundation.

Genes determine the amount and type of melanin our skin produces. Those with more melanin have added protection against UV exposure, which can break down collagen. As a result, individuals with darker skin tones might experience certain signs of ageing, like wrinkles, later than those with lighter skin.

Elastin, another protein in the skin, works alongside collagen to provide elasticity. Genetic variations can influence the quality and quantity of elastin, affecting how quickly the skin recovers from stretching and how prone it is to sagging.

How to combat collagen decline

skinade collagen supplement drinks

Whilst it’s impossible to stop the decline in collagen there are a few things that Dr Oliver recommends:

1. Take collagen supplements

Collagen supplements have been shown to promote collagen production. There are a wide number available however do your research. Supplements come in different forms such as drinks, tablets, and powders. We highly recommend Skinade collagen drinks as these are more effective than tablets.

2. Eat antioxidants, especially vitamin C

Antioxidants like vitamin C fight free radical damage, Dr Oliver says. “Vitamin C is a necessary cofactor for the production of healthy collagen, and without it, new collagen cannot be properly made. It promotes fibroblast proliferation which are the cells that create collagen. So take a supplement or eat a wide range of fruit and vegetables rich in Vitamin C.

3. Make good lifestyle choices, like wearing SPF daily

While aspects like genetics and ageing are beyond your control when it comes to collagen reduction, there are measures you can take to decelerate this process. One such action is the consistent use of sunscreen and wearing sun protective clothing every day.

“Sun UV rays are the No 1 cause of damage to healthy skin. It should be worn daily even on cloudy days and through winter months,” Dr Oliver says.

While there are limits to how much you can counteract the natural reduction of collagen in your skin, being aware of controllable factors, such as wearing sunscreen to prevent UV skin damage and actively supporting collagen creation, can significantly contribute to maintaining firm, radiant skin in the years to come.

How can Air Aesthetics Help?

At Air Aesthetics, we offer a free one-on-one consultation with a skin care expert. During this consultation, we will assess your individual skin type, any concerns you have, and your goals and we will be able to provide you with tailored advice and treatment recommendations.

Book your free consultation with us today and start your journey to healthier, younger looking skin!