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Home / Blogs / Anti-Aging / Collagen 101: All You Need to Know About the Skin's Building Blocks

Collagen 101: All You Need to Know About the Skin's Building Blocks

by Melissa Kleinman
Collagen 101: All You Need to Know About the Skin's Building Blocks

Collagen has long been connected to younger looking skin. But what actually is collagen? Collagen is a major building block in the body and is an essential component of healthy skin—it helps the skin’s cells adhere to each other while giving the skin strength and elasticity. Collagen helps to support and build many organisms and tissues in the body, including:

  • Hair
  • Nails
  • Skin
  • Muscles
  • Eyes
  • Digestive system


Collagen and Elastin: Two important elements in the skin

“The skin is made of up of three layers,” explains New York City board-certified dermatologist Dr. Nava Greenfield. “The outermost layer serves a as a barrier from the outside world. The second layer, the dermis, is made up of mostly extracellular matrix, or material outside of cells, that support the skin and structures found in the skin. The two most important elements of the matrix are collagen and elastin. These two proteins provide strength, resilience, flexibility, and keeps the shape of the skin intact.”  

What do collagen and elastin do in the skin?

Collagen, a fiber-like structure that helps make tissues strong and resilient, is the most abundant protein found in our bodies. Elastin is an extracellular matrix protein that coils and recoils similar to a spring. It accounts for the elasticity in the skin as well as many other organs, including the heart, lungs, ligaments and tendons. 

What happens to our collagen as we age?

As we age, our bodies gradually produce less collagen. This is due in part to the environment. Environmental exposures, such as UV radiation, smoking and pollution can damage your collagen fibers and reduce their strength and thickness, which will ultimately lead to fine lines and wrinkles, the hallmarks of aging skin. “The more sun damage that accumulates in our skin over the years, our collagen and elastin degrade,” says Dr. Greenfield.

Can our skin produce more collagen as we age?

Our skin has the ability to produce new collagen and elastin, but that ability also diminishes over time. “Using products that replenish the skin’s collagen and elastin will result in skin that appears more youthful and hydrated, has more flexibility, and less wrinkles,” says Dr. Greenfield.

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How can you replenish collagen? 

The most important part of replenishing collagen is providing your body with the necessary tools and ingredients to make more of it on its own. That means eating a well-balanced diet with plenty of proteins, and fresh fruits and vegetables. “That will ensure your body has the necessary building blocks to produce the protein,” says Dr. Greenfield. “This ability diminishes over time so make sure you are allowing your body to build enough of it when it can do so effectively.”

What is collagen in skin care?

“There are studies that suggest you can also replenish the collagen in your skin through supplements and topical creams,” says Dr. Greenfield. “Topical creams are less likely to be effective because of the difficulty in absorption of the collagen protein through your skin to where it is needed.”

Luckily, “understanding that the collagen protein is so big led to the discovery that fragmented collagen, aka peptides, can work to stimulate collagen production.” Dr. Neal Kitchen noted.

What does the ingredient collagen do in skincare and does it work?

When collagen is an ingredient in skin care it is usually there to supplement the existing collagen already in the skin. For that to occur, the collagen in the product needs to penetrate the first layer of skin to the dermis where it belongs.

“Peptides are a far more effective tool for affecting this response” said Dr. Neal.  Numerous studies, like this one from the Dr. Maibach, MD, Professor of Dermatology at University of California have verified that by using peptides can result in a “Increased smoothness of skin surface and also lightening effect on the skin were noticed,” as well as a “significant increase in smoothness [&] hydration.”

“We now have a library of peptides that can be used to stimulate different parts of the collagen pathway, including collagen stimulation, protecting against degradation, protecting against glycation, etc.” according to Dr. Neal.

What actual proof is there surrounding collagen and anti-aging?

The best ways to protect and stimulate collagen in your body is by wearing sunscreen and using topical skincare products containing peptides or retinol. Studies have shown that retinol can restore collagen production in skin. Bottom line: A skincare product with retinol and/or peptides can help support and stimulate collagen.

As an 18-year-old, how can I replenish my collagen?

Lucky for you, at the age of 18 you still have plenty of collagen in your skin. At this young age, your body will naturally produce more of this youth-building protein. It is not until you hit your mid-20s that the collagen in your body starts to decrease. “To some extent collagen and elastin degradation is irreversible, so it is important to try to avoid behaviors that accelerate the degradation of these important proteins in our skin,” says Dr. Greenfield. The best way to protect and replenish your collagen is by the lifestyle choices you make, the most important being to protect your skin from UV radiation, which degrades collagen.

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Protecting the skin from collagen loss

Practice these smart habits to help retain collagen:

  • Daily use of sunscreen on all exposed skin. Find a broad-spectrum SPF of at least 30 and apply it before you leave the house. Try HydroPeptide Solar Defense.
  • Wear sunscreen every season—the UV rays can damage skin in the winter, too.
  • Wear broad-brimmed hats when in the sun.
  • Wear sun protective clothing
  • Seek shade, especially during the sun’s peak hours of 10am-3pm
  • Eat fruits and vegetables
  • Use topical skincare products that are shown to support and stimulate collagen production
Woman applying SPF

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