What is Collagen, and Why is it So Important?

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pulling skinCollagen is one of the most frequently listed ingredients in high-end skin care products. You may have heard that your skin needs it, but do you know why? What exactly is collagen … and why is it so important for your skin?

Collagen: More Than Skin Deep

Produced within the bodies of animals (including humans), collagen is a collection of proteins. It’s present in the skin, but it’s also required to make and maintain healthy connective tissue throughout the body.

When collagen is collected into fibers, called fibrils, it is found in the skin, ligaments and tendons, corneas, cartilage and bone, blood vessels and even the gut. It also constitutes 1-2% of your muscle. Amazingly, collagen makes up nearly 35% of your entire body’s protein content!

Collagen and Your Skin’s Health

Of course, what we’re really interested in here is what collagen does to maintain the skin’s integrity. Along with keratin, a protein most often associated with hair and skin, and elastin, collagen maintains elasticity and strength. It also “plumps out” the skin, making lines appear more shallow.

When collagen production diminishes for any reason, the result can be weaker skin, breaks in the protein fibers, and eventually, the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

When Collagen Production is Down

Unfortunately, as we age, collagen production – along with the production of other proteins as well as metabolic processes – tends to slow. With this slowdown comes a less frequent cell turnover rate, which means that “new,” fresh-looking skin is slower to appear. It also means that there is less elasticity to the skin, enabling lines and wrinkles to take shape.

Collagen production can also slow during times of illness or stress, giving an “ashy,” dry and less firm appearance to the skin.

Kids Have All the Luck!

Collagen production will wax and wane during different times in one’s life. Various factors, both environmental and internal, may mean slower collagen regeneration at various times.

When you’re young, collagen boosts back up quickly following stress or illness, giving resiliency to the skin. It literally “bounces back.” When you age, however, the indications of stress – rough skin, dry skin, and lines – tend to stay where they are, partly because there isn’t enough collagen to combat the stress.

The Skin Around Your Eyes is Most Susceptible

We tend to show aging first around our eyes, and there’s a very good reason. The skin under the eyes is extremely thin compared to the skin on other parts of your body. There are also comparatively few oil glands under the eyes, reducing lubrication to the area.

In addition to these factors, we tend to squint and rub our eyes rather frequently. Eyes are easily irritated, particularly as regards environmental pollutants. Makeup can be irritating, too. The thin, delicate skin around the eyes tears easily under these conditions – and the older we get, the less quickly it repairs.

So What Can You Do About It?

Don’t worry – it’s not all bad news! Newer-generation skin care ingredients are designed to combat issues associated with collagen loss, and even to boost or replace collagen entirely (though on a temporary basis). Here are several types you may find in eye creams:

  • Animal or Synthetic Collagen is added to many skin care products to restore elasticity to the skin.
  • Vitamin C, which is involved in collagen synthesis, is a great ingredient to help boost the synthesis of collagen in the skin.
  • Amino acids (especially glycine and proline) are also critical in collagen synthesis. Cosmetic grade amino acids often end in the suffixe “-ine” – look for these in your skin or eye care cream.
  • Polypeptides are even better and are more easily identifiable in cosmetic preparations, as they’re generally called exactly that. These are chains of more than one amino acid.
  • Procollagen is a pre-peptide ingredient. It boosts the production of collagen.
  • Alpha and beta hydroxy acids slough off skin to reveal fresher, more active skin cells underneath. Look for a gentle, non-irritating formula.

Don’t Stress!

Stressors, both internal and external, can also have an effect on collagen. Try these tips:

  • Don’t stress – literally. Stress encourages the production of the hormone cortisol, which degrades (breaks down) collagen bonds. Find time each day to meditate or just to sit quietly. Cut down on caffeine. Adopt a positive attitude wherever possible. These small changes really will make a difference in how collagen acts within your body.
  • Exercise. Because collagen metabolism is interconnected with other metabolic processes in your body, “getting things flowing” can boost its production. Get 30 minutes of gentle to moderate exercise a day.
  • Protect your skin. Environmental toxins assault the skin daily. Wear a protective foundation on your face and be sure to include SPF in the equation to minimize the effects of sun damage.
  • Wear non-sensitizing makeup. Hypoallergenic makeup will give your skin one less action to worry about (the sensitization itself) and will allow for more time to regenerate.
  • Whatever you do – keep smiling. Yes, “laugh lines” and crow’s feet are a major category to combat for many women and men. But that doesn’t mean you should stop smiling. With the tips above, your skin will “bounce back” from facial expressions, squinting and yes, even smiling, more quickly if you’re gentle with it…and if you use the right ingredients.

Additional Research:

News Medical

University of Maryland Medical Center

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