Collagen and Professional Skin Care

We are always hearing about the latest skincare product boasting ingredients that boost collagen production for younger looking skin…so here’s a closer look at this vital skin protein:

collagen-skin-structure-dermisWhat is collagen?
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body, and the most important protein molecule when it comes to healthy skin (it makes up about 75% of the skin’s dry weight!) This protein is produced by fibroblast cells located throughout the dermal layer of the skin (think of them as tiny little powerhouses for energy production.)

What does collagen do for the skin?
Collagen is cross-linked with elastin to create a web-like structure in the dermis supporting the skin the way a steel beam structure would support a building. The collagen part of this connective web helps support almost every tissue, organ, bone, piece of cartilage, and blood vessel in the body, while the elastin provides flexibility for the same structures. For the skin, collagen and elastin give the skin strength and elasticity (that bounce back effect) which keeps it looking soft and youthful.

Why are so many products concerned with boosting collagen?
Levels of collagen are diminished as we age. With factors like stress, environmental damage and imperfect diet, the body’s collagen levels go down and the quality of the remaining collagen can deteriorate, leaving behind visible fine lines and wrinkles.

What is the best way to boost healthy collagen?
There are many ways to boost collagen, including chemical peels, physical dermabrasion, topical Vitamin C and A use, ultrasound, LED, stem cell treatments, and more. I find that a combination of different non-invasive approaches yields the best results. Keep in mind that when you are treating the skin with peels or exfoliation or topical Vitamin A, you are asking the skin to do a job. In order to carry out this job effectively, the skin needs certain nutrients and rest. Always follow exfoliation and stimulating treatments with rest and nourishing antioxidants and vitamins, like Vitamin C. For example, Vitamin C is essential for the synthesis of collagen by charging fibroblasts into action and has been found in clinical studies to dramatically boost healthy collagen in the skin when used topically. Vitamin C is also a powerful, water-soluble antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent. For more information on this, read my articles on Healthy Exfoliation.

What happens when we go too far?
When we push our skin too far without properly supporting, resting and nourishing, we create loads of inflammation and free radical damage, which leads to excessive cross linking of our collagen. Cross linking is necessary in order for collagen and elastin to work together to create the supportive web, but when this happens in excess it is like tying knots in the web – which leads to wrinkles in the skin. Two examples of excessive cross linking are:

  1. When skin is constantly subjected to harsh weather conditions such as sun overexposure and high altitude, without being properly nourished or protected, it will excessively cross link. This results in a thickening effect of the skin which can make the skin look “leathery.” – think of Cameron Diaz’s neighbor in “There’s Something About Mary.” Another example of this type of physical stress is when the skin thickens and cross links to create a callus (usually found on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.)
  2. When the skin is over exfoliated or treated with inflammatory ingredients, it can weaken and thin – causing excessive cross linking. This gives the skin the frail parchment-like appearance often seen in elderly skin.
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