Collagen is probably one of the most used terms in our article; chances are, that’s the case with most skincare publications everywhere. From discussing types and causes of acne, to devising ways to treat acne, all the way to general skincare tips and preventing skin aging, collagen is a key component in your skin’s health.
But why is this? Why do so many skin care products, and even homemade remedies, boast of containing collagen or boosting its production? To get to the root of the question, we need to dive deeper. In other words, it’s time for a short science class.
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To put it simply, collagen is one of the most plentiful proteins in the body. If that perplexes you, it’s understandable. So where is it located, and what functions does it perform?
As the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility. And since collagen makes up for a third of your body’s entire protein composition, it would be an understatement to say that its responsibilities are important.
Collagen is basically what keeps us in shape, makes us move, and enables us to protect ourselves. It's in charge of building our bones, tendons, muscles, ligaments, skin, and even blood vessels, as well as teeth and parts of the eye. Additionally, it's also tasked with lubricating our joints, helping our blood clot, and, last but not least, keeping our skin healthy, young, and elastic. So, if you suffer from sagging skin, up your intake.
Basically, collagen is in pretty much everything - it's the “natural glue” that holds the tissues of different body parts together.
The word itself has roots in Ancient Greek - collagen is inspired by "kólla," which stands for glue.
If you really want to know, there are sixteen collagen types. But most of those are irrelevant to your skin health. Let's stick to the collagen that’s already inside our bodies.
There are four types of collagen inside the human body. Doctors, dermatologists, and other medical professionals have classified these types as Type I, Type II, Type III, and Type IV. Here’s what each type of collagen does.
This type of collagen is by far the most prominent in our body. It makes up 90% of all the collagen inside us, thanks to it being one of the building blocks in our structural organs. Type I provides support and structure to our bones, teeth, cartilage, joints, tendons, connective tissue, the skin, and other fibrous cartilage.
Unlike Type I, this type of collagen isn’t the main so-called building block of the organs and tissues mentioned above. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t important or doesn’t perform important functions as well. Basically, Type II acts as a support to Type I, cushioning and lubricating your joints and creating the structure of elastic cartilage. When put under the microscope, it resembles loosely placed fibers, contrary to Type I, which has a more compact, condensed structure.
The third class of collagen becomes even more dispersed and acquires different, more specialized functions. For example, Type III acts as a support structure in the tissues of organs, muscles, and even arteries.
The fourth and final type is the one that really interests us today. Type IV performs the important functions of filtering substances in your body and providing a structure to your skin. Collagen Type IV is basically the collagen all those skincare products and beauty commercials advertise. This collagen helps improve skin health.
But why do we need it?
The sad truth is that although the human body produces most of what’s needed for us to be healthy, it slowly loses that ability with time. After we hit our 30s, the maintenance functions of our bodies and skin begin to slowly decline. Our bodies hit peak efficiency during our teens and early 20s, but once we reach 30, everything slows down. In short, these aging processes make our body slower to produce elastin and ceramides. And, of course - we start producing less collagen.
Why does our skin become rougher, drier, more rugged, and wrinkled as time goes by? Regardless of how healthy your diet, or how frequently you exercise, your body won’t operate at 100% efficiency forever.
The longer we live, the more damage and stress it accrues, and the slower everything happens. That’s because the cells' DNA experiences all sorts of damage due to all the oxidative stress from free radicals - including skin damage. So to mitigate this, our bodies need a constant supply of antioxidants.
All of this means your skin will inevitably age. You'll end up with damaged and dry skin, regardless of whether you have collagen inside your body. Some people opt for induced through skincare procedures, like microdermabrasion or laser resurfacing. But alternatively, you can add a collagen cream to your skin care routine to help with aging skin.
So, this is why we need some extra collagen, even if our bodies have it. Many skincare products or procedures are great at promoting collagen production, helping us achieve youthful skin.
Since our bodies already produce it on their own, it’s only logical that we can try to stimulate collagen production and boost the health benefits it provides. And it’s easier than you think. Besides, it’s also natural and harmless to do.
The metabolism of collagen is not so complex. Every type of collagen begins as a substance known as “procollagen.” Procollagen, or proto-collagen (“that which precedes collagen”), is synthesized inside our bodies by fusing two different amino acids: proline and glycine. However, for this process to happen, our bodies need to have plenty of vitamin C and some copper in store.
In order to get enough Vitamin C, you should include the following foods in your diet: citrus fruits like lemons and oranges, strawberries, bell peppers, and other fruits and vegetables. If you're not against using topical products, you can also try topical vitamin C.
If you also want to stock up on proline, eat enough of the following foods: egg whites, dairy, cabbage, asparagus, mushrooms, wheat germ, and so on.
As for loading your body with necessary glycine, you'll find it in gelatin, chicken skin, pork skin, and other foods rich in protein.
Finally, to make sure your body has enough copper, introduce more meats from organs in your diet (like kidneys, hearts, livers, and so on). Additionally, cocoa powder, sesame seeds, lentils, and cashews also contain some copper.
We've already mentioned that collagen is a protein. And proteins, in case you didn’t know, are made up of smaller collagen molecules called amino acids. (Which, in turn, create collagen peptides - which are great for your skin actually.) So, long story short, besides all the good ingredients we mentioned above, like vitamin C, copper, proline, and glycine, our bodies need a hefty supply of amino acids as well.
These acids are the so-called “dough” of this collagen baking process. And to have a healthy supply of them, you should eat more meat, dairy, seafood, poultry - and tofu, for those of you who are following the vegan lifestyle.
So, let’s recap.
To help your body produce collagen naturally, you need to ensure it gets enough collagen-producing nutrients. These nutrients create a substance called procollagen, which is easily transformed into any of the four types of “proper” collagen.
These nutrients are vitamin C, glycine, proline, copper, and finally - a healthy dose of high-quality protein. Load your body with these precious ingredients, and it will do its best to produce all the natural collagen it can. You'll feel younger in no time.
But wait - it's already found in many foods and nutrients. However, even though the consumed collagen, or gelatin, is in its final form, our bodies break it down into amino acids and proteins and then assemble it again. So, while consuming collagen doesn't mean it's automatically used by your body, it still accelerates the process because it skips the phases we outlined above.
So, by eating collagen-rich foods, you can take a shortcut and fast-forward your body’s natural collagen production.
Foods that contain ready-made collagen are of animal origin. The connective tissues in animals are rich in collagen - for example, chicken skin or pork skin Or, for the less queasy of you, aspic, meat jelly, cartilage, fish bones, shark fins, and so on.
A particularly rich and historically popular source of collagen is bone broth. As the name might tell you, bone broths are made by boiling the bones of animals, usually chickens. The bones gradually break down and melt, revealing all the good, gelatinous collagen inside.
Speaking of gelatinous things, here's another great source of collagen - gelatin. In short, Gelatin is boiled or cooked, and it’s super-rich in amino acids. It’s no wonder that gelatin is so widely used.
But as we said, our bodies gradually lose their ability to produce collagen and use it as well. Let’s address what can reduce, and even negate, our collagen production.
Speaking of aging and the insufficiencies of naturally-produced collagen by our own bodies, let’s take a look at the reasons, and factors that deplete it. After all, you can gorge on quality plant or animal protein and have an overabundance of amino acids, vitamin C, copper, proline, and glycine. Yet, you may not be seeing all those magical collagen effects.
So what gives?
Well, chances are that regardless of how much collagen your body creates, it becomes destroyed or depleted. Additionally, our bodies are kinda slow when it comes to maintaining themselves, and this is especially true for our skin cells.
Its main process of regeneration is called desquamation, and it takes approximately an entire month. So, your skin cells need a whole month to remove the depleted or destroyed collagen and make room for new collagen. Then, it needs time for this new collagen of yours to grow and be integrated into your skin.
And during all of that time, even the fresh, new collagen gets bombarded by the sun’s harmful UV rays, environmental pollutants, microscopic dust, irritants, allergens, injuries, toxins from habits such as smoking, alcohol, processed foods, fast food, and so on and on. The list of what destroys collagen is really long. So, let’s shorten it.
Here are the worst offenders when it comes to premature collagen depletion in your body:
As the saying goes, there can be too much of a good thing - and that’s exactly the case with sugar - especially if it’s the white, processed kind.
Too much sugar (especially with coffee) and your body becomes hampered in its ability to repair itself with new collagen. To avoid this, either completely avoid consuming sugar and refined carbs or minimize it.
Remember, when it comes to these things, your skin needs time. Even if you quit sugar tomorrow, you won’t see the effects on your skin for at least a month until the desquamation process is complete. And sometimes, it can take several cycles until human skin completely rejuvenates itself. Patience is key, but you can start minimizing sugar today.
Hanging out in the sun is great and all, but stay too long, and your skin will get a beating.
As we mentioned above, sunlight, for all its benefits, contains rays that fall into the UV spectrum, and these basically irradiate our skin.
The sun sort of hastens our natural process of desquamation and so our body produces collagen. But the thing is, as soon as that collagen gets put in place, the UV rays make it age faster and break down. So, if you want your collagen - and with it, your skin’s regeneration - to occur faster and more efficiently, avoid spending too much time in the sun, especially when it’s intense.
Alternatively, you can use a high-quality sunscreen with a high SPF factor to protect yourself against sun damage.
Unless you've been living under a rock, you'll know that smoking is harmful to your health. Sure, drinking too much alcohol and eating junk food isn't much better, but when it comes to collagen, smoking is the greater enemy.
Nicotine messes with your metabolism, the tar slows down your blood circulation by clogging your lungs, and the smoke releases a bunch of irritating and toxic chemicals. Many of those are free radicals, which can enter your cells and cause damage to your DNA. That, in turn, makes cells age faster by messing with their repair systems. You can easily imagine how this hampers the production of collagen and its implementation around the body.
The smoke, the microscopic particles of tar, and the toxic chemicals attach themselves to the surface of your skin, clogging your pores and making your skin oil up too much and dry up in turn. That can easily become a recipe for acne inflammation, so if you want to maximize the benefits of your collagen, you should stop smoking. Or, try vaping instead.
Those are the most common factors that deplete and damage collagen. Other factors include injuries, an unhealthy lifestyle, poor hygiene, and some autoimmune disorders like lupus.
But what if your intake of collagen-rich foods and collagen-producing nutrients just doesn't cut it? Let's say you've been optimizing your diet to help your body produce more collagen. You've also ditched smoking, reduced refined sugars, and you’re taking care to stay out of the sun… and then, it's been six months, and your dry skin, fine lines, and wrinkles haven't improved. Where are the health benefits you were promised?
Well, it sounds like you could use some collagen supplements.
The two most popular collagen supplements are gelatin and hydrolyzed collagen (collagen hydrolysate). As we mentioned above, gelatin is made when you cook collagen.
In hydrolyzed collagen, the protein molecules become smaller, turning into peptides. Collagen peptides are easier to use by your body. Hydrolyzed collagen is odorless, and colorless, and can be added to almost anything.
Supplementing collagen has many benefits. It can increase muscle mass and is used as a therapeutic aid for people who suffer from joint pain, arthritis, and osteoarthritis. It can reduce pain, lubricate your joints and make your motions easier and smoother. Additionally, it can improve the appearance and elasticity of your skin, and sometimes it can even remove brain fog.
When it comes to collagen in skin care, you'll probably use a topical application. You'll often find topical collagen creams and gels, mainly designed to rejuvenate your skin, improve skin elasticity, and reduce the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, blemishes, and other signs of aging. When it comes to applying collagen topically, the rules vary from product to product - make sure to read the instructions.
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Since collagen is produced and used in our bodies, it's safe to use. However, if you take too many oral collagen supplements, you might experience an unpleasant taste that lingers even when you wash it down with a drink, and on rare occasions, heartburn or sensations of heaviness.
If you're allergic to the source of collagen, you may have an allergic reaction to the collagen supplement. For example, if a person is allergic to fish, they'll have an allergic reaction to marine collagen because it's derived from fish. The collagen itself isn't the problem, but it contains microscopic amounts of fish protein which causes the allergic reaction.
If you have any allergies, always make sure that they're not overlapping with the collagen supplements you intend to use.
Collagen is a natural protein that’s widely used in our bodies. It makes up a whopping 30% of the entire amount of protein in the human body, providing structure to our bones, lubricating our joints and cartilage, and facilitating blood filtration. It can better skin elasticity, reduce uneven skin tone, tackle fine lines, and keep you looking young.
Collagen can be boosted by eating foods that contain vitamin C, proline, glycine, copper, and amino acids. Additionally, it can be consumed by eating fatty meats and specific animal products.
If you want to try boosting collagen, consider taking collagen in the form of supplements. The two most popular kinds are gelatin and hydrolyzed, which are generally safe to use.
In skin care, there are many collagen products to reduce wrinkles, scars, and other kinds of aging or injuries, resulting in glowing skin.
This information is meant to supplement, not replace advice from your doctor or healthcare provider and is not meant to cover all possible uses, precautions, interactions or adverse effects. This information may not fit your specific health circumstances, and its goal is to offer a general view of the subject. In case you are suffering from a severe case of acne, you should consult with a dermatologist or a certified medical professional.