Collagen is probably one of the most used terms in our articles, and chances are that’s the case with the majority of skincare publications everywhere. From discussing the types and causes of acne, to devising ways to treat acne, all the way to general skincare tips and preventing the aging of the skin, collagen always seems to find its place as one of the biggest factors in your skin’s health.
But why is this so? Why do so many skincare products, and even homemade remedies boast of either containing collagen, or boosting its production? To get at the root of the question, and answer why collagen is so important in skincare, we need to go back to the basics. In other words, it’s time for a short science class.
To put it simply, collagen is one of the most plentiful proteins in the body. If that perplexes you, it’s understandable. Just where is collagen located, and what kinds of 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. Its responsibilities are, in fact, crucial.
Collagen is basically what keeps us in shape, makes us move, and enables us to protect ourselves. Collagen is in charge of building our bones, tendons, muscles, ligaments, skin, and even blood vessels, as well as teeth and parts of the eye. Additionally, collagen is also tasked with lubricating our joints, helping our blood clot, and last but not least - keeping our skin healthy, young, and elastic.
Basically, collagen is in pretty much everything, - it holds our bones, skin, and organs together. If there’s a good analogy for collagen, then it’s thinking of it as a sort of “natural glue” that holds the tissues of different body parts together. The word collagen itself has roots in Ancient Greek - collagen is inspired from "kólla," which stands for glue.
If you really want to know, there are sixteen types of collagen. But, most of those are irrelevant for the purposes of our topic today, as well as for your skin’s health. Let's stick to the collagen that’s already inside our bodies.
There are 4 types of collagen inside the human body. Doctors, dermatologists, and other medical professionals have classified these types as Collagen Type I, Collagen Type II, Collagen Type III, and Collagen Type IV. Here’s what each type of collagen does in your body:
This type of collagen is by far the most prominent in our body. Collagen Type I makes for 90% of all the collagen inside us, thanks to it being one of the building blocks in our structural organs. Collagen Type I provides support and structure to our bones, teeth, cartilage, joints, tendons, connective tissues, 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 Collagen Type II isn’t important or that it doesn’t perform important functions as well. Basically, Collagen 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, Collagen Type II resembles loosely placed fibers, contrary to Collagen Type I, which has a more compact, condensed structure.
Moving on, the third class of collagen becomes even more dispersed and acquires different, more specialized functions. For example, Collagen Type III acts as a support structure in the tissues of organs, muscles, and even arteries. If you notice, these collagen categories are moving from “large” to “tiny.”
The fourth and final type of collagen found in the human body is the one that really interests us today. Collagen 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. It’s the collagen your skin contains - and needs.
But do we need collagen? And if yes, why?
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 the passage of time. It’s been found that after we hit our 30s, the maintenance functions of our bodies - and our skin - begin a slow 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, ceramides, and of course - precious collagen.
I shouldn’t be telling you that this is actually why we age. Why does our skin become rougher, drier, more rugged and wrinkled as time goes by. Regardless of how healthy you feed yourself, or how frequently you exercise, your body just 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 DNA in the cells themselves experiences all sorts of damage due to all the oxidative stress from free radicals. In order to mitigate this, our bodies need a constant supply of antioxidants, which is another topic for another day.
All of this means that your skin will inevitably age, and become dry and damaged, regardless of you having collagen inside your body, or within your skin. It also means that you will need that extra collagen coming from all those skincare products, or induced through skincare procedures, like for example microdermabrasion or laser resurfacing.
So, this is why we need some extra collagen, even if our bodies have it, or produce it. Besides, many skincare products or procedures can make our body increase its collagen production, which is just as well.
Since our bodies already produce collagen on their own, it’s only logical that we can try to boost our collagen-producing capabilities. 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 also want to stock up on proline, you should 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, it can be found in large amounts in gelatin, chicken skin, pork skin, and other foods that are rich in protein.
Finally, in order to make sure your body has enough copper, you will be wise to 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.
But wait, that’s not all. In the introduction to this article, we mentioned that collagen is a protein. And proteins, in case you didn’t know, are made up of smaller molecules called amino acids. (And amino acids, in turn, create peptides - which are great for your skin actually.) 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.
It’s exactly the amino acids that are the so-called “dough” of this collagen baking process. And in order to have a healthy supply of amino acids, you should eat more meat, dairy, seafood, poultry - and tofu, for those of you who are following the vegan lifestyle.
So, let’s recap. In order to help your body produce more collagen naturally, you need to make sure it gets enough of all the collagen-producing nutrients. These nutrients create a substance called procollagen, which is then easily transformed into any of the 4 types of “proper” collagen.
These nutrients are Vitamin C, glycine, proline, copper, and finally - a healthy dose of high-quality protein for the precious amino acids. Load your body with these precious ingredients, and it will do its best to produce all the natural collagen it can. Don’t forget, though - our bodies slow down and lose this (and many other) functionalities as they age.
But wait, you don’t have to do all that, because collagen is already found in its complete form in many foods and nutrients. However, even though the consumed collagen, or gelatin, is in its final form, our bodies break it down to amino acids and proteins and then assemble it again. So, while consuming collagen isn’t making it automatically used by your body, it still sort of 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.
Logically, and as reality would have it, foods that contain ready-made collagen are of animal origin. The connective tissues in animals are rich in collagen, such as 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, however, let us point to another great source of collagen - gelatin. Gelatin is, in short, boiled or cooked collagen, and it’s super rich with the amino acids that are required for its production. It’s no wonder that gelatin is so widely used, in all sorts of foods and products.
But as we said, our bodies gradually lose their ability to not only produce collagen, but to 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, have an overabundance of amino acids, Vitamin C, copper, proline, and glycine, and 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, let us remind ourselves that our bodies are kinda slow when it comes to maintaining themselves, and this is especially true for our skin.
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, 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 up.
Here are the worst offenders when it comes to premature collagen depletion in your body:
There’s a saying that 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. In order to avoid this, of course, you need to either completely avoid consuming sugar or refined carbs, or, alternatively, 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 or so, until the desquamation process is complete. And sometimes, it can take several cycles until the skin completely rejuvenates itself. Patience is key, but you can start minimizing sugar today.
Who knew? Too much of a good thing yet again. Hanging out in the Sun is great and all (I personally love it, until it throws my blood pressure out of whack), 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 prods our bodies to produce more 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, of course, you can use a high-quality sunscreen with a high SPF factor to protect yourself.
I really shouldn't be telling you this unless you've lived under a rock - but smoking is harmful for your health. Sure, many things are, drinking too much alcohol and eating junk food isn't much better, but when it comes to collagen, smoking is the greater enemy.
Besides the nicotine messing with your metabolism, and the tar slowing down your blood circulation by clogging your lungs, the smoke of the cigarette 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 older by messing with their repair systems. You can easily imagine how this hampers the production of collagen and its implementation around the body.
Finally, 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 three main factors that deplete and damage collagen most commonly. Additionally, injuries, an unhealthy lifestyle, poor hygiene, and some autoimmune disorders like lupus also contribute to collagen damage and depletion.
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 6 months and still nothing.
Well, my friend, it sounds like you could use some collagen supplements.
The two most popular types of collagen supplements are gelatin and hydrolyzed collagen (collagen hydrolysate). As we mentioned in one of the sections above, gelatin is made when you cook collagen.
In hydrolyzed collagen, the size of the protein molecules become smaller, turning them into peptides, which are easier to use by your body. Hydrolyzed collagen is odorless, 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, it can improve the appearance and elasticity of your skin, and sometimes it can even remove brain fog.
In skincare, collagen is often used in gels and creams, mainly designed to rejuvenate your skin and reduce the appearance of lines, wrinkles, blemishes and other signs of aging.
Since collagen is produced and used in our bodies, it's safe to use. However, if one takes too much collagen supplements, they can experience an unpleasant taste that lingers even when you wash it down with a drink, and in rare occasions, heartburn or sensations of heaviness.
If you are allergic to the source of the collagen, though, you may have an allergic reaction to the collagen supplement. For example, if a person is allergic to a specific type of fish, or just fish in general, 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 source of the collagen supplement 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, facilitating blood filtration and keeping our skin healthy, elastic and young looking.
Collagen can be boosted by eating foods that contain Vitamin C, proline, glycine, copper, and amino acids. Additionally, collagen can be consumed by eating fatty meats and specific animal products, such as chicken skin, pork skin, bone broths, meat jellies like aspic and so on.
If you need a boost to your natural levels of collagen, consider taking collagen in the form of supplements. The two most popular kinds are hearing and hydrolyzed collagen, which are generally safe to use. If you have any allergies, you should double check the source of the collagen and make sure it's not something you're allergic to.
In skincare, collagen is used in cosmetic products to reduce wrinkles, scars, and other kinds of aging or injuries to the 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.