In the skin care world, collagen reigns as one of the buzziest terms to know. It is the building block of your complexion, after all. While the numerous collagen benefits for your skin include anti-aging properties, it helps to understand how the ingredient works so you can effectively work it into your beauty routine.
“Collagen is a large protein that you find in different systems [of your body], including in the bone, the skin, hair, nails, cartilage, and in the joints,” says Dr. Daniel Sugai, M.D., a Seattle-based dermatologist. Essentially, collagen is the glue that holds the dermis — aka the second layer of the skin — together, he explains.
When you’re young, your skin contains high levels of collagen, which gives off a youthful appearance, Sugai says. But as you get older, your collagen levels begin to decrease each year (simply from aging), and enzymes called collagenases begin to break down the natural collagen reserve in your skin for a myriad of reasons be it excessive drinking, pollution exposure, or sun damage, he tells Bustle — and this can lead to wrinkling and sagging.
Enter: incorporating collagen into your supplement rotation, diet, or beauty routine. And, since collagen is made of fibrous proteins that support your body's connective tissues, doing so can also benefit your bones and joints (if you're ingesting it versus applying something topically).
From topical serums to smoothie powders, there are several ways to increase your collagen levels for ultimate skin health — here's everything you need to know.
Collagen Benefits For Skin
According to Sugai, collagen has anti-aging benefits since protein buildup provides skin with firmness. “When you don't have collagen, you're going to have that sagging skin and you’ll have less structural support — things will fall,” he says. The more collagen you have in your body, the healthier and more firm your skin will be.
Similar to collagen's impact on your skin's strength and firmness is its effect on your complexion's elasticity. Because increasing and supporting your collagen levels means you have more structural support via proteins, studies show it also improves your skin's elasticity — which means that it has more of an ability to bounce back when moved or stretched.
Another way collagen benefits your skin? According to Dr. Orit Markowitz, M.D., board-certified dermatologist and founder of OptiSkin, it improves your skin's ability to recover from trauma and heal wounds more effectively. “Any sort of trauma to certain areas of the skin, like the dermis, are going to push collagen formation,” she says. “So if you have a big wound that suddenly occurs, your wound healing is going to do better if you have a higher reserve of collagen.” Ever wonder what the mechanism behind microneedling is? With the tiny needles used on your skin, it creates a micro-trauma that stimulates your collagen to naturally reform to repair itself.
How To Increase Collagen Production
Sugai is a big fan of using topical retinoids for increasing your skin's collagen production. At night (not during the day, as retinol makes your skin more sensitive to the sun), he suggests applying retinoid-based creams. “[Retinols] tell your fibroblasts [cells that secrete collagen] to make more collagen in your dermis,” he says. You'll get best results if you use it consistently in your nighttime skin care routine, he says.
Vitamins C & Antioxidant Serums
Studies show that vitamin C and antioxidants support collagen growth, so using serums that contain these ingredients can help protect your skin. Sugai suggests including either a vitamin C or antioxidant-packed serum in your morning routine to “fight free radicals that you can get from pollution, smoke, or sunlight that you get exposed to throughout the day.”
When collagen gets depleted — often by UV rays — it breaks down the fibers within your skin, says Markowitz, which accelerates the aging process. Her tip? Wearing sunscreen can help reverse those effects. “If you're really good about protecting your skin from the sun, over time you’ll actually see more healthy collagen,” she says. Sugai recommends wearing SPF 30 and above, and reapplying every one to two hours — even on cloudy days.
Gummies & Oral Supplements
You can find collagen supplements in everything from gummies to pills and powders. Studies have found that oral collagen supplements increase skin’s density, while others saw an improvement in skin elasticity. The kind of supplement you get is all up to your taste: You can chew two gummies a day, mix a collagen powder into water or your a.m. coffee, or add some oral supplements into your routine.
According to Markowitz, it helps protect your collagen levels and promote its turnover when you incorporate foods high in vitamin C and antioxidants into your diet. “Antioxidants protect cells from damage caused by free radicals,” she says. “Free radicals often cause irreversible damage to the skin, and contribute to collagen depletion.” Look to rich sources of antioxidants to add to your plate, like leafy greens, veggies, and berries.
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Dr. Orit Markowitz M.D., board-certified Dermatologist and founder of OptiSkin
Dr. Daniel Sugai, M.D., Seattle-based dermatologist