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Skin Collagen is Key

When it comes to skin, collagen is the main structural component of the dermis, our inner-layer of skin. It is produced by cells, called fibroblasts, which are found scattered throughout the dermis, and it controls the strength, structure, firmness and overall appearance of our skin.

As the aging process begins, cellular proteins hook together or change shape. This prevents the proteins from performing their functions, resulting in a loss of collagen, and thus firmness, in the skin and body tissue. Stimulating skin cells to produce collagen can partially reverse this process, reducing wrinkles and improving the skin’s texture. But while one might thus conclude that simply adding collagen to the skin will improve our skin’s health and beauty, things are unfortunately more complicated than that.
What exactly is Collagen?

Collagen is a fibrous protein found in our skin, bones, cartilage, tendons, and other connective tissues. Unlike most proteins, which are essentially comprised of clumps of molecules, collagen, in its maturity, becomes a mesh of fibers, rich in amino acids lysine, proline, hydroxylysine and hydroxyproline.

A variety of types of collagen exist in varying quantities in almost all of our organs. When using collagen to enhance the appearances of our skin, we must thus take into consideration not only the amount, but also the type of collagen we choose.
Important Types of Collagen   
Type I The most prevalent type, located in our tendons, bones, skin, and other tissues, particularly scars.   
Types II, IX, X & XI Merely cartilage, located in various places throughout our bodies.   
Type III Found in quickly-growing tissue, such as that found in wounds in the early stages of repair, and is often replaced later on by the stronger and tougher Type I collagen.   
Type IV The filtration membrane of our capillaries, known as basal lamina.   
Types V and VI Similar to Type I, and generally are not found without it, providing support to normal Type I collagen functions.   
Type VII Known as epithelia and it lines various tracts of our body, such as the GI and urinary tracts.   
Type VIII Lines our blood vessels.   
Type XII Interacts with Types I and III collagen, and can always be found alongside them. 

Types I and III collagen are the most prevalent in our skin, controlling most of our skin’s mechanical properties. Though other types of collagen are less abundant in our skin, and often play a less clear, more supportive role to types I and III collagen, each type serves an important function in the maintenance of our skin.
How does Collagen Affect Aging?

As we age, collagen levels throughout our bodies decrease. As children, our skin is rich in Type III collagen, accounting for the soft, suppleness. Although Type III collagen growth slows with time, Type I growth begins to increase, building up until the age of thirty-five, when the skin reaches its peak strength and health. After this point, Type I collagen levels also begin to decline. While the exact effects of the other types of collagen on our aging process are unclear, we do know that by the age of sixty, the levels of all of our collagen types have significantly dropped.

It is important to understand the different types and growth cycles of collagen in our bodies. Since different substances affect the diverse types of collagen in varying ways, some collagen boosters are more appropriate for collagen synthesis than others. As we select skin care products and regimens, it is important to take into consideration our unique collagen levels to try to bring them up to an optimal composition balance. While collagen composition analyses is a relatively new process, still only available in advanced research facilities, and the effects of most skin treatments remain unclear, a great deal of research is underway and should be available to the consumer market in the near future.

In the mean time, we do know that vitamin C is essential for the synthesis of collagen, dramatically increasing growth and reducing skin damage caused by free radicals with its powerful antioxidant properties.
So How Can I Use Collagen to Improve my Skin?

High collagen levels alone, or even an optimal balance of collagen types, will not produce a more youthful appearance. Using collagen freshly produced by young, healthy fibroblasts, and using it in the right places, is key.

Wrinkles and other skin imperfections are often caused by damage from smoking, UV rays, free radicals, and a defective glucose metabolism. This damages collagen, distorting its makeup and leading to bad skin texture and skin impurities. Procedures such as skin peels and laser treatments are common to treat damaged collagen, to stimulate the production of new collagen. Some skin care products also boast of the same capabilities.
Synthesis vs. degradation

Our skin is a living organ, engaged in a constant cycle of repair and regeneration. Although the rate of collagen breakdown significantly increases after forty, and collagen production ins highest in our earlier years, new collagen is generated throughout our lives. Taking measures to boost your collagen production and reduce breakdown is important to maintain a healthy collagen balance in older skin.

Since Types I and III are the most prevalent types of collagen in the skin, many remedies, including topically applied vitamin C, have been proven to simulate the regeneration of these types. More information about the effects of vitamin C, as well as other collagen boosting agents, can be found in the anti-aging treatments section of our site, as well as in the skin rejuvenation info pack.

The breakdown of collagen is a natural process, just like its production. While the natural breakdown of necessary structural proteins seems destructive, the elimination of collagen can be positive. When collagen is badly damaged, or in the case of inflammation, irritation or an infection, collagen breakdown rapidly increases.

In addition to the natural aging process, external factors such as UV rays from the sun, smoking, and chlorinated water also have the effect of rapidly increasing collagen breakdown, causing the skin to sag and wrinkle. Avoiding exposure to these things will help maintain your collagen levels.

Research is currently underway to develop a product that will effectively inhibit matrix metalloproteinase (MMPs) enzymes, which are known to decompose collagen. While nothing has been developed yet, pairing such a product to slow the breakdown of collagen with a collagen stimulating substance to boost collagen production could provide an optimal solution for the future. In the mean time, lipoic acid and retinoids are thought to indirectly slow MMP production.



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