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All you need to know about collagen

August 13th 2015 / Anna Hunter / 1 comment


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What it does, how you can boost yours through diet and skincare and should you be taking supplements? Here’s your collagen 101…

Collagen: we’ve all got it, but most of us want more of it. It’s a support structure for our bones, muscles, and organs, but the majority of us are more interested in what it does for our skin (it is the biggest organ after all). Here’s your collagen compendium; from how to supercharge your collagen synthesis to how to slow down the rate at which it deteriorates, we’ve got you covered. Also, as a backup, please heed Dame Helen Mirren’s words on the whole ageing thing. The appearance of youth ain’t everything. Keeping a bit of your collagen if you can can’t hurt though…

What is collagen?

According to the NHS, ‘collagen is a protein that supports skin strength’. Strong skin is essentially dream skin; think a taut, plump appearance, smooth texture and the ability to ‘bounce back’. As stated in Your Hormone Doctor by Leah Hardy and Susie Rogers, with Dr Daniel Sister consulting, ‘70% of your skin is collagen’. The bad news is that our collagen resources deplete as we age, resulting in wrinkles and decreased elasticity. Sigh.

When will I start losing collagen?

As with all things in life, it varies from person to person, but Noella Gabriel, co-founder and director or treatment and product development at ELEMIS gives us a rough timeline:

“By your 30s, signs of ageing will begin to manifest as skin cell turnover has begun to slow down, causing collagen to loosen, so expression lines or fine lines and wrinkles will start appearing.”

“In your 40s deeper wrinkles will start to form. Sun spots will begin to appear and skin will become thinner.”

“When you reach your 50s or 60s, it’s hormonal changes that can have a real effect your skin collagen production. Skin will begin to sag and look depleted.”

The menopause can be quite the menace when it comes to collagen degradation, as highlighted in Your Hormone Doctor:

“Hormonal changes in midlife and beyond definitely affect your looks. The first sign? Not wrinkles, but loss of volume. In the first five years after the menopause you lose 30 per cent of your collagen (the fibres that give substance to skin)”.

Style over substance does have a part to play in the collagen game, however, if you equate style with lifestyle…

What causes a loss of collagen?

Good old mother nature is the number one (not so) smooth criminal in the collagen stealing stakes, but there are things you can do to both slow and accelerate her progress, as Noella underlines:

“Skin works on a 21 day cycle but as we get older this slows down. Firstly, there are two types of ageing: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic ageing is the natural ageing process where collagen production slows, skin loses firmness, dead skin cells do not shed as quickly and skin cells take longer to turnover. Extrinsic ageing is when external factors cause premature ageing due to sun exposure, smoking and lifestyle. I believe that we are a true product of our lifestyle and as this is ever changing, it will mould and shape our skin daily.”

So what are the lifestyle factors that can in particular provoke a faster collagen decline? No surprises in this list, but it’s worth making a few adjustments from a general health point of view if the below are pretty much habituary for you. Your collagen won’t be the only health and beauty enhancement to result…

Smoking: The authors of Your Hormone Doctor put it bluntly:

“Smoking breaks down collagen, and lack of oestrogen after the menopause also leads to collagen loss. Smoking just speeds up this process.”

Sacrificing cigarettes may be tough, but you’ll see real results from forgoing the fags, as Noella confirms:

“The ‘good news’ is that the skin responds very quickly to any changes made to your lifestyle. Once you make the decision to give up smoking the skin will begin to breathe and cleanse at a very rapid pace, which will begin to be visibly noticeable within 21 days.”

Stress: Freaking out does us no favours in terms of conserving collagen, as clinical dermatologist Dr Stefanie Williams makes clear in her book Future Proof Your Skin!:

“Under normal physiological circumstances, our cortisol release is high in the morning, just after getting up, and then gradually declines during the day. However, when we are chronically stressed, the cortisol level may remain high throughout the day. Not only can this lead to fatigue of the adrenal glands but excess release of cortisol creates a catabolic state, and leads to the destruction of collagen in the skin and other important structures in our body. In order to slow down ageing, we therefore have to minimise the release of stress hormones.”

Prioritise collagen over cortisol by learning these simple relaxation tips, or hit two birds with one stone by booking out some ‘me time’ and revving up your collagen resources with a results-driven facial.

Sugar: We’re all aware that its effects on our teeth and waistlines aren’t so sweet, and the same goes for our skin. Dr Stefanie quite literally does not sugar the pill:

“Giving in to renewed hunger and sugar cravings creates a vicious circle, leading to fluctuating high and low blood sugar levels throughout the day. Does being hungry two hours after breakfast and energy dips in the afternoon ring any bells?”

“The repeated ups and downs of glucose and insulin are very stressful for our body. It responds by releasing the ‘ageing’ stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline, which encourage collagen breakdown and lead to other negative consequences.”

If you’re hooked on Haribo, help awaits here.

How can I boost my collagen production?

Aside from not succumbing to the triple ‘S’ threat outlined above, there are some positive moves you can make to stimulate your collagen supplies. A lot of them involve eating, which is fine by us.

Go collagen shopping: Your weekly shop could well practically turn back time, if you shop in the right aisles that is. The authors of Your Hormone Doctor have compiled a handy list of healthgiving, happy hormone foods, and the following will fortify your collagen in particular:

Turkey- “Not just a holiday treat anymore, but of course make sure it’s organic. The carnosine in white turkey meat is known to slow the deterioration of collagen in the skin. Turkey is also a source of phenylalanine, and studies show that phenylalanine can be as effective against depression as taking antidepressants.” All the more reason to turn to Turkey more than once a year.

Raspberries- “They contain ellagic acid, which is known to help protect collagen. Studies also show raspberry extract can inhibit the inflammatory response that causes some skin cancers.”

Foods high in vitamin C- As the authors note, ‘your body needs vitamin C to make collagen’. Watermelon and pomegranate are highlighted as especially skin friendly, thanks to their high levels of antioxidants in general. Add these vit C rich veggies to your trolley too.

Go mega on omega: Or rather, consider a supplement, supported by the wise counsel of Dr Stefanie:

“Supplementation with omega-3 rich fish oil has also been shown to support long-term skin health by preventing sun-induced changes in our skin and improving collagen metabolism.”

Give Bodyism Omega Brilliance a go if you’re in the market for some omega bolstering; with the likes of Rosie Huntington-Whiteley as clientele, the Bodyism clan clearly know how to take care of good looks, not to mention general health.

Invest in the best: Skincare, that is, although going organic in the meat, fish and veg department will likely pay off too. The appropriately named ELEMIS Pro-Collagen Marine Cream, £80, goes precisely to the depths of the deep blue sea to supply skin with additional stamina in the race against collagen loss, as Noella explains:

“Pro-Collagen Marine Cream contains porphyridium, a unicellular algae rich in moisturising fatty acids, plus chlorella to slow down the deterioration of elastin and collagen.”

“Chlorella seaweed contains abundant amino acids and proteins that are responsible for delaying the deterioration of collagen and elastin, so it’s a really excellent ingredient in the fight against ageing, wrinkles and puffiness.”

With one jar of the stuff sold every minute across the globe, calling in the marines in this case could be just the protection your collagen needs. Noella adds that a few peptides won’t go amiss either:

“Peptides act as messengers to stimulate collagen production and protect collagen and elastin against the damaging effects of ageing and environmental stress. In this way, peptides strengthen skin and increase both elasticity and firmness.”

To really pep up on the peptide front, try a cutting edge ELEMIS Biotec Facial Treatment and back it up at home with peptide-rich skincare (the Pro-Collagen range fits the bill).

What about collagen beauty drinks?

The jury’s still out of the efficacy of these. By all means give them a try if you can afford to, but stepping up your skincare, mainlining vitamin C and getting your omega-3 could all have a greater impact when it comes to championing collagen. Something tells us that the likes of the recently launched Japanese collagen beer might prove too tasty to be true...

This feature was written in partnership with ELEMIS

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  • Pauline Lucy Bowen
  • August 18th 2015

does it have to be a pricey cream, or is there a cheaper cream that works just as well?

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