When talking about plump, firm skin, the word “collagen” gets thrown around almost as often as “last chance” does with sales. And collagen is referred to in many contexts: as something you ingest, as something you apply, and as something you make internally. You may know that collagen is important to great-looking skin, but if that’s where your collagen knowledge ends, allow us to enlighten you.
What is collagen?
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body. It does everything from cushioning your joints to serve as the building block for connective tissue, like tendons and ligaments. When it comes to your skin, collagen (along with elastin) provides the interior scaffolding that supports skin’s external appearance. Collagen is what keeps your face looking plump, firm, and lifted. A lack of collagen can lead to skin that appears sagging, slack, and hollowed.
Why do we lose collagen?
Although the body makes collagen, that factory starts to slow down once we’re in our 20s. And women can lose up to 30 percent of their collagen production in the first five years after menopause. But that’s not all. UV exposure, smoking, and sugar all speed the breakdown of existing collagen, no matter what your age. The net-net is that you’re likely losing collagen faster than your body can manufacture it. And while that’s true of collagen throughout your body, the most obvious place you’ll notice these diminishing amounts is your face.
How to boost collagen levels
Clearly, the first question a person would ask after reading the above is: How do I make more collagen??? There are a lot of theories, and frankly, a lot of misinformation floating around. To cut through the clutter, we’re telling you what is and isn’t effective, based solely on proven, published scientific research.
What doesn’t work to build collagen?
In the world of molecules, collagen is humungous. Like a giant on the hill and all the other molecules are townspeople. While this is great for what’s going on inside your body, it means that any collagen you apply topically (such as in a cream) has absolutely zero chance of making it through your epidermis and into your skin. It’s literally impossible. (There’s a reason that dermatologists needed a syringe to inject collagen to plump fine lines and wrinkles, before there were hyaluronic acid injectables — it’s the only way to deliver actual collagen into the skin.)
You may figure that if you can’t get collagen into your skin via external methods, then the solution is the converse — take collagen orally, and let it travel to skin from inside your body. Unfortunately, this theory is flawed. For one thing, collagen is not a Lego brick that simply snaps into place in your skin matrix once you swallow it. First, it has to journey through your digestive system, where acids and bacteria break it down into its component parts (amino acids), then it gets absorbed into your blood stream and travels throughout your body to where it’s needed most (perhaps a tendon in your knee requires reinforcement). This is another method to increase collagen that’s a nonstarter.
What does build collagen?
As with so many things in life, if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. In this case, if your goal is to increase your skin’s collagen levels, you’re going to need your body to make more. There are a number of ingredients that have been proven to amp up collagen production when applied topically. The first is retinol.
Retinol, a derivative of vitamin A, has been proven to induce collagen formation. It does this by stimulating the fibroblasts to pump out more collagen fibers. It also helps decrease the degradation of the collagen that already exists in skin. Our Dr. Dennis Gross Advanced Retinol + Ferulic line contains a variety of retinol-rich products that can address concerns from crow’s feet to sagging skin. But if you want to get a lot of bang for your buck, we suggest our Dr. Dennis Gross Advanced Retinol + Ferulic Overnight Texture Renewal Peel. A blend of retinol, ferulic acid, bakuchiol, and rambutan, this before-bed treatment can be used two to three times a week to diminish the appearance of fine lines, as well as reduce oil production.
On the subject of peels, alpha and beta hydroxy acids (AHAs/BHAs) have been demonstrated to induce collagen synthesis when used regularly. While our Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel holds a special place in our hearts, if you’re trying to stimulate your body’s collagen-fiber factory, we suggest our Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Extra Strength Daily Peel. It contains a seven AHA/BHA blend to Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel’s five, but also packs retinol in the treatment’s all-important Step 2. (Bonus!)
Finally, no list of collagen-building ingredients would be complete without a mention of vitamin C. The Swiss Army knife of skincare, vitamin C has a number of skin-related functions. One of those is to help stabilize collagen molecules, and another is to up the actual amount of collagen the body makes. If you want to put the pedal to the metal, try our Dr. Dennis Gross Vitamin C Lactic 15% Firm & Bright Serum in the morning under your daily SPF. It contains a high concentration of super potent L-ascorbic acid (the purest form of vitamin C), so it really gets down to business. But you can find plenty more vitamin C-based options in our complete Dr. Dennis Gross Vitamin C Lactic range.
How do you protect existing collagen?
Increasing collagen production is only half the battle. The other is preventing the collagen you already have from being gone too soon. Free radicals are a notorious collagen-killer. Some you can control (don’t smoke). For everything else, there’s vitamin C. Not only does it help build collagen, it’s also a renowned neutralizer of free radicals. The same Dr. Dennis Gross Vitamin C Lactic 15% Firm & Bright Serum that’s helping spur your body to pump out more collagen fibers will also help prevent free radicals from wreaking havoc on the collagen fibers already in place.
The other thing that makes collagen a distant memory is UV exposure. To the long list of reasons why SPF every day is a no-brainer, add the fact that it shields your collagen from UV rays. If you don’t already have Dr. Dennis Gross All-Physical Lightweight Wrinkle Defense Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF 30 in your daily morning routine, what are you waiting for?
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