Collagen is the most abundant protein in our bodies. It is found in many organs including skin, tendons, cartilage, blood vessels, bone, and scar tissue in different forms. As we get into our 30s, our collagen production levels diminish and existing collagen starts to break down, giving way to loose skin, lines and wrinkles. That is why so many of us are on a quest to replace and rebuild collagen.
To date, there is not a lot of conclusive data regarding oral collagen replacement to improve your skin. This is because the ingested collagen in the form of pills or powders may not actually be reaching your skin, after being broken down in the gut. However, foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants (i.e. fish, avocado, blueberries) can help slow down collagen loss.
Collagen production can also be boosted with certain skin treatments as well as procedures. The goal is to repair damaged collagen, stimulate new collagen to form, and protect the collagen you have.
1. Procedures and products that remove skin cells from the surface will stimulate collagen production:
- Retinoid creams (retinols and tretinoin)
- Chemical peels
- Ablative lasers
The difference between these is the depth at which skin is removed; most aggressive with laser procedures. The more aggressive procedures are “one and done” and will be the most effective but require some downtime.
2. Microneedling, also known as collagen induction therapy, is a procedure that uses fine needles to puncture skin and create a controlled injury that stimulates collagen production. Needle depth is adjusted depending on location. Newer microneedling devices also release radiofrequency from the tip, heating up the tissue and further enhancing the results.
3. Fractional lasers are very effective in addressing a wide variety of skin issues, including loss of collagen. There are many different types of lasers because no one laser can treat all patients with all skin types and concerns. Ablative lasers remove the top layer of the skin allowing new, healthier skin to surface. Aftercare is necessary and the skin peels for 4-5 days. The result is a more even skin tone, smaller pore size, and improvement in fine lines and wrinkles. Fractional lasers can be either ablative or non-ablative. Only a fraction of the skin is exposed to the laser beams at a time in a “grid” pattern and columns of damaged tissue are removed. The body responds by creating healthy new skin.
4. The primary benefit of IPL (intense pulse light) is to improve pigmentation, redness from rosacea, and broken capillaries, however it can also stimulate collagen production therefore improving pore size and skin tone.
An entirely different modality to build collagen is by using dermal fillers. There are two categories of fillers: those made from hyaluronic acid (Juvederm, Restylane) and those made from substances that help build collagen, such as Sculptra and Radiesse. Hyaluronic acid fillers may have some effect in stimulating collagen but are largely passive.
There is no one-fits-all when it comes to anti-aging, and for better or worse, aging itself is not optional. Taking care of your skin and preventing signs of aging is definitely easier and more effective than reversing age-related changes once they set in.
Dr. Flora Levin is a board-certified oculofacial plastic surgeon in Westport, CT. Her practice offers a wide range of non-invasive as well as surgical treatments to serve individual patient’s needs, from prophylactic and preventative, to restorative. Dr. Levin completed her training in NY and moved to CT in 2010. She lives in Westport with her husband and 3 kids.