The Importance of Collagen in Ageing Skin
Abigail James is an award-winning aesthetician, skincare and wellbeing expert, author and trained yogi. For 20 years Abigail has been sharing her best face treatment methods with millions of people worldwide, both online and in-person at her London clinic. She has a holistic view of skin health and beauty and combines technology and science with nature. Abigail is writing a series of Journal posts on skin health and beauty. Here is her first, 'The Importance of Collagen in Ageing Skin'.
What is Collagen?
Collagen is fundamentally the biggest building blocks of the skin. It’s a protein that makes up a huge 70% of that structure, it’s present within the subcutaneous layer of the dermis. The body is constantly renewing its collagen, yet the cells that produce collagen fibres (known as fibroblasts) become less active as we age. (Oh the joys of the ageing process!)
Collagen is the substance that holds the body together. It’s found in the bones, skin, muscles, connective tissues – and is a major component in the outer eyeball. It’s a hard, insoluble, fibrous protein. In fact, collagen makes up a third of the protein within our bodies.
Amazingly, ‘Type 1’ collagen is, gram for gram, stronger than steel! In being so strong and flexible (just like the springs on your new mattress), collagen is what gives the skin its structure. Yet, as we age and are exposed to external stressors like pollution and UV radiation, collagen production falls. This decline is particularly steep following menopause. As a result, the skin structure is compromised, joint cartilage gets weaker, and we develop wrinkles.
Collagen and elastin work together to give our skin its shape and firmness. It provides structure and rigidity; elastin gives it stretch, so we can move and show our emotions via our facial expressions, for instance.
If you think about a new mattress: when you first buy it, the springs are nice and firm. Over time, they lose their bounce and springiness; the mattress lacks support, gets a bit lumpy and begins to sag. A similar thing happens within our skin as collagen and elastin production begins to slow from our twenties onwards.
Many factors impact the rate of collagen production and how effective it is. Here are some of the top points.
The General Ageing Process
Intrinsic ageing is what we’re born with. To some extent, we are pre-wired to age at a certain rate throughout our lifetime. The pace at which our production of collagen and elastin declines and at which we develop lines, wrinkles, hooded eyelids and sunken cheeks is inherited from our parents and the generations of family members before them. There is then the extrinsic factors, our lifestyle etc and how those can speed up the process.
From the age of around 25, our collagen production begins to decline but you won’t see the visible signs on your skin yet. By the time you reach your late twenties, you may start to notice your first signs of ageing. These could be fine lines around the eyes as the skin here is thinner and more delicate than on the rest of the face. If you’ve been a sun worshiper or a smoker, both factors will drastically accelerate the rate at which your skin ages.
In our 30’s, collagen production slows down by around 1% each year, so you’ll start to see the physical signs of ageing appear around your eyes and on your forehead.
In our 40’s we are beginning to see a greater loss of firmness and more noticeable lines as collagen continues to decline.
By our 50’s collagen production falls by around 30 per cent after menopause changing the skin’s texture. It becomes thinner and more transparent, especially if you are very fair. Your neck and décolletage may show signs of ageing. Blood vessels are more sluggish, reducing the body’s ability to deliver oxygen and nutrients to the dermis. This explains why our skin can lack radiance. The natural cushion of fat beneath the skin begins to lose its volume. The skin appears thinner and more fragile.
When the body produces cortisol, one of the main stress hormones, it immediately releases sugars intended to provide the body with energy. Yet not only do these sugars create inflammation within the skin, but cortisol also damages and breaks down the supportive network of collagen and elastin. Cortisol also physically unties the ends of collagen fibres so there is a double whammy of stress on our collagen production. As the year’s pass, we develop more lines and wrinkles as this process happens regularly.
Lack of Sleep
Skin cells renew themselves far more quickly at night than during the day, a process that peaks between 1 am and 2 am. The production of collagen and elastin increases thanks to the peak of growth hormone secretion at the start of the night. Fewer hours of sleep means slower tissue renewal and collagen production, leading to a loss of volume and firmness and accelerated skin thinning.
Sugar is addictive, so cutting down is incredibly hard to do. But, if that slice of cake starts calling when you hit the mid-afternoon slump, give yourself some extra resistance power by thinking that sugar is the ultimate ager. A moment on the lips is not just a lifetime on the hips – but on the skin too. New research has helped us understand why sugar has such an ageing effect on the skin.
Collagen and elastin proteins are highly susceptible to an internal chemical reaction within the body called glycation that takes place between proteins and sugars. When it occurs, the same glucose that provides energy for our cells reacts with proteins (such as collagen, our skin’s building blocks), resulting in the formation of lines and wrinkles and making the skin adopt a sallow, slack appearance – rather than looking plump and vibrant as you’d like it to.
When I feel a chocolate craving, I reach for Ancient + Brave's Cacao + Collagen, a deliciously smooth chocolate blend combined with highly absorbable collagen peptides that nourish the skin from within. Chocolate that’s actually good for you and your skin!
It's clear collagen is essential to our skin health and many factors impact its production. Being mindful of all these and supplementing with highly absorbable hydrolysed collagen peptides, like True Collagen, together with skin care ingredients and treatments is essential to feeling and looking youthful for as long as possible.
Written by Abigail James