Understanding collagen production in ageing skin
Unfortunately, we are all familiar with what happens to human skin as we age - it loses its elasticity, hydration and firmness, and this can result in wrinkles, fine lines and sagging skin. These signs can be partially attributed to a decline in natural collagen levels. Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body, and it makes up 70-80% of the weight of healthy skin.
Simply put, collagen is characterised by three amino acid chains wound around one another into a triple helix structure. The protein is very strong and elastic and creates an interlinking matrix in the dermis to maintain skin elasticity. Collagen synthesis begins inside dermal fibroblasts, and the process is completed outside of the cell - called the extracellular matrix (ECM).
To find out more about the effects of collagen loss in the skin and ways to address it, we spoke to Dr Anita Sturnham, MD, who is an expert in dermatology. Here, we provide expert insights surrounding natural collagen production as we age. We will also explore why collagen levels change throughout our lifetime and who may be particularly affected by these changes. Finally, Dr Sturnham suggests ways to minimise these changes in collagen production and the consequent effects on the skin.
Why does collagen decline with age?
Dr Anita explains that “collagen and elastin fibres are the important structural proteins that keep our skin healthy, plump and elastic. Over time our youthful and stretchy collagen fibres become more rigid and less elastic. Our skin enzymes break down collagen faster than we replenish it”.
The primary reason for this collagen production decrease is oxidative stress. As Dr Sturnham continues “every organ in our body, including the skin, goes through an extrinsic and intrinsic ageing process, meaning that lifestyle factors and our genetics can all influence the rate at which our skin ages…With age, we see mitochondrial fatigue. As a result of this, the damaging effects of Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS).… [ROS] are ions produced during normal cellular metabolism, [which] speed up ageing by destroying our skin cell membranes, DNA and protective enzymes”. Oxidative stress is the culprit behind much cellular damage that occurs with age. It not only stimulates collagen breakdown but it inhibits collagen production as skin cells (fibroblasts) become damaged.
Collagen loss in aged skin is also attributed to oestrogen decline in women. Typically, men and women lose 1-1.5% of their collagen each year. Dr Anita highlights that “for women, however, this escalated significantly in the five years leading up to and after menopause, speeding up to a loss of 2-2.5 % per year". This is as high as double the normal rate of collagen decline.
Lifestyle and additional factors
There are certain lifestyle factors that can accelerate the decline of collagen with age. Firstly, Dr Anita asserts that “as the skin is our body’s first line of defence against the environment, it is exposed to aggressors, such as UV rays”, which causes oxidative stress in the skin. “Findings from research studies also suggest that a diet containing lots of sugar or other refined carbohydrates can accelerate ageing. Sugar binds to collagen and elastin proteins in the skin and sets off a process called glycation, resulting in end products, ironically called ‘AGES’, which weaken our collagen… Smoking accelerates skin ageing, so this is an obvious [activity] to stop”.
Who is affected by collagen decline?
Collagen decline can affect both men and women because, as explained by Dr Anita, “fundamentally, male and female skin has the same anatomy”. However, women experience a faster rate of collagen loss later in life associated with the natural decline in oestrogen. Women may also feel more affected by collagen decline because “the male androgens slow down the rate of collagen breakdown in men. It is thought that they create a denser, stronger network of fibres, making them harder to degrade and break down as the skin ages.” confirms Sturnham. However, men can often be equally affected by skin ageing as they have a tendency to neglect skin care. Dr Anita mentions that “surveys have shown that men are generally less sun-savvy than women… UV damage is responsible for 80% of premature skin ageing”.
Supporting collagen production in the skin
As we know, collagen production declines in the body for a number of reasons, including oxidative stress, hormonal changes and certain other lifestyle factors. However, Dr Anita Sturnham has suggested ways to support the skin through dietary collagen supplementation.
Marine collagen is a popular supplement ingredient for possibly addressing collagen loss in the skin. It contains mostly Type I collagen fibres, Dr Anita highlights the importance of Type I collagen as “the main type of collagen found in our skin. We know that Type I collagen peptides are the most ‘bioavailable’ form of collagen when it comes to the health of our hair, skin and nails”. Marine collagen peptides provide amino acids for the body to build new collagen proteins and keratin proteins in the hair/nails. Additionally, Sturnham concludes that “the collagen peptides in Beauty complex activate your collagen making cells, called Fibroblasts, in the dermis of your skin and stimulate them to make new collagen fibres”.
Since oxidative stress is the primary cause of collagen decline, supplementing with antioxidants may assist in reducing this damage to the collagen pathway. The most common antioxidant to pair with marine collagen in food supplements is vitamin C. Interestingly, vitamin C “is included in Beauty Complex as a co-factor” to help boost the efficacy of marine collagen. In fact, high doses of vitamin C have been shown to increase natural type I collagen production after ten days. Other antioxidants known to support the skin, hair and nails are Biotin, Selenium and Copper.
Another common ingredient to be paired with collagen is hyaluronic acid. As Dr Sturnham remarks, “hyaluronic acid (HA) is an incredible molecule that can be found throughout the body but 50% of it is found in our skin, reflecting its importance when it comes to skin health; HA has a unique capacity to retain water…We have cells in our skin that make HA, called fibroblasts, and these are the same cells that make our collagen… Fibroblast production of both Collagen and HA slows as we age”. Additionally, collagen peptides have been found to stimulate hyaluronic acid production by activating these fibroblasts.
A complete marine collagen supplement
When you are looking for a dietary supplement to support the skin, hair and nails it’s important to choose collagen supplements that can support the skin in a variety of ways.
Dr Anita Sturnham recommends “taking a Type 1 Marine Collagen supplement daily, such as Beauty Complex…In Beauty Complex, the blend of eight key active ingredients have been chosen to deliver optimal health for our hair, skin and nails”.
Our marine collagen powder contains a high dose of marine collagen peptides, hyaluronic acid, vitamin C, E, biotin and Phytoceramides, delivered in individual, daily sachets. Biotin “helps to produce keratin, a protein that promotes strong nails and hair…Ceramides in skincare, combined with plant-based ceramides [(phytoceramides)] in a targeted skin supplement, are the optimal way to support skin barrier function” notes Dr Sturnham. Vitamins and minerals are added to Beauty Complex because “they work in different ways to support cell absorption of the ingredients and to enhance enzyme reactions within the skin”.
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