Collagen is one of the main building blocks of our skin, bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. It provides cushioning to skin and stops it from sagging. While we can't do anything about ageing, there are a whole host of collagen aggressors that can zap collagen during our lives, and being aware of them can give us some control and a chance to limit the damage.
So what are the factors that contribute to collagen burn, and what, if anything, can we do to slow it down?
Collagen burner: stressNone of us can live completely stress-free lives, and we’ve all seen how people seem to age overnight at times of extreme physical, mental or emotional stress: stress hormones slow collagen production while also degrading our existing collagen. “Stress causes the body to make hormones like cortisol which triggers the flight-or-fight response,” says EV Expert and Medical Director of Cosmedics Skin Clinic, Dr Ross Perry. “The skin struggles to produce collagen which results in less plump, tired and lacklustre skin.”
Collagen burner: lack of sleepThe body replenishes collagen stores during the night – insufficient sleep over time causes cortisol to rise, which is damaging to our overall health as well as our skin. “When we fall asleep, we produce hormones which ensure the skin is producing enough collagen and remains as youthful-looking as possible,” says Dr Perry.
Collagen burner: the sunWe all know the importance of wearing a good SPF every day of the year, and particularly in summer. This is because ageing UVA light and burning UVB light directly breaks down collagen at a higher rate than normal, making skin look older. Daily use of a broad-spectrum SPF should be as much of a habit as cleaning our teeth. It’s not just the risk of skin cancer we’re helping to protect against, but saving that all-too-precious collagen too.
Collagen burner: over-exercisingAlthough regular exercise is essential to overall health and wellbeing, intense physical exercise such as that performed by athletes, places the body under major physical stress which in turn causes cortisol to rise and attack our skin. “Oxidation and inflammatory reactions can occur if we exercise too much and this can lead to collagen loss,” says Dr Perry. “Professional athletes often find they have significantly less collagen than non-athletes.”
Collagen burner: menopauseRecent studies have shown that women lose a depressing 30 per cent of their collagen during the first five years of menopause. That’s because the fibroblast cells, which are responsible for making collagen, have oestrogen receptors on the surface which are important for their function, so the loss of oestrogen at menopause means these cells are unable to function as efficiently.
Collagen burner/saviour: dietNo surprises here – it's the usual culprits such as alcohol and sugar that can destroy our collagen. This is because they cause glucose-induced glycation which makes collagen fibres brittle. “There’s no better way to make sure you’re getting enough collagen than by eating collagen-boosting foods such as fish, chicken, egg whites, citrus fruits, berries, red and yellow peppers, garlic, white tea, green leafy vegetables and avocados – all foods considered to help improve skin elasticity,” confirms Dr Perry.
Collagen saviour: skincareMany of us have unrealistic expectations about the power of face creams to bring back the collagen we’re losing. However, topical treatments such as retinol are scientifically proven to promote collagen formation, while antioxidants such as topical vitamin C can reverse the inflammation that causes damage to the collagen in the skin.
The jury's out... collagen supplementsOver the past few years there has been a plethora of collagen supplements sold as powders, capsules or liquids appearing on the market. However, even amongst the medical profession, the jury is very much out on their benefits – while some studies state otherwise, it is questioned whether the body can absorb them as they are unlikely to survive the digestive process without being broken down into amino acids.
Ross Perry, Medical Director
Dr Ross Perry is a leading aesthetic and dermatology doctor who specialises in botulinum toxins (Botox), fillers and...Book with Ross Perry