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How to replenish lost collagen?

Most people interested in maintaining youthful skin and reducing wrinkles have heard about collagen. Collagen is a protein (a biological polymer consisting of amino acids) that serves as a key structural component of connective tissue such as skin, bones, ligaments, etc. Dermis, the inner layer of the skin, contains large amounts of collagen whose fibers form a supporting mesh responsible for skin's mechanical characteristics such as strength, texture and resilience. (See our article on the biology of collagen.)

As any material, collagen is subject to wear and tear: it slowly breaks down over time. Skin cells called fibroblasts are capable of producing collagen. When needed, fibroblasts replace broken collagen fibers with new ones. Unfortunately, as we age the skin's ability to replace damaged collagen diminishes and more gaps and irregularities develop in the collagen mesh. This process eventually leads to wrinkles. Thus, a comprehensive approach to wrinkle prevention and elimination involves reducing collagen breakdown and increasing its supply. This task is achievable but you have to go about it the right way.

As far as collgen breakdown goes, many factors that contribute to it can be fully or partially neutralized. They include sun damage, free radicals, some age-related hormonal changes, and smoking. See other articles on this site and Skin Rejuvenation Infopack for further details.

Collagen creams - not the way to go

Collagen has beed used in skin creams for decaded, usually making them more expensive. However, to reduce rather than just cover wrinkles, new collagen must become a part of the skin's inner layer, the dermis. Unfortunately, collagen molecules are too large to penetrate into the dermis when applied to the surface of the skin. Thus, when simply applied in a cream, collagen remains locked outside without affecting the skin structure, at best just temporarily covering wrinkles and helping moisturize the skin.

Transdermal collagen delivery systems

It is true that under normal circumstances, the skin does not allow the penetration of large moleculs like collagen. (And thank God it doesn't -- otherwise we all would have perpetual allergies.) However, there are methods that somewhat increase permeability of the skin to some types of large molecules. There are companies claiming that their products (e.g. Hydroderm) can deliver intact collagen transdermally into the dermis, right where it belongs. If true, this would be a remarkable and welcome achievement. Unfortunately, as of the time of this writing, this claim is supported only by small studies condicted by the company and not published in any of the respected peer-reviewd journals. Whether such a product is worth a try depends on your taste for trying theoretically promising but unproven treatments. In any case, this development is worth watching in case better supportive evidence comes along.

Collagen injections for wrinkles

Another common approach to smoothing wrinkles is collagen injections. Collagen is injected in the skin under the wrinkles in such a way that it pushes the groove of a wrinkle up making it less visible. This procedure does have some noticeable cosmetic effect but has a number of serious drawbacks. On the other hand, some newer incarnations of collagen injections, such as injecting collagen-producing fibroblasts, appear promising. (See our article on the collagen-based wrinkle fillers for details.)

Stimulating your skin to produce more collagen

As was mentioned, aging of the skin shifts the balance between collagen production and breakdown leading to wrinkles, facial sag and rough skin texture. Stimulating skin cells to produce collagen can partly reverse this process. Stimulating collagen synthesis in aged skin was shown to reduce wrinkles and improve skin texture. The benefit of stimulating your own collagen production is that collagen is deposited in an orderly, structured manner and that there is no risk of allergy, immune reaction or injection-induced infection. Furthermore, many ingredients useful in stimulating collagen synthesis are relatively inexpensive and safe.

Stimulation of collagen synthesis in aging skin is realistic and can substantially improve the appearance of fine lines and even deeper wrinkles when done correctly. However, it often requires a comprehensive approach. Production of collagen is a complex process, not unlike the assembly of an automobile. Many parts and assembly tools must come together to efficiently create a product. Similarly, lots of things are needed to efficiently produce collagen:

Vitamin C: Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is essential for efficient synthesis of collagen. Many of the symptoms of scurvy (vitamin C deficiency disease) such as bleeding gums, skin hemorrhages and poor wound healing a due to impaired collagen synthesis. On the other hand, supplying extra vitamin C can accelerate collagen synthesis especially when other key ingredients are also in abundance. While vitamin C is useful for rebuilding your skin's collagen and reducing wrinkles, it could be of no benefit or even harmful if used improperly. See our articles on using vitamin C and its derivatives to treat wrinkles and rejuvenate skin.

Key amino acids: Like any other protein, collagen consists of amino acids (a type of small organic molecules). Altogether there are 20 different kinds of amino acids in human cells. However, collagen is unusually rich in a few particular amino acids. Supplying these key amino acids in abundance helps stimulate collagen synthesis.

Copper peptides: Certain minerals are also essential for collagen production. One such mineral is copper. Indeed when the level of copper inside skin cells increases, collagen production goes up. However, copper is a potentially toxic metal. Supplements containing more than RDA for copper (2 mg) should not be taken. Simply applying inorganic copper to the skin would do more harm than good because inorganic copper promotes free radical formation. There is a technology that largely circumvents these problems. When copper is converted to organic form by binding to peptides (small fragments of proteins) it can be applied to the skin with relatively low risk. Such copper peptides were shown to promote hair growth and wound healing. They also may prove effective in smoothing wrinkles and firming skin. (See our article about copper peptides for details.)

Growth factors and hormones: To maximize collagen synthesis in the skin, it may not be enough to simply supply cells with all necessary ingredients. Most cells in the body are responsive to a variety of external signals transmitted by signaling molecules such as growth factors and hormones. Some of those signals can switch skin cells into higher gear making them produce more collagen. In fact, one of the reasons why the skin of a child or a young adult produces more collagen than the skin of an older person is that the body's ability to manufacture signal molecules diminishes with age. The challenge is to supply these activators of collagen via topical application.

MMP inhibitors: Unfortunately, not everyone responds to the stimulation of collegen synthesis. A promising alternative or complementary approach is to inhibit breakdown of collagen, which is known to accelerate with age. To learn how this may be done, see our acticle about MMP inhibitors.

Comprehensive Collagen Rebuilding

If you plan to battle wrinkles by enhancing collagen synthesis and/or reducing its breakdown, it is often the easiest to start with one simple and affordable treatment like topical vitamin C or vitamin C derivative. If that doesn't produce sufficient results, a comprehensive approach including some or all of the steps outlined above often works dramatically better. Specific recommendations on comprehensive collagen rebuilding are included in Skin Rejuvenation Infopack.


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