What is collagen?
Collagen is the most abundant protein in your body. It’s found throughout your system, from your ligaments and tendons to your cartilage, eyes, and blood vessels. As one of the most important constituents of your bones, skin, and hair, it’s a good idea to learn how to increase collagen in your body. Making up about 75% of your skin’s dry weight, collagen is undoubtedly an essential factor in skin health. Collagen gives your skin its healthy glow and strengthens your bones, teeth, and connective tissues.
What happens when collagen levels drop
As your body ages, collagen synthesis drops, deteriorating by around 75% between the ages of 30 and 80. The damage only increases with long-term sun exposure. We all know what happens next:
- The skin loses elasticity, becoming wrinkled and crepe-like
- The muscles shrink and weaken
- The ligaments and tendons stiffen up
- The lining in the digestive tract may diminish, leading to gastrointestinal problems
- Risk of suffering osteoarthritis increases
Thankfully, there are things you can do to increase the collagen in your body naturally. Some excellent collagen-producing food sources help you stay healthier for longer, and research has shown that collagen creams, collagen drinks, and collagen supplements may work too.
The best collagen-boosting foods
Eating a balanced, plant-based diet full of fresh fruit, vegetables, and whole grains is the best way to help your body produce maximum amounts of collagen. Vitamin C and zinc are of particular importance.
Vitamin C plays a significant role in collagen production, and it’s, therefore, essential to get enough of it in your diet if you want to increase collagen production. Vitamin C is most famously found in citrus fruits such as oranges and grapefruits. But other soft fruits such as kiwis, blackcurrants, strawberries, and cherries are also packed with the vitamin.
Capsicums and other vegetables
Capsicums of all colors are bursting with collagen-building vitamin C, as are green, leafy vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, and brussels sprouts. You’ll even get 19% of your daily value in a medium-sized baked potato!
A mineral that’s essential for collagen production is zinc. Zinc is found in large quantities in whole grains such as brown rice and pasta. Beans and nuts such as cashews and almonds are also packed with this vital nutrient.
Studies indicate that including ginseng in your diet may help combat wrinkly skin. Shave a few slices into hot water for a soothing ginseng tea or add it to soup in the same way that you would use ginger.
Soy-based foods, including tofu, soy sauce, tempeh, natto, and miso all contain high levels of hyaluronic acid, a compound that promotes the production of collagen and helps maintain healthy skin. Be sure to consume fermented soy products. Fermented soy foods do not have the toxins that non-fermented soy foods have. Leafy greens and starchy root vegetables such as sweet potatoes, turnips, onions, and Jerusalem artichoke are also good sources.
Aloe Sterols from Aloe Vera
Aloe sterol supplements have been linked to improved texture of sun-exposed skin and have been shown to increase skin elasticity. They may also have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Aloe sterol comes in various forms, from aloe vera juice to fortified foods, but the easiest way to take it is in capsule form.
Algae are rich in the proteins and amino acids necessary for collagen production, but they do not contain collagen themselves. There is evidence that marine algae contain metabolites, including amino acids, polyphenols, and pigments, which can be used to combat skin aging when taken as supplements.
Carotenoids come from various colorful plant sources, including carrots, mangoes, oranges, and tomatoes. Taken orally, carotenoid-rich curly kale extract and other forms of carotenoid supplements have been shown to improve the appearance of skin and prevent the degradation of collagen.
Do collagen creams work?
There is no doubt that as you age, skin tends to dry out as collagen production declines. But while creams and lotions can certainly moisturize, can topical creams really help your body to produce more collagen in large amounts? It certainly seems as though they can, but make sure you source your products wisely. Retinoids and peptides have both been proven to work.
Your body takes retinoids – forms of vitamin A – naturally from food. Retinoids are commonly used in skincare products because they have been shown to reduce wrinkles when used over a period of time. One study showed that both retinoic acid and retinol treatments (both types of retinoids) can increase thickness in the skin and increase collagen production, with the retinol, reducing facial wrinkles after 12 weeks.
Peptides are the building blocks of proteins. Since collagen is a protein, it stands to reason that applying peptides to your skin can help boost collagen. One recent study found that the combination of topical peptides and oral supplementation led to improved skin appearance within one month.
While it’s true that chemical peels may stimulate collagen production and enhance the appearance of your skin, they only tend to work on the most superficial layers of the skin. That’s probably why most experts recommend you having a chemical peel every 6-10 weeks. Chemical peels can go wrong, leading to scarring, skin infections, and changes in skin color. Simply put, chemical peels can work, but they are not sustainable and are possibly dangerous – and they’re certainly not cheap.
Sunscreen is probably the number one most important thing for you to use. While it won’t reverse the collagen degradation that has already happened, sunscreen will enable you to take care of the collagen you have left. The American Cancer Society recommends using a sunscreen with broad-spectrum protection with an SPF of 30 or more. Choose a good quality product free of harmful parabens. Ingredients such as titanium oxide or zinc oxide are perfectly effective natural ingredients.
Do collagen drinks or collagen supplements work?
Follow a healthy diet rich in nutrients, and you probably won’t need to worry about collagen. But there is some evidence that collagen drinks can help your body to produce more collagen and lead to a firmer complexion. In order for your gut to be able to absorb them, the molecules in collagen drinks need to have been hydrolyzed (broken down into peptides). Collagen drinks are made from animal products such as bovine, porcine, or fish. Since toxic elements like heavy metals tend to accumulate in animals’ bones and connective tissue, you can also consider supplementing with the nutrients your body needs to produce its own collagen, rather than using animal sources. But if you do want to give collagen supplements a try, they have been shown to have positive effects on the appearance of skin. It is thought they do this by transforming into amino acids in the gut and then being absorbed back into blood circulation. There are several options on the market. Look for companies that get their bones and tissues from cage-free, free-range, and antibiotic and heavy metals free sources. Look for a trusted brand with a third-party label like NSF or USP. You can also contact the companies to see what they are doing to keep contaminants out of their products and what kind of testing they do.
What else works?
To put it bluntly, the best thing you can do for your collagen is to look after what you have. That means investing in a decent sunscreen, protecting your skin from the sun’s strongest rays, and eating and resting well. There are also some things not to do.
What not to do
- Cut out the coffee: caffeine reduces the production of collagen in the body, and this will reflect in your skin.
- Don’t let your skin burn. Whether you’re lying on a beach or under a tanning booth, make sure you don’t stay there for too long.
- Experts recommend cutting down on alcohol consumption to keep your skin hydrated and healthy.
- Avoid excessive sugar consumption. Too much sugar in the diet can age your skin, creating wrinkles and inflammation. The American Heart Association recommends limiting your intake of added sugars to no more than half of your daily calorie intake, although even less would be better for your skin and entire system.
- Steer clear of pollution. Contaminants in the air have been shown to be harmful to skin, with prolonged exposure leading to accelerated aging.