Amazing Collagen

What is all the fuss about collagen? Since most of you have had a consult at our office, you know we like to talk about collagen stimulation…a lot. The reason for this, the amount of collagen and health of the collagen in the skin makes a huge difference in what our skin looks like. Show me someone with beautiful skin and we know that they have healthy collagen. So what does collagen do?
Simply, collagen adds structure and strength to our skin. Collagen is a protein chain that is flexible and strong. When we brush up against a wall, the skin doesn’t tear because the collagen resists the force of the wall on our skin. You could think of collagen like the frame of house…but it is more than just a frame. Collagen is more like our bones. Bones not only give our bodies rigidity to stay up right, they also give a place for our muscle to attach and with out them we could not move. Collagen gives our skin cells a place to attach. Without the collagen the skin cells become disorganized and change shape, leaving bigger gaps between the cells. The skin cells also function differently. They start to produce different enzymes that lead to further destruction of the collagen and decrease production of new collagen. Though we cannot see these microscopic changes with our eyes, we can see the consequence, dull looking skin, more fine lines, larger pores, and sagging skin, weaker skin.
In our skin, there is a constant battle between the production and destruction of collagen. Overall this is a good thing. As bumps and bruises of everyday life attack our skin, the skin wants to replace the broken collagen strands with healthy, new strands. The fibroblasts are responsible for most of this work. In the first 30 years of our lives, the net result of this breakdown of collagen versus the building of collagen favors building and our skin looks healthy and strong. After thirty there is a net loss of collagen with the average person losing approximately 1% of their collagen per year. By the time we are forty, the majority of us are seeing the affect of that collagen loss on our face. As we get older, our fibroblasts do not produce collagen as readily. Other factors, mostly sun exposure and smoking produce free radicals that increase collagen destruction and inhibit collagen production. With this in mind, what can we do to keep our skin looking good?
First of all we need to slow down the destruction of collagen. Obviously, quitting smoking is on the top of this list. Next in importance is sun protection. Sunscreen, hats, umbrella’s, sunscreen, … you get the point. Protect your skin from the sun! Skin care products containing Vitamins C and E and antioxidants help absorb the free radicals that destroy the collagen, thereby slowing the destruction of collagen.
Next, you want to stimulate collagen production. Start with a healthy diet so that your body has the building blocks for collagen production. Skin care products with Vitamins A, C, and E also help stimulate more collagen production. Vitamin A is particularly note worthy. The most common Vitamin A derivatives are Retinol and Retin-A. One of these two products should be part of all skin care programs after age 30. Glycolic Acid is another important product that is a stimulator of collagen production as well. After a good skin care regime, there are several procedures to help with collagen stimulation.
Simple programs include chemical peels and microdermabrasions. Finally, you have the “big guns” of collagen stimulation; laser treatments. As you may be aware there are multiple lasers available for collagen stimulation and they all use the same basic principle. Heat the skin up enough to trick the fibroblast into thinking there is a burn without burning the skin. The fibroblasts then click into repair mode and start laying down collagen throughout the skin. The skin cells then respond by becoming more organized and functional. This whole process will take several months but you will be left with healthier, better-looking skin.
Deciding on which laser to use for your collagen stimulation can seem overwhelming. What differentiates most lasers is not the fibroblast/collagen stimulation, but how much “ablation” accompanies the process. When you see the word ablation, think skin destruction. As you increase the amount of ablation you increase skin tightening because you remove more tissue, but you also increase swelling, down time and potential complications. On the light end, a “Genesis Laser” has collagen stimulation and no ablation and therefore has no down time. A traditional CO2 laser totally ablates the top layers of skin, consequently it is the best laser for tightening up the skin but you are left with 2wks of wound care and ~4wks of down time and the highest complication rate. Fractional lasers are the compromise between the 2 extremes. At our office we use the Fraxel laser that has only ~24hrs of swelling and downtime after the procedure. With that there is some tightening but excellent collagen stimulation throughout the entire thickness of skin.
As you are thinking through your skin care program, keep collagen in mind. This is the key to good- looking skin. Choose products and procedures that slow down the breakdown of collagen or help with the production of more collagen. If you haven’t already, schedule a consultation at our office or have our esthetician do a facial with you and she will advise you on what will be best for your skin’s collagen.