Collagen, a protein, is one of the most important compounds in the body. It is in nearly everything, including our skin, muscles, bones, tendons and more. its nickname as the body’s scaffolding is a pretty apt description.
Along with its partner protein elastin, collagen makes up the foundational layer of skin. Their cells link together to form long strands that strengthen skin and give it elasticity.
Collagen comes in at least 16 different forms, but there are three prominent types. Type 1 is in skin, tendons, ligaments, bones, and teeth. Collagen type 2 is in cartilage and eyes. Type 3 is in the skin as well as muscles and blood vessels.
Collagen is the primary construction of blood vessel walls. An increase in collagen can lead to more effective blood flow throughout the body. More effective blood flow in the skin’s surface improves the skin’s health.1
That means that there are many ways that collagen influences the appearance of the skin. The collagen in the dermis, the skin’s structural layer, and the collagen that helps enable the body to pump nutrients to the skin’s surface to help skin heal are two examples.
Collagen is made up of long strands that knit together to keep skin strong and resilient.
Collagen helps keep us looking young and radiant in our early years. However, its production begins to drop in our 20s. This opens the doorway to sagging skin that doesn’t bounce back, fine lines and wrinkles, dark spots and other signs of aging. Skin begins to lose its radiant glow.
Lately, there is an infusion of collagen-based functional foods on the market and collagen supplements are growing more popular. Boosting collagen from the inside out is an excellent way to promote more youthful skin. Collagen also benefits from topical treatment options, so it can be strengthened in two ways.2
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About the time collagen production slows, damage from air pollution, cigarette smoke, and other toxins becomes more evident. That’s when we suddenly begin to see unwelcome signs of aging when we look in the mirror.
Free Radicals and Collagen
Free radicals are skin’s public enemy number 1.
When we go outside, toxins assault our skin, including industrial pollution, cigarette smoke, and other elements.
While the process is complex, exposure to toxins damages certain atoms that make up skin cells, leaving them unstable. These damaged atoms connect with stable atoms – like finding a gang member to act as a protector – forming free radicals.
Free radicals then act like a gang, and they ravage the body in search of the molecule the first atom needs to become stable and healthy.
The skin proteins collagen and elastin are most attractive to free radicals, and these damaged molecules attack with abandon, causing oxidative stress. The reason why oxidative stress is such a problem is that once one collagen and elastin cell is damaged, nearby cells are also vulnerable. This creates a chain reaction of sorts that leads to fine lines, wrinkles and dark spots.
The good news, however, is that antioxidants can donate that molecule without damage to themselves, so they are able to annihilate free radicals and protect precious collagen cells. Many different essential oils have antioxidants. All of those in the citrus family, such as lemon, grapefruit, lime, bergamot, tangerine, bitter orange, sweet orange, and neroli, are full of skin-friendly vitamin C
Sugar is Not Collagen’s Friend
While oxidative stress is one of the main enemies of collagen, what we eat can also have a negative impact on these precious skin cells.
Sugar is easily collagen’s public enemy number 2.
When we take in too much sugar, what happens next suggests that the sweet stuff is just as responsible for collagen erosion as pollution, cigarettes and excessive sunlight.
When sugar enters the bloodstream, much of it becomes energy. But when there is too much sugar – and it can’t be used immediately or stored for later – it hangs out in the bloodstream. Those sugar molecules attach to the skin proteins collagen and elastin because they are the two that appeal most to sugar. The process is called glycation, and it isn’t pretty. When sugar attaches to collagen cells, the sticky stuff does immediate damage, forming harmful molecules that are called advanced glycation end products, or more fittingly, AGEs.3
If sugar damages it, collagen, which is originally hydrated and pliable, becomes brittle and dry, which causes sagging skin and wrinkles.
Collagen is generally a tight-knit collection of molecules, which creates a bigger problem when it comes to AGEs.
Once collagen cells are damaged, AGE’s also damage the adjacent cells “in a domino-like fashion,” according to Dr. Fredric Brandt, a dermatologist who wrote “10 Minutes 10 Years” and splits his time between Miami and New York City.
Wrinkles then become deeper and more pronounced.
AGEs are also problematic because they damage the body’s ability to generate its own antioxidants, leaving skin more vulnerable to damage from free radicals and from the UV rays of the sun.
Sun and Collagen
If sugar and free radicals top the list of collagen foes, the sun is definitely public enemy number three.
When the sun damages skin, such as when we get a sunburn, collagen cells are replaced by abnormal elastin cells, according to 1993 research by scientists at New York City’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine.4
The sun essentially degrades existing collagen cells, leading to those pesky signs of aging. Dark spots are especially common in sun-damaged skin.
UV rays also trigger the formation of free radicals, contributing to the continued breakdown of collagen cells.5
Preventing Collagen Loss, Naturally
While the breakdown in collagen may seem inevitable, there are things we can be proactive in our fight against the aging process.
Consuming a rainbow of fruits and veggies can provide antioxidants that fight free radical activity from within. Also, while topical applications of collagen won’t be effective because the molecules are too big to pass through the skin’s surface layer, there are topical solutions to slow the aging process, potentially turning back the clock.
Needling pokes and prods the skin’s dermis layer to stimulate the growth of collagen. There are also essential oils that do the same, going deep beneath the skin’s surface to encourage the production of new collagen skin cells. This restores radiance and improves elasticity without shelling out money for potentially painful office procedures.
Our Favorite Collagen-Boosting Essential Oils
Lemon Essential Oil
The antioxidants in lemon oil help protect against oxidative stress, slowing damage to collagen cells. The findings appeared in a 1991 issue of the journal Drugs Under Experimental and Clinical Research. Other citrus oils, including bergamot, neroli, lime, grapefruit, and tangerine offer similar benefits due to high levels of vitamin C. Vitamin C also encourages the production of new collagen cells, so it erases signs of aging in two all-natural ways.6
Rosehip Essential Oil
A combination of fatty acids and skin-friendly antioxidants, including lycopene, make rosehip essential oil an effective option for aging. Vitamin C and beta-carotene both help encourage the production of new collagen cells. This essential oil is one that can turn back the clock.7
Lavender Essential Oil
Lavender is one of the oils that belongs in every household. It can go with water as a spritz to create a spa environment to help us drift off to sleep. it can massage into skin to help relieve pain and it has antioxidant power to help fight free radicals that can damage precious collagen. lavender essential oil’s antioxidant power slows oxidative stress, according to a 2013 study from Romanian researchers in the journal Phytotherapy.8
The Best Carrier Oil for Skin Care
When using essential oils, it is best to use a carrier oil, and while there are so many options to choose from, we’ll narrow it down by letting you know of a few that offer superior results.
A nutrient powerhouse in its own right – jojoba has vitamin E, which encourages the production of collagen beneath the skin’s surface, Not only that, the oil is similar in texture to the skin’s natural sebum, so it is absorbed easily and it won’t clog pores.
It also hydrates, creating an environment that’s totally suitable for natural healing.9
Pomegranate seed oil is full of antioxidants that protect skin from free radical damage, making it another excellent option for a carrier oil. It even provides mild sunscreen action.
To create a facial blend, mix three drops of your favorite essential oil with two teaspoons of your favorite carrier.
If you’re interested in experimenting, you can use several different essential oils, and even several different carriers. just make sure the overall ratio remains the same.
Over time, you’ll learn which essential oils – and carrier partners – are best for your own personal skin type.
Photo credits: Seasontime/shutterstock.com, RomarioIen/shutterstock.com, AlexanderProkopenko/shutterstock.com, MadeleineSteinbach/shutterstock.com, RomanSamborskyi/shutterstock.com