So, what is collagen?
OK, deep breath, collagen is a fibrous protein consisting of several amino acids. It is synthesised by cells located in the dermis, called fibroblasts. The fibres fit together in a network to support the tissues. There are around five types of collagen, which represent 80% of the connective tissue of the body. Parallel to these, there are also elastin fibres manufactured by the body, which are more specifically responsible for elasticity.
What happens to collagen as you age?
The renewal of collagen is constant because it has a limited lifespan. Certain enzymes, called collagenases, break down the fibres into little pieces to eliminate them in order to replace them with new, young fibres. These are the enzymes that regulate the renewal of collagen by sending out cellular signals to the fibroblasts to encourage them to produce more. This auto-regulating mechanism between the production of fibres and manufacturing cells is very sophisticated but, over the years, it diminishes and runs out. The renewal decreases, the fibres are of a lower quality and skin loses its firmness. Damn.
What else do we need to know?
The slow loss of collagen production is inevitable, but it’s also important to know that UV rays agitate the fibres and accelerate the degeneration of the skin’s support tissue. Scientists reckon that radiation is responsible for 70% of skin ageing. Hence the explosion of day creams with solar filters and anti-pollution compounds.
Can we compensate for the reduction in collagen?
Cosmetic creams containing collagenous ingredients can help. These are often small active molecules (procollagen, marine or vegetable collagen), which stimulate the fibroblasts to encourage them to produce more and of better quality. Also, hyaluronic acid injections, to reduce wrinkles and fill out the face, replace the loss of substance to the skin and locally stimulate the fibroblasts to secrete more collagen fibres. Photo-rejuvenation treatments at the dermatologist, such as facial massages, also stimulate fibroblasts.