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Skin’s Youth Layer

Collagen & Elastin

What really makes us look old? Collagen and elastin in the dermis provide the structural support for our skin. Over time, they are damaged through the natural ageing process, smoking, our diets and exposure to UV radiation. Our skin then starts to lose its youthfulness, wrinkles develop and sagging starts to occur. Ugggh.

From the age of 20, we start to lose about 1% of the collagen in the skin each year, and so our skin gets thinner and more fragile the older we get.

There are many products that promote they contain Marine Collagen or Hydrolysed Elastin and they give the impression that they will fill out those wrinkles. But while it sounds great, chemistry and biology do not enable this ingredient to become collagen or elastin in our skin.

Sorry to dampen your hopes … but do read on to find out about collagen and elastin in the skin and the important role they play as the skin’s youth layer.

Skin collagen

Abundant healthy collagen in our skin is crucial to looking younger, however collagen as an ingredient is not the same thing.

Collagen is the major structural protein found in the dermis of the skin, and is made up of amino acids. The amino acids form collagen fibres that are bound together by peptides, Vitamin C and Hyaluronic Acid and form a type of scaffolding. Elastin fibres are similar to collagen but their structure is not as complex. Elastin fibres comprise multiple soluble tropoelastin protein molecules that are bound together through a process called crosslinking. Peptides are vital to building and maintaining the structure need for elastin.

There are many skin products that proudly boast Marine Collagen or Hydrolysed Elastin as an ingredient. But before getting too excited and popping such products in your shopping cart, consider that the benefit of collagen as ingredient is not what you think. Collagen as an ingredient has a weight of about 15,000 to 50,000 daltons and cannot penetrate the upper-most layer of the skin, the stratum corneum, and therefore it does not add to collagen already present in our skin and nor does it stimulate collagen synthesis or growth.

Collagen as an ingredient

Collagen used as an ingredient in skin care products only works as a moisturising agent.

When buying skin products, most people focus on eliminating fine lines and wrinkles, uneven tone and hyperpigmentation, or what is happening in the epidermis, however what should get more attention is what is happening in the dermis, which is where the structural elements of our skin are found. As the collagen and elastin in our skin degrade as we age, our skin starts to sag. It becomes thinner and develops deeper wrinkles, folds and loose skin. And this sets off a vicious circle. Not only is our body producing less collagen as we age, creating older looking skin, but our thinner, less elastic skin becomes more vulnerable and susceptible to environmental factors, thereby ageing it even further.

What preserves collagen?

Growth factors are increasingly gaining recognition among skin care professionals for their benefits for ageing skin, however they are not without their share of controversy and doubt. More widely used in anti-ageing skin care products are retinoids, such as Retinol, Retinaldehyde and Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate. Retinoids have been found to increase the production of collagen in the skin, and thereby can can diminish the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Tretinoin (Retinoic Acid), remains the gold standard due to the level of evidence and years of practical experience. However, because of its strength and potential side effects, Tretinoin is classified as a medicine and can only be obtained by prescription.

There are many other ingredients in the market purporting to generate collagen for a younger-looking skin, and many companies claim breakthrough patented technologies. Collagen and elastin stimulation is very much like the Cup of the Covenant in the world of skin care, and still an eternal quest.

Copper peptides are among these skin care ingredients.  Copper is needed to make new collagen and elastin, which support the dermal layer of the skin. There is some research to show that copper peptides firm the skin through enzyme action, as well as protect it from free radical damage. In studies, Copper Tripeptide GHK-Cu was shown to increase the thickness of skin, improve hydration and smooth the skin by stimulating collagen synthesis and increasing skin elasticity. In one study, a GHK-Cu cream was found to have increased collagen production by 70% versus a Vitamin C serum at 50% and Retinoic Acid at 40% (Abdulghani et al, Disease Management and Clinical Outcomes, 1998). Despite all the fanfare around GHK-Cu, independent research is still limited.

Dipalmitoyl Hydroxyproline is a peptide used in skin care products to reduce the signs of ageing. It is remarkable for its ability to protect the skin by three different means. Dipalmitoyl Hydroxyproline stimulates  the production of collagen,  preserves elastin fibres by inhibiting enzymes in the body, elastases, that break it down and provides antioxidant protection against free radicals and reactive oxygen species. Through these mechanisms, it helps preserve the collagen and elastin proteins in the skin, which are essential to skin’s strength, elasticity and resilience.

Progeline is another peptide of interest. It is a biomimetic peptide with three amino acids. We have put it on our list to watch to see what peer-reviewed research, if any, emerges to validate its potential to reduce the loss of collagen and elastin in the dermis. According to the manufacturer’s own testing, Progeline is claimed to inhibit Progerin, a protein that contributes to skin ageing, and block the pancreatic enzyme elastase, the main enzyme in the body responsible for degrading elastin.

In the meantime, to maintain the structural integrity of your skin, do not overlook the fundamentals of gently exfoliating your skin, ensuring adequate Vitamin C intake, eating two serves of healthy protein each day, minimising sugar consumption and protecting against the sun. And even if you have heard it enough, stop smoking!

Skin elastin

Using a product with elastin an ingredient will not make your skin more elastic. Hydrolysed Elastin, also called Marine Collagen, really functions as a moisturiser.

Elastin is the connective tissue that is found mainly in the dermal layer of our skin and is what gives it a youthful bounce. Renowned skin care expert Dr Peter T Pugliese says that elastin fibres are “the single most important cause of age-related wrinkles” and “the restorative force on the skin”. Elastin is produced by connective tissue cells called fibroblasts. Our stores of elastin decline as we age and our body no longer generates it like it did in the very early years of life.

Elastin is made up of a protein called tropoelastin, and unfortunately we have only one gene to biosynthesise it, unlike the many for collagen. Elastin has an exceptionally long life of about 70 years in our bodies, however it is easily damaged, for example by UV light, and not effectively repaired. It peaks in our adolescent years and then, over time, our skin gradually loses its resilience and recoverable stretch, and starts to sag.

So, if using skin care serums and creams with elastin does not help, what does?

What preserves elastin?

A starting point would be to reduce the degradation of elastin through inhibiting the enzyme that is responsible for attacking structural proteins in our skin, called elastase. White Tea Extract, Rose Extract and potentially Argan Oil may be effective in inhibiting the breakdown of elastin. There is some research showing Marine Algae also may play a protective role.

A second approach would be to replenish amino acids in the skin is a second approach. Elastin is made up of the amino acids Glycine, Valine, Alanine and Proline and so some skin care brands include these amino acids to replenish those found in the skin. Soy Glycine, in particular, is slowly attracting more attention and being used more widely in skin care products.

A third approach would be to stimulate the production of more elastin in the body. But generating more elastin is challenging. There is limited research in this area, and even less conclusive evidence. Even so, there are several older studies using tissue, rather than actual people, showing that prescription Tretinion can increase elastin synthesis.

We have already mentioned the potential role of the peptides Dipalmitoyl Hydroxyproline and Progeline in preserving elastin in the skin in the section on collagen. There are a number of ingredients that are also touted as being able to keep the elastin in our skin’s youth layer youthful. But do not hand over your money for those ‘miracle’ creams just yet, as the claims are not necessarily backed up by science.

The manufacturer of Tetrapeptide-17 claims it can stimulate dermal filling, repair and renewal, while the manufacturer of Ethocyn claims it has developed an anti-androgen compound that restores elastin fibres to the “youthful levels of a 20 year old”. We have been unable, though, to track down any clinical results in peer-reviewed journals to back this up.

Tremella Fuciformis, Snow Fungus or Silver Ear, has been touted to generate hydration and boost the growth of elastin cells, and while it may perform well as a hydrator there is little evidence supporting its role as an elastin catalyst.

Copper Peptides have a body of research behind them and have been shown to be effective skin repairers, removing damaged collagen and elastin to make way for healthier replacements. They are also able to stimulate Glycosaminoglycans, which are essential to maintaining the health of collagen and elastin in skin. Keep in mind that some of the research carries a conflict of interest.

However, some people using copper peptides have reported the “copper uglies”. Copper Peptides were originally developed for wound repair, not skin rejuvenation. There remain unanswered questions around the long-term effect of using a product that continuously signals the skin to be in a heightened state of repair. Given the potential risk, it is important to consider the application of any product containing Copper Peptides carefully.

Humulus Lupulus, hops extract, is another ingredient claimed to be helpful in preventing skin ageing, in particular loose skin, sagging and stretch marks. There is some limited research showing that hops extract promotes skin suppleness and elasticity by protecting collagen and elastin in the skin. Hops has been found to inhibit elastase, the enzyme responsible for causing cross-linking in collagen.

Crocus Chrysanthus Bulb is proving to be more interesting in emerging research. Like Growth Factors and Cytokines that allow communication between cells and tissues and orchestrate wound healing, repair and regeneration, Crocus Bulb Extract has been found to stimulate epidermal keratinocyte cells to release growth factors and enhance the expression of elastin, both in laboratory cell testing and clinical trials. Two human trials showed an improvement in skin collagen and elastin, following the use of a topically applied cream containing Crocus Bulb Extract for four weeks.

Collagen and elastin claims

Of course, there are many, many other companies claiming to have cracked the code with their patented new formulation or novel ingredient when it comes to increasing or preserving collagen and elastin in the skin, and in the future we may see some evidence to bear this out. However, currently, most of these do not have the research behind them to warrant your spend.

SKIN CLINICA has tested many supposed ‘breakthrough’ products, yet we cannot point to a single one to date that stands out for delivering more than less expensive products using ingredients with established research behind them. Sigh.

As always, we recommend doing your research before buying into any claim that a skin care product will restore the collagen and elastin in your skin and wipe out those wrinkles.