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How to Increase Collagen, Particularly As We Age
By Dr. Josh Axe
March 9, 2023
“How can I help boost collagen in my skin?” Many of us wonder this once we reach our 30s and beyond, since this is when we’re likely to begin to notice our skin’s texture and appearance changing.
As we age, our body's natural production of collagen starts to slowly decrease, which can lead to various normal signs of aging, such as loss of skin elasticity, wrinkles and sagging — and also can impact joint comfort and mobility.
How does collagen break down? And can you help promote healthy collagen levels in your skin?
Below, we’ll answer these questions and many more. We’ll also cover lifestyle changes, diet tips and over-the-counter products that can help support collagen production. This, in turn, can help promote or even improve the appearance and overall health of your skin, plus your joints, ligaments, gut and other connective tissues.
Collagen is a complex structural protein made from many bound amino acids. It’s found in the greatest concentrations in your bones, skin, ligaments, joints, cartilage and tendons. You’ll also find collagen in your muscles, gut lining and other organs.
What happens to collagen over time?
Your body gradually makes less collagen as you age past your 30s, which is one reason why in middle age, you’ll generally start experiencing normal changes in how your skin, joints, ligaments, gut and other tissues function, look and feel. When it comes to your skin, type 1 collagen and type 3 collagen can make some of the biggest impact; a typical reduction in the synthesis of these collagen types is characteristic of the appearance of normal aging skin.
Why do we produce less collagen as we age?
As we get older, our bodies naturally produce less collagen, while at the same time, our existing collagen fibers typically become weaker and more prone to becoming less resilient. Overall, lessened collagen amounts and resiliency are the results of three primary factors:
Reduced production: Cells that make collagen, called fibroblasts, become less active over time and produce fewer fibers.
Increased breakdown: Collagen fibers undergo constant turnover, with old fibers being broken down and replaced by new ones. This entire process slows down due to aging.
Environmental factors (explained more below).
Lessened collagen production and resiliency can also occur at an accelerated rate due to a variety of other factors, such as:
Exposure to excess UV radiation: Prolonged exposure to the sun's UV rays can break down collagen fibers and accelerate the aging process.
Environmental pollutants: Things like cigarette smoke and air pollution can contribute to collagen loss.
Poor diet that lacks essential nutrients: Failing to consume enough vitamins C and A, zinc, manganese, copper, and protein can all hinder skin’s health. Likewise, eating an inflammation-promoting diet can negatively impact collagen production and skin health.
Excessive alcohol consumption: Alcohol can interfere with normal collagen synthesis.
Genetic factors: Genetic factors can also play a role in collagen production.
At what age does the body begin to slow collagen production?
Here's a brief, general overview of what happens to collagen levels and production in each decade of life:
In your 20s: Collagen production is at its peak, so your skin is most firm and elastic. Your joints should also feel comfortable and mobile, so you likely recover from exercise easily.
In your 30s: Collagen production begins to naturally slow down, so you may start to notice fine lines and wrinkles, as well as increased sensitivity to sunlight, products and other items that can impact the skin. You may also “feel it” more in your joints post-exercise.
In your 40s: Collagen levels continue to decline, and skin may start to sag and lose elasticity, plus be drier. Your joints and ligaments may also feel less elastic. Your muscles may feel it, too.
In your 50s: Collagen production decreases significantly, so your skin may become thinner, drier, “crepey skin” and more prone to wrinkles, lines and age spots. Your ability to recover from exercise may decrease, too.
In your 60s, 70s and beyond: Collagen levels continue to decline, and skin may become more fragile as well as more wrinkled, red, dry and loose. Like in your 50s, you may need to focus on your joints, muscles and overall mobility during this life stage.
What are the signs of lessened collagen production or resiliency? Signs of collagen loss can be subtle at first, but become more pronounced over time.
Here are some common areas that natural collagen loss as well as healthy collagen production can impact:
Wrinkles and fine lines: Collagen loss can cause the skin to become thinner and less elastic, leading to wrinkles and fine lines, whereas healthy collagen production contributes to healthy, smooth skin.
Sagging skin: You may notice skin losing some of its firmness and elasticity, leading to sagging or “crepey” skin, but healthy collagen levels help to support healthy skin elasticity.
Dull, dry skin: Skin can lose its moisture, making it appear dull and dry, but healthy collagen levels can lead to moist skin and skin tone.
Joint comfort impact: Collagen is an important component of cartilage, which cushions and supports joints. Collagen for joints? Yes, healthy collagen production is directly related to joint comfort and mobility.
Nails: Healthy nails, too, rely on healthy collagen production to remain strong.
Hair thickness: Hair that is thick and voluminous can thank healthy collagen production, too.
The process of synthesizing collagen is gradual and ongoing. It can take several weeks or months to see visible results when using new products, such as supplements or topical treatments. The exact time frame for collagen production can vary depending on a variety of factors, including your age, overall health, diet, and the specific treatment or approach you’re using.
Of course, you should always consult your healthcare professional prior to beginning any new dietary or lifestyle regimen, including dietary supplements.
For example, topical skincare products that contain ingredients like retinoids, vitamin C or peptides may take several weeks to months to show visible improvements in the skin. High-quality collagen supplements, such as Ancient Nutrition’s Multi Collagen Protein, can provide certain results in as little as several days or weeks.
For example, the clinically studied fermented eggshell membrane collagen ingredient in Multi Collagen Protein can improve the appearance of crow’s feet after four weeks of use and skin tone after eight weeks of use.
More invasive procedures, like laser resurfacing or microneedling, may also take several weeks or months to see optimal results, as these treatments stimulate collagen production by triggering a certain response in the skin.
What promotes collagen production and how can you stimulate your body’s own collagen production? You can help your body make and hold onto this special type of protein by eating a healthy diet, supplementing with collagen and protecting your skin from various types of damage.
Here are some ways to improve collagen production as we age:
Collagen supplements can be taken by mouth daily, either in powder or capsule form, to provide your body with the necessary building blocks to produce collagen. The most beneficial types of collagen protein supplements contain peptides from collagen that have been hydrolyzed, meaning they’re broken down into smaller units that are easy for your body to absorb and utilize.
We recommend the following types of Ancient Nutrition collagen supplements based on your goals:
Multi Collagen Protein: Most of our Multi Collagen Protein products provide you with 10 types of collagen and 20 grams of collagen per 2 scoops, plus clinically studied ingredients like fermented eggshell membrane collagen plus SBO probiotics and vitamin C for additional healthy gut and immune system support. You can use Multi Collagen Protein daily either in powder form, or for even more convenience, in capsule form.
Multi Collagen Protein Beauty Within: For additional skin support, this formula features 10 types of collagen plus botanicals and antioxidants (such as pomegranate and acai) that are high in antioxidants.
Bone Broth Protein and Bone Broth Collagen: Our chicken-based Bone Broth Protein formulas are concentrated versions of real bone broth that are three times as potent as homemade broths (based on protein content). They provide collagen, minerals and hyaluronic acid (plus other collagen cofactors) that help promote healthy joints and tissues, with less joint discomfort and increased joint mobility.
When you add a collagen powder to your daily routine, you can expect to experience these types of benefits:
Promotion of healthy skin elasticity
Reduced appearance of crow's feet
Reduced joint discomfort and support for exercise recovery
Support for a healthy immune system
Support for gut health and a healthy microbiome
What helps to promote collagen production? Your body needs protein (amino acids) plus other vitamins and minerals to synthesize collagen. Focus on adding foods to your diet with these nutrients that pair well with collagen:
Protein: As collagen is a protein, increasing your protein intake can help support collagen production in your body. Choose protein sources such as fish, chicken, turkey, eggs, beans and lentils.
Vitamin C: Vitamin C-rich foods play a role in the synthesis of collagen and also offer antioxidants that help fight free radicals. Include foods such as oranges, kiwis, strawberries, bell peppers and broccoli in your diet.
Minerals including zinc, copper and manganese: These essential minerals can help promote healthy collagen production and support healthy skin. You’ll find them in meats, organ meats, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, whole grains, nuts and seeds.
Overall, a balanced diet that includes a variety of nutrient-dense foods with protein, minerals and antioxidants can help to support collagen levels and maintain healthy skin, bones and other tissues. Collagen-boosting foods that are brimming with nutrients your body craves include:
Fish such as salmon, sardines and tuna (they’re rich in omega-3 fatty acids and protein)
Berries, citrus fruits like oranges and lemons, kiwi, mango, pineapple
Leafy greens such as spinach and kale
Garlic and onions
Nuts and seeds, such as almonds, flax and chia seeds
Cruciferous veggies like broccoli and cauliflower
Legumes and beans
What are the greatest sources of collagen? Unfortunately, there aren't that many foods high in collagen, with the exception of traditional bone broth (made from simmered bones and connective tissues which contain collagen).
The best options for obtaining more collagen are: drinking bone broth, taking collagen supplements, and eating enough protein from grass-fed meat, wild-caught fish and eggs.
Use skincare products with antioxidant properties and inflammation-cooling effects since these can help to improve the health of your skin’s barrier. Look for serums with ingredients such as:
Peptides including copper, Palmitoyl Tripeptide-1, Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-7, Hexapeptide-11, and Matrixyl
How can I promote collagen in my face? One potential way is to try light therapy, also known as phototherapy. Light therapy can have various effects on collagen, depending on the type of light used, the duration of treatment and the specific outcomes desired.
Red and near-infrared light therapy, in particular, have been found to stimulate collagen production in the skin. These types of light penetrate the skin and activate certain cellular processes that promote the synthesis of collagen, elastin and other extracellular matrix proteins, aiding in skin elasticity.
In addition, light therapy has been shown to increase blood flow and oxygenation in the skin, which can also support collagen production and tissue health. Talk to a healthcare professional before starting any light therapy treatment to ensure it's safe and appropriate for your skin.
UV ray exposure from the skin can damage collagen fibers, leading to wrinkled and loose skin. Use sunscreen on your face daily that’s SPF 30+, especially if you’re exposed to sunlight when it’s strongest or for longer than 15 minutes.
Opt for mineral sunblocks that contain physical blockers like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which reflect UV radiation away from the skin. You can also wear protective clothing, a hat and sunglasses.
What causes the diminishing of collagen? We call lifestyle factors that interfere with the maintenance of collagen “collagen diminishers.” The biggest collagen diminishers to avoid include:
Smoking: Smoking cigarettes has been linked to a decrease in collagen and to various skin problems and health concerns, including damaged skin that appears dry, discolored and wrinkly. Quitting smoking is important for supporting the overall health of connective tissues and avoiding high levels of inflammation it can cause.
Chronic stress: Ongoing stress can take a toll on the immune system and has been linked to a decrease in collagen. Therefore, it's important to find ways to manage stress, such as meditation, yoga or other relaxation techniques.
Sedentary lifestyle: Exercise aids in skin health and maintenance of other healthy tissues because it can help increase collagen production by promoting blood flow to the skin and tissues. Additionally, exercise supports your immune system and a normal, healthy response to inflammation.
Poor-quality diet: A diet lacking essential nutrients, such as vitamin C and zinc, can weaken collagen fibers and hinder production.
Sleep deprivation: During sleep, your body repairs and regenerates, including the production of collagen. Aim to get 7 to 8 hours of quality sleep each night.
Several dermatology treatments may help increase collagen production in the skin, which is why they’re used to address outward signs of aging, such as fine lines, wrinkles and sagginess. Discuss your options with a qualified dermatologist to determine which treatment is best for your specific goals.
Some of the most common dermatology treatments for boosting skin’s collagen and appearance include:
Laser resurfacing, which uses a laser to remove the outer layers of the skin, which stimulates collagen and the growth of new skin cells.
Microneedling, which involves creating tiny punctures in the skin with fine needles, stimulating collagen production and also enhancing the absorption of skincare products.
Chemical peels, which help remove the outer layers of the skin, causing collagen to be produced while improving skin’s texture and tone.
Dr. Josh Axe, DC, DNM, CNS, is a doctor of chiropractic, doctor of natural medicine, clinical nutritionist and author with a passion to help people get well using food and nutrition. He operates leading natural health website DrAxe.com and is co-founder of Ancient Nutrition, a health supplement company. He’s also author of the books Eat Dirt, Essential OIls: Ancient Medicine, Keto Diet, Collagen Diet and Ancient Remedies.