Building Blocks

Collagen and ElastinGorgeous, plump skin is often viewed as a hallmark of youth. But achieving healthy skin at any age can sometimes feel like the quest for the Holy Grail. It’s no surprise when you consider that skin loses, on average, about one percent of its collagen every year after the age of 20. That quest, however, is getting easier, with promising products and treatments to boost the production of collagen and elastin, two key components of maintaining youthful skin.

The first step is understanding the importance of each. “Collagen and elastin are structures in the skin that promote and maintain its firmness and elasticity,” says Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, M.D., a dermatologist at Marmur Medical. “Collagen gives the skin strength while elastin allows it to stretch and bounce back, like a rubber band.” Responsible for the skin’s healthy structure, they keep it looking soft, smooth, and supple. “Over time, production of these connective tissues slows, and the integrity of the fibers weakens, which can lead to fine lines, wrinkles, and sagging skin,” says Jaime Cane, licensed esthetician and director of education for Derma E. And it’s not only time that causes them to break down but also sun exposure. “Therefore, it’s not surprising that collagen and elastin are the cornerstones of anti-aging skin products,” says Levin. According to her, there is only one way to boost the production of collagen and elastin, and that is to stimulate skin cells­—also known as fibroblasts—to produce these fibers. Here are some of the ways you can help your clients increase and maintain the collagen and elastin in their skin.

Healing Help

Although it may seem counterintuitive, controlled injury of the skin is considered by many to be one of the quickest ways to increase collagen and elastin. “The fast track to firmer, smoother skin is with wounding,” says Tina Marie Zillmann, vice president and director of Skin Rejuvenation Clinique and founder of Advanced Rejuvenating Concepts. “When you wound the skin, there is a whole team of specialized cells at work close to the wound. Create thousands of wounds, like with a fractionated laser, and you get amazing results for collagen and elastin synthesis.” According to Sachin M. Shridharani, M.D., a plastic surgeon at Luxurgery (New York City), purposefully causing inflammation in the dermis to activate regrowth is an effective method to stimulate the growth of collagen. This can be achieved in a variety of ways, such as microdermabrasion, peels, lasers, or any procedure that increases the turnover of dead skin cells from the surface. Levin also recommends other in-office procedures, such as fillers, like Sculptra and Radiesse; microneedling; and fractionated laser treatments, including Fraxel. “A fractionated laser emits energy in the form of columns, rather than completely removing the upper layer of skin,” she says. “By causing microscopic damage to only a fraction of the cells, the remaining healthy cells will trigger a healing response, which results in collagen remodeling and rejuvenation of the skin to a healthier state.”Collagen and Elastin

The Gradual Approach

While more aggressive treatments are thought to offer clients more bang for their buck, they’re not necessarily ideal for everyone. Some, such as Ben Johnson, M.D., founder and CEO of Osmosis Pür Medical Skincare, argue that causing trauma to the skin does not deliver the desired anti-aging results. “While this creates some collagen, it is repair collagen, which does not contribute to age reversal in any way,” says Johnson. “In fact, research proves that repair collagen is never enough to make up for what was lost from the procedure.” He prefers a less aggressive approach. “The key to true age reversal, which focuses on collagen and elastin, is also strengthening the immune system of the skin and increasing the skin’s nutritional delivery,” says Johnson. “Without addressing these, it is like lifting weights while starving yourself. No gain can happen.”

Fortunately, a host of advanced skincare options exist for those not interested in irritating or wounding the skin for the sake of boosting collagen. “Studies suggest that LED can increase collagen production by up to 200 percent,” says Michael McIntyre, director of marketing for Dermaglow. “A German study in 2008 suggested that the number one benefit of an LED treatment series is that it helps the elastin layer revert back to its original glue-like nature.” It’s also equally important to preserve the skin’s existing collagen and elastin. “Many consumers think of collagen and elastin as substances that need to be replaced or augmented from time to time rather than stimulated and maintained with a gradual, less invasive approach,” says Amy Gardner, director of global education at LightStim. “This is like going on a crash diet after a year of poor eating habits. Different philosophies appeal to people for various reasons, but it is clear that many consumers are not aware of the more subtle options like LED light therapy and supportive topical ingredients that involve caring for the skin in a way that allows it to respond more robustly on its own.”

Ingredient Intervention

Fortunately, a variety of topical products exist for clients who prefer a less aggressive approach, thanks to advanced ingredient technology. “Using the right skincare products with the right ingredients can encourage healthy collagen and elastin and protect skin from future damage,” says Cane. For example, she recommends looking for skincare products that contain Matrixyl Synthe6, a tri-peptide clinically proven to increase collagen. “Peptides are signal molecules made of individual amino acids linked together like pearls on a necklace,” says Ralph Herbert, president of Luzern Laboratories. “These molecules trigger physiological processes within the cells. Cosmeceutical-designed peptides mimic this natural communication process to stimulate cellular activity, such as collagen production, to help re-establish more youthful levels of skin function.”

Vitamin C is another ingredient essential to building collagen. “It improves skin elasticity, decreases wrinkles by stimulating collagen synthesis, reduces redness, and promotes wound healing,” says Janel Luu, CEO of Le Mieux Cosmetics. “Because body-control mechanisms limit the amount of ingested vitamin C available to the skin, topical antioxidant therapy becomes an efficient way to target vitamin C directly to the skin.” According to Charlene DeHaven, clinical director of Innovative Skincare, new technologies like extremozymes, which protect DNA and allow it to maintain its job of directing the synthesis of new healthy collagen and elastin, are also proving to be promising. Other helpful ingredients include alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), growth factors, organic stem cells, retinol, and more.

These ingredients take center stage in many spa services these days. “We offer numerous treatments that zero in on boosting collagen,” says Rhonda Allison, founder and CEO of Rhonda Allison Cosmeceuticals. The Minus 10 Facial (starting at $175, 45 minutes) targets aging issues from loss of elastin and collagen, such as reducing inflammation and skin fatigue, and works to correct cellular damage by infusing the skin with actives to stimulate, repair, and rejuvenate the skin. Cinq M-ondes offers Kobido ($180, 60 minutes; $240, 90 minutes), which incorporates Dermapuncture—needleless acupuncture—and a mask that increases collagen and elastin.

One ingredient that won’t help topically is collagen itself. “It’s a big misconception that applying collagen to the skin will boost production in the skin,” says Levin. “Collagen molecules are simply too big to pass through the epidermis and have any real meaningful impact.” However, according to Shridharani, hydrolyzed elastin has a smaller molecular composition and is able to penetrate the top layer of skin and improve its moisture level. “Protein production is a very complex process occurring deep in the dermis, and it involves fibroblasts—dermal cells that need energy, enzymes, and amino acids in order to synthesize these highly complex 3D proteins,” says Irena James, vice president of product development and education for YG Laboratories. “Just applying collagen or elastin alone on the surface cells is not enough to get this process going.” James points to the latest trend involving pre-saturated collagen sheet masks that perpetuate the misconception. “While they are very efficient at providing instantaneous hydration, as well as many other surface benefits, their use has no effect on collagen production and long-term firming and volumizing,” says James.

Great Expectations

As research continues to examine what does and doesn’t work, it’s important to remind your clients that some tried-and-true methods, such as staying out of the sun, not smoking, and eating a balanced diet, go a long way in fighting collagen and elastin depletion. “Never expect a miracle in a bottle,” says Zillmann. “The skin doesn’t age overnight, and it’s not going to magically transform itself with a cream overnight.” Instead, recommend a beneficial regimen for your clients and keep the lines of dialogue open. “You are the best resource they have to aging gracefully,” says Zillmann. Despite all the claims, collagen and elastin both deserve the attention they are getting. Says Shridharani, “Maintaining healthy skin is essential, but being able to help boost collagen and elastin safely and consistently would be a game changer in the skincare world.”

Turn back the clock with products that maintain and improve collagen and elastin.

1. Amber Products Hydro Collagen Facial Serum: This anti-aging formula is infused with hyaluronic acid microspheres, marine collagen, and palmitoyl oligopeptide to help increase cell hydration and stimulate collagen production.

2. Dermalogica Overnight Retinol Repair: Filled with an active microencapsulated pure retinol, peptides, and antioxidant vitamin C, this powerful treatment cream helps to accelerate skin renewal and reduce the appearance of aging.

3. Elemis Pro-Collagen Marine Cream Silver Edition: Hydrate and improve skin elasticity with this firming moisturizer, which is infused with powerful anti-aging properties.

4. Epicuren Discovery InjecStem Bio-Firming Serum: Reduce the appearance of deep wrinkles with this serum that contains a high concentration of plant stem cells and copper amino acids to firm, restructure, and redensify the skin.

5. Ilike Organic Skin Care Hyaluronic Time Erase Complex Serum: This formula boosts collagen production with the assistance of plant-derived hyaluronic acid.

6. Le Mieux Collagen Peptide Serum: Featuring a potent blend of four skin-contouring peptides, hyaluronic acid, nourishing ceramides, and marine algae extract, this concentrated serum promotes collagen and elastin synthesis.

7. LightStim Professional 2-Panel LED Anti-Aging Light Device: Stimulate the production of collagen and elastin with a hands-free device that restores skin’s youthful appearance and improves treatment-room results.

8. PCA Skin C&E Strength Max: Maximum strength pure vitamins C and E are combined to stimulate collagen production, strengthen the skin, and minimize the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

9. Pevonia Power Repair Age Correction Marine Collagen Cream: Hyaluronic acid, marine collagen, squalane, and titanium dioxide soften and soothe skin, infuse moisture, and help prevent the appearance of fine lines.

10. Repêchage Vita Cura Triple Firming Cream: Counteract collagen and elastin loss with this treatment, which combines peptides that mimic natural collagen, red clover extract, and ulva lactuca seaweed to firm and strengthen the skin.

11. Sothys Paris Anti-Wrinkle Lifting Serum Grade 2: Targeting wrinkles, this lifting serum fills and smoothes lines with hyaluronic acid.

12. Vital Assist Cellular Renewal Cream: This vitamin A treatment cream is enhanced with growth factor stimulants and lipopeptides to increase collagen production and even skintone, resulting in fewer visible fine lines and wrinkles.