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How to increase collagen production for healthier, younger-looking skin

Editorial note: an earlier version of this article was first published on March 5, 2009. It was updated on September 22, 2020.

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Collagen is a buzz word in the beauty industry. Beauty buffs can’t get enough of it. It’s the building block protein we need, along with elastin, for supple, bouncy and wrinkle-free skin. So, it’s common to ask: how can I increase collagen production for healthier, younger-looking skin?

We’ll attempt to answer that in this article. But first, let’s establish some basics:

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What is collagen and why is it good for skin?

Collagen is a protein found in our bodies. It is used by all of our organs, and not just in our skin (like, literally, it’s everywhere). However, in the skin, it makes up 70% of its substance. That’s a lot! No doubt, for healthy, younger-looking skin, you need collagen. Plus, your skin is your body’s defense against disease entry. So anti-aging aside, skin collagen is good for bodily health, overall.

Young skin vs old skin diagram showing skin biology and wrinkle factors

As you age, your skin starts to lose much of its substance, especially collagen and elastin proteins. It starts producing fewer cells. Eventually, it’s not able to keep up with the level of cell regeneration you need. Thus, you get what we call, “visible signs of aging.” That is: wrinkles, sagging skin, dullness, dryness, brown spots, and so on.

This is why collagen (with elastin, hyaluronic acid, fibroblasts, ceramides, etc.) are spoken of so often in the beauty world. Many beauty products and treatments aim to boost collagen production. Essentially this is aiming to boost your skin’s thickness and texture.

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Increase collagen production by supporting skin hydration and overall health

Plump apple and dry apple wrinkled as a skin care depiction

Our skin should be producing collagen all on its own. When our body (and thus, our skin) is healthy, it can function properly to do this. You can think of collagen production as needing to be part of a ‘holistic’ approach to skin health.

One of the ways to keep our skin healthy is with hydration. Dehydrated skin is different from dry skin. However, both dehydrated and dry skin have a hard time keeping your little ‘collagen factories’ moving. You can support collagen cell renewal by:

  • Drinking plenty of water daily.
  • Avoiding excessive diuretics, like caffeine and alcohol.
  • Taking in vitamins as antioxidants (to boost your immune system, fight free radical damage, and retain water). For example, vitamin C is known to stimulate collagen production and increase hyaluronic acid retention from food.
  • Using hydrating and moisturizing skin care products.
  • Not smoking, reducing sugar intake, exercising regularly and avoiding stress.

Now, collagen itself helps with skin hydration, elasticity and other skin functions (see this study for more info). So, it’s a bit of a two-way street. Remember, we’re supporting a ‘holistic’ approach to skin care – everything is connected in your skin, and all its elements are needed to support each other.

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Protect your existing collagen with sunscreen and shade!

UVA and UVB penetration into skin causing visible burns and signs of aging diagram explanation

The last thing you want is to be working at boosting your collagen production, all while allowing skin to be damaged by UV light. Exposure to the sun – even on cloudy days and through windows – can cause skin degradation. That includes your collagen cells! This happens through the process of free radical damage.

Any skin concern you want to treat will start with applying broad-spectrum, high-SPF sunscreen daily. We’re not just talking about SPF15 in your day cream. We really mean a dedicated, SPF-30-or-higher as a thick layer in your morning face routine. Then, reapply every 2 hours to stay truly protected (sunscreen can degrade in that time frame).

If you can, avoid the sun completely by staying in the shade (especially between the peak daylight hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m). Also wear sun-protective clothing, such as long sleeves and a wide-brimmed hat.

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Use peptides in skin care products to build up collagen in the skin

Chemist dispensing cosmeceutical skin care in a lab

Here’s an interesting fact: did you know that collagen is not water-soluble? That means it can’t be applied in its end-form on the skin (speaking of its molecules). So, all those products that use ‘collagen’ on their labels are not being entirely accurate.

How do we get collagen through our skin care products? And, in a way that actually absorbs into our dermis? Through peptides! Peptides are precursors to collagen. They can also be referred to as “hydrolyzed collagen.” Peptides are water-soluble, so they can dissolve into creams, serums and all the skin care products you see on store shelves that claim their benefits.

Peptides become amino acids in your skin. Amino acids ‘feed’ fibroblasts, which then produce collagen.

Fibroblast diagram anatomy with skin layers illustration

The other neat thing about the latest skin care research, is the use of growth factors to stimulate collagen production. Growth factors are ‘messenger proteins’ that send signals to your fibroblasts to start producing new cells (like peptides). Collagen is one type of cell they can help to stimulate.

Growth factors are not growth hormones. They’re also not the same as stem cells.

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Try from our shop:

  • TNS Recovery Complex® Growth Factor Serum – an original flagship product by SkinMedica®, this serum includes over 380 growth factors and cytokines. It also includes antioxidants and matrix proteins, to boost skin cell production.
  • TNS® Ceramide Treatment Cream – this product includes moisturizing ceramides, along with the above-mentioned growth factors, to build a skin barrier and support collagen production. It also includes humectants, peptides and vitamins.
  • TNS Essential Serum® – this is a ‘take 2’ on the original TNS Recovery Complex®. It dispenses from two chambers. The second chamber offers further antioxidants to the growth factor solution in the first chamber.
  • TNS® Illuminating Eye Cream – this is a version of growth factors designed to lighten the eye area.
  • TNS® Eye Repair – this is another growth factor solution to strengthen the skin around the eyes.
  • Pep Up® Collagen Renewal Face & Neck Treatment – this is a non-comedogenic moisturizer designed to firm skin, by using several peptides, which then boost collagen production.

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Use exfoliators and other collagen-renewing skin care products

Teen washing face at sink with robe in white towel

In addition to peptides, your skin care routine should include products that help to exfoliate your skin. When your skin cells die off, new ones are formed. In other words, your skin naturally replenishes collagen and other cells (like elastin).

As you age, this process of collagen renewal slows down. As a result, you can end up with old, dull and dry skin sitting atop your epidermis, which won’t do you any favours. Skin that isn’t properly cleansed and exfoliated to remove that thin, top layer of flesh can also lead to acne.

So, to speed up the process of skin shedding, certain skin care ingredients can be used. It’s important not to over exfoliate, though. This should be done in a gentle, controlled way.

There are physical exfoliants (such as face scrubs), and chemical exfoliants. Chemical exfoliants are much gentler because they work without the ‘rubbing’ action, which – if used excessively – can damage your skin.

Chemical exfoliants typically include alpha-hydroxy acids and beta-hydroxy acid (the latter is salicylic acid). They can be found in face washes, leave-on creams, face masks, facial products at spas, and so on.

Another excellent exfoliant would be a variant of Vitamin A, called retinol. Retinol is part of a group of Vitamin A derivatives called retinoids. It can be harsh on the skin at first. However, using it slowly (about once or twice a week at a low dosage), and then building up its application, can really help with skin cell renewal.

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Try from our shop:

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Take nutritional supplements to increase collagen in the body, and in the skin

Nutritional supplements can help your skin’s collagen levels, but only if your body has enough collagen to begin with. Remember, your whole body needs collagen, not just your skin. So when you take a collagen supplement, your body will dispense its nutritional value to areas where it is needed most. And, skin is not the first organ your body will try to nourish.

This is why diet is such an important part of skin care and skin health, too. If you want to reduce visible signs of aging, you need to use topical skin care products and eat healthy food.

Topical products simply deliver their value to the skin directly (if they are made well, that is!). They help you bypass the process of ingesting nutrients to help your skin.

Back to diet and collagen though…

Remember, collagen is a protein. So, when health nuts obsess about sources of protein, they’re on to something! Protein helps your skin, too.

You need about 60 to 80 grams of protein per day to meet your body’s basic needs. Though, some say it should be more, like 150 grams per day, if you exercise. Others say it depends on your lifestyle and personal needs (e.g. if you exercise more, you need more protein). Another way of calculating protein requirements is by measuring out 25% – 30% of your daily calories. Then, eat that amount in the form of protein. Others calculate protein needs based on body weight (generally 0.36–0.6 grams per pound, or 0.8–1.3 gram per kg).

Are the required minimum grams of protein a hard and fast rule? Not always. Just be sure you’re getting enough for your own needs. If you’re not sure, ask a doctor or dietitian. Here is an article by Harvard explaining how much protein you need each day.

Also remember that grams of protein is not equal to grams of food that contains protein! E.g. if you eat 100 grams of egg, that’s not all going to be protein.

Nonetheless, after you take in your base protein needs through food, you can take a supplement that may help your skin. But, don’t make the assumption that collagen supplements for your skin will show results if you are not getting enough protein in your diet.

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Try professional skin treatments to boost collagen renewal

erbium yag laser in surrey for skin tag removal and mole removal or ablative skin resurfacing

Another way to boost collagen production in the skin is with professional skin care services. Spas, and medically-run skin care clinics like ours, can do this with mild to strong treatments. These are essentially exfoliation facials, which help to regenerate collagen in the same way mentioned above (by getting rid of old skin, to make room for new skin). However, they are stronger than what you can buy over-the-counter for at-home use.

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Popular collagen-boosting professional facials can be as simple as:

The above types of treatments are the kind of thing you can schedule monthly. Just note that chemical peels can get quite strong, depending on the formula used. A professional should be evaluating your needs and administering a chemical peel for you.

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Next in terms of collagen-boosting strength would be medical-grade treatments such as:

Depending on your needs, the above types of treatments are typically scheduled every 6 to 12 months (depending on the procedure – some can last longer). They should only be performed in clinics run by doctors (in our opinion). They may require more than one treatment to be effective. They do cost more, but they also deliver more in terms of results.

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Ultimately, you can try extra-strong, resurfacing laser treatments:

Top-of-the-line, professional skin renewal comes in the form of skin resurfacing. This is a big procedure to prepare for and heal from. However, it delivers results that can really make you say, “wow.” They don’t just renew collagen – they aim to give you a newly refreshed layer of top skin, with all its components.

The typical lasers used in this realm are:

  • Erbium lasers
  • CO2 lasers

CO2 lasers would be the strongest available. Either way, you should be seeking treatment from a modern, medically-run clinic using fractional ablative lasers to do this (whether they are Erbium or CO2 based). The fully ablative lasers can work, but they are known to cause more side effects.

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Collagen production starts with you, at home! It can be supplemented by professional, anti-aging treatments

Dark skin woman applying cosmeceutical cream on face for anti-aging and skin health

As we’ve seen above, the way to increase collagen production for healthier, younger-looking skin, is to start with good habits. For example, diet plays a major role in how much collagen your skin can get through your body’s own processes. Supplements can help, if you’re getting enough protein in your diet to begin with.

Using topical ingredients in your routine can help by stimulating collagen precursors in the skin. This can give it a more targeted ‘boost’. But with that, you should always use sunscreen – every single day, rain or shine. Reapply sunscreen every two hours, to really keep your skin protected from collagen loss (and a host of other things).

If you want to take your skin’s collagen production to the next level, you can try professional treatments at a med spa like ours. There are plenty of options out there that can pamper your skin with mild exfoliation, all the way to photofacials, dermal fillers, thread lifts and the strongest of all – laser skin resurfacing.

If you live in the Vancouver area, we’d love to be your next-stop-shop for collagen renewal in a professional setting. We are a well-known skin clinic, with a credible reputation spanning over 20 years. Our lead doctor is highly trained, and directs all in-house protocols. With our arsenal of non-surgical tools and products, we can offer an array of anti-aging and skin health solutions. That goes whether you’re new at this, or you’re a seasoned ‘anti-ager’ looking to get top-of-the-line cosmetic procedures done.

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