Column: Important Role of Collagen in Skin

Skin Care Column: Important Role of Collagen in Skin

Collagen is a connective tissue that makes young, healthy skin firm and elastic. It provides the structural support for blood vessels and maintains the skin’s shape.

In youthful skin, the collagen surrounding skin cells is firm and abundant. As people age, collagen-producing cells, known as fibroblasts, become less active. The body produces less collagen, and the skin loses some of its tautness and elasticity.

At the same time, collagen fibers that already are present in the skin gradually break down. Both processes are a natural consequence of aging, although they’re accelerated by lifestyle factors, such as smoking or excessive sun exposure. 

Once collagen starts to break down or fragment, fewer fibroblasts are able to attach to the remaining collagen fibers. Without these attachments, fibroblasts don’t receive the mechanical “stretch” signals that trigger collagen production and reduce the body’s output of collagen-degrading enzymes. This is why older adults tend to develop more (and deeper) wrinkles.

They have a higher amount of collagen fragmentation with fewer stretch signals between fibroblasts and collagen fibers and a lower rate of collagen replacement, as well as a greater rate of collagen destruction.

Now for the good news. There are effective wrinkle treatments that have been known to influence each stage of the collagen building process. For example, the treatment of microdermabrasion is very effective in promoting new collagen formation and reducing collagen breakdown as well. It provides the “stretch” signals needed to trigger collagen production.

Retinol-based creams and ointments of 0.4 percent or higher will also promote collagen building and reduce the look of fine wrinkles. It’s unlikely that most over-the-counter retinol products contain enough retinoids to have noticeable effects.

There’s no way to be sure, since few of these products list retinol concentrations on the label. Treatment with a topical retinol increases the skin’s sensitivity to sunlight. It is important that a sunscreen be applied before going outdoors, even when the weather is cool.

The two treatments mentioned above are the least invasive treatments available for firming the skin today. There are other treatments such as laser treatments, which will reduce facial wrinkles. Ask your skin care professional which of the treatments is best for you.

June English is a licensed esthetician and owner of Professional Skin Care Choices LLC., in Los Alamos. For more information, visit or call 505.507.0124.