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8 Ways to Protect, Maintain & Boost Your Collagen Levels

It is the crucial wrinkle-preventing protein that naturally occurs in our bodies to keep skin plump and youthful. But unfortunately, starting after age 20, these building blocks of bouncy skin begin to deplete. Here’s how to boost collagen, from food and serums to AW Plastic Surgery’s most popular collagen-revving treatments.

It’s the most common form of protein found in the body, present in our tendons, fat, ligaments, and blood vessels. “Collagen is a supportive protein crucial to the structure of our body,” says Tracy Thaden, clinical aesthetician and medical assistant at AW Plastic Surgery. “It’s kind of like the glue that holds the pieces of our body together and keeps the bone structure strong.” So when our body lacks it, our bones become weaker, our joints wear and tear easier, and our muscle strength decreases.

Yet, when people talk about the importance of collagen, it’s usually in reference to the skin. That’s because while omnipresent in the body, it makes up a whopping 70% of protein in our skin, so when we start to lose it, we see it in the form of wrinkles and sagging skin that has lost its elasticity – a.k.a. your common signs of aging. When collagen levels are high, the skin is soft, smooth, and firm – this is exactly why the protein has been seen as a very important ingredient for skincare over the years. And unfortunately, once collagen is damaged, there’s no repairing it.

So how do you keep your collagen intact, while helping to boost the rate that you make new collagen? For one, you should avoid the common collagen killers that speed up its depletion: smoking, sunbathing, stress, and a poor diet, to name a few. But even that won’t stall its slowing production, which starts as early as our 20s. Here are the ways AW Plastic Surgery’s on-staff experts suggest you put more spring in your skin, from skincare products and treatments to the kind of foods to pile up on your plate.

1. Collagen-Boosting Food

You don’t need to look much further than your own kitchen for the best internal nutrient source. That’s because eating foods rich in amino acids, Vitamin C, and antioxidants are best for supporting healthy collagen levels. “Amino acids are the foundations of firm skin, Vitamin C helps protect collagen, and antioxidants scavenge up those free radicals that damage it,” says Rossli Delorey, an advanced practice registered nurse at AW Plastic Surgery. A few items she says to stock up on: citrus fruits (Vitamin C also has the ability to help amino acids convert to collagen), red veggies (think tomatoes, beets, and red peppers, which are high in the antioxidant, lycopene), and dark leafy greens (kale and spinach are great sources of Vitamin C). And definitely don’t skimp on the protein, like beef, chicken, fish, beans, and eggs – they come packed with the high-quality amino acids needed to create collagen.

2. Collagen Supplements

If you’re feeding your body all the right nutrients it needs to make collagen via your diet, you don’t need a supplement. But if you think you have some gaps, there’s certainly no harm in taking one. “Hydrolyzed collagen – also known as collagen peptide – comes in a powder that you can easily put in food, like drinks, smoothies, but even soups and sauces,” says Thaden. Skincare aside, studies show that these supplements are great for improving joint health and strengthening bones.

3. Retinol and Retinoids

Both chemical derivatives of vitamin A, retinol and retinoids (retinoids essentially being an umbrella term for both over-the-counter retinols and prescription retinoids) are one of the most effective ingredients for slowing the skin’s aging process. When used in topical creams, they help treat multiple skin issues, including assisting in the production of natural chemicals (like hyaluronic acid) and blocking inflammatory pathways that worsen acne. But most importantly, retinoids also speed up cell turnover, something that slows as we age, and what stimulates collagen production, resulting in firmer skin and fewer wrinkles and loss of elasticity. “Retinoids basically tell our skin to act the way it did when we were younger,” says Thaden. A few of AW’s favorite products include Dermaceutic Active Retinol 1.0, SENTÉ Bio Complete Serum, and AnteAGE Regenerating Serum.

4. Antioxidant & Vitamin C Serums

Second to retinoids, antioxidants and Vitamin C are the next key ingredients to maintaining collagen levels by protecting it. “These components won’t play a huge role in stimulating or boosting collagen, but they are what fight free radicals,” says Delorey. “And free radicals are the big culprits that destroy collagen, and therefore, lead to the appearance of lines and wrinkles.” For an antioxidant serum adored by AW – and dermatologists, for that matter – try SkinCeuticals CE Ferulic. Containing three potent types of antioxidants – pure Vitamin C pure, Vitamin E, and ferulic acid – it provides advanced protection against damaging free radicals, among many other benefits.

5. Dermaplaning or Superficial Facial Peels

Again, since the skin’s natural shedding of dead cells (or cell turnover) slows with age, dermaplaning and facial peels are non-surgical cosmetic treatments both offered at AW Plastic Surgery that intentionally target the removal of those specific dead, dull skin cells. In the case of dermaplaning, this is done using a small surgical scalpel to essentially “scrape” the skin using feather-like strokes (don’t worry, it’s painless); with a peel, chemicals are used to safely dissolve the outer layers of the skin. Not only do both the treatments reveal the new, healthy skin below the surface for a brighter, more rejuvenated complexion, but they trigger the skin to start producing more collagen. That’s often why the firming effects of both treatments continue on well after the initial “glowing” results.

6. Microneedling

Microneedling also goes by the name of “collagen induction therapy” – and for good reason, too, as it essentially gives the skin the little friendly nudge it needs to remind itself to keep making new collagen. Another minimally invasive procedure, it uses a device containing multiple, ultra-fine needles that puncture the skin at a controlled depth. “These micro-injuries kick-start an intentional wound-healing response, where the skin is forced to repair itself, resulting in the production of healthier collagen and elastin,” says Delorey. Even better, when combined with certain collagen-revving serums, the tiny pin-prick channels allow that solution to be absorbed into the skin that much more effectively to further activate collagen-building cells. “You’re kind of tricking the skin into thinking it’s injured, which activates beneficial healing responses,” adds Thaden. “Improved collagen production is one, but so is the reduction in acne scars, pore size, even stretch marks.”

7. Red Light Therapy

It sounds almost too good to be true. You simply flick a switch and a dose of red light can treat everything from acne to sore muscles with no chemicals and, even better, no downtime. But when it comes to Red Light Therapy and an increase in collagen, there are plenty of studies that support its effectiveness. It works by delivering safe, concentrated wavelengths of natural light into your skin where it is absorbed by your cells. “When absorbed by your cells, a host of regenerative effects happen – namely, triggering the production of collagen, elastin, and fibroblasts,” says Thaden. In fact, she likes to use the treatment after a peel or dermaplaning as it allows the light to really tackle collagen down at the deepest levels.

8. HALO Laser Treatment

The beauty of this hybrid fractional laser treatment is that it doesn’t target just one issue. Rather, the dual-wavelength technology means the energy targets issues at multiple depths, including acne scars, brown spots, and pore size in the skin’s upper layers and vessels, deep dermal pigment, and – yup – collagen loss in the deeper layers (see our post “HALO Laser Treatment: Targeting Multiple Skin Issues in One Device with Minimal Downtime” to dive deeper into the technology). So even if a loss of skin elastin might be the main thing you’re targeting, this treatment is a great way to tackle others in one fell swoop for even more complete results – think firmer skin, but also smaller pores, faded brown spots, and poor texture that is touched up. “The best part is that you’ll see the collagen still coming in months after the treatment,” says Delorey. “Other treatments don’t have as long-lasting of an effect as HALO.”