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How Can I Rebuild Collagen?


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According to Dr. Leslie Baumann's Cosmetic Dermatology, collagen production decreases by approximately 1 percent with each year of age after maturity (about age 21), leading to a loss in firmness and elasticity of skin. So what's an age-conscious woman to do? Here are some options.

1. Lasers.

Two recently developed lasers are the Genesis and Medlite lasers, which have been reported in the Annals of Plastic Surgery to stimulate skin to make new collagen. Genesis and Medlite lasers are only administered by licensed dermatologists. Most women require three to six treatments, and the results should last three to five years. According to the March 2008 issue of Health magazine, Genesis and Medlite laser treatments are about $400 each. Check with a dermatologist near you for pricing and availability.

2. Facial light therapy.

According to a recent study featured in the March 2008 issue of Allure magazine, LED phototherapy repairs sun damage and increases collagen and elastin production, although "lasers and peels have faster, more substantial results, but more side effects," according to Seung Yoon Lee, a dermatologist at the National Medical Center in South Korea. With regards to LED therapy's fewer side effects, Lee adds, "LED is safe for dark skin, unlike some lasers." According to Allure magazine, in the study, the researchers treated one side of 61 subjects' faces with a light-emitting diode machine, while 15 others received a one-sided placebo treatment. Twelve weeks later, only the LED-targeted skin had a decrease in wrinkles (26-36 percent) and an increase in elasticity (14-19 percent). LED therapy seems to increase collagen and elastin production, although less significantly than lasers and peels.

3. Retinoid treatments.

Sometimes my blog feels like an ode to retinoids (and one excellent blog, the A-Train, actually is all about retinoids), and there's good reason. According to research by Fisher et. al cited by Dr. Baumann in Cosmetic Dermatology, retinoids are effective in preventing and treating the collagen loss caused by photodamage. UV exposure decreases collagen type I and collagen type III with 24 hours, but treatment of the skin with all-trans retinoic acid prevents the loss of these types of collagen synthesis. In addition, Fisher et. al demonstrated that application of tretinoin inhibits the induction of matrix metalloproteinase genes, which are in part responsible for collagen degradation. Your best option is to talk to your dermatologist about prescription retinoid treatments. However, if you are interested in over-the-counter retinol treatments, I love Neutrogena Healthy Skin and Philosophy Help Me Retinol with <0.025% retinol, Skinceuticals Retinol 0.5 or Skinceuticals Retinol 1.0 with 0.5% and 1.0% retinol, respectively, and Green Cream Level 3, Green Cream Level 6, and Green Cream Level 9 with 0.3%, 0.6%, and 0.9% retinol, respectively.

4. Glycolic acid peels.

According to a 1998 study in Dermatological Surgery, glycolic acid treatments increase fibroblasts' production of collagen in vivo (in hairless mice) and in vitro (in human skin fibroblast culture) better than either lactic acid or malic acid. However, if you're deciding between prescription-strength retinoids and over-the-counter glycolic acid peels, you may want to choose the prescription retinoid cream. According to a randomized, placebo-controlled double-blind study, it was found that 0.05% all-trans-retinoic acid was more effective than 10% glycolic acid (a concentration found in at-home treatments) in treating signs of aging.

5. Topical vitamin C treatments.

According to a review in the International Journal of Pharmaceutics, vitamin C triggers collagen production and thereby increasing skin firmness. Dr. Jeannette Graf also adds in Dr. Burgess’s Cosmetic Dermatology text, “Topical vitamin C increases levels of tissue inhibitors of collagen-degrading matrix metalloproteinases (MMP-1)." Vitamin C is particularly potent in conjunction with vitamin E; unfortunately, a 2008 Dermatology Therapy study cited in Best Life magazine found that very few products containing these vitamins remain effective. This is most likely because vitamin C becomes esterified and inactive upon exposure to light, air, and heat. Your best bet? Keep your vitamin C and E product tightly sealed and in a cool, dark place, or consider a stabilized form of vitamin C, although less research has been done on the effects of, say, 2% ascorbyl palmitate than 15% L-ascorbic acid.

6. Topical peptide treatments.

Palmitoyl pentapeptide-3 has been shown to stimulate feedback regulation of new collagen synthesis and to result in an increased production of extracellular matrix proteins (collagen types I and II and fibronectin). For these reasons, palmitoyl pentapeptide-3 is increasingly popular in skin care products, and is found in StriVectin SD, Olay Regenerist 14-Day Intervention ($25.99,, Olay Regenerist Night Recovery Treatment ($17.14,, Cosmedicine Primary Care Moisturizer SPF 20 ($48,, and DERMAdoctor Wrinkle Revenge Facial Cream ($72.00,, amongst others. Palmitoyl oligopeptide is a second sequence of collagen-stimulating peptides. A 2007 study in Dermatologic Therapy suggests that palmitoyl oligopeptide significantly stimulates human skin collagen production in fibroblasts, which may slow the degradation of collagen over time. Palmitoyl oligopeptide is found in StriVectin SD and DERMAdoctor Wrinkle Revenge Facial Cream ($72.00,, amongst others.

7. Don't use treatments with collagen in the ingredients.

I have said it before: collagen in skin care products acts as only a moisturizing ingredient. Topically applying collagen has never been shown to stimulate collagen synthesis or growth. This is because, according to Dr. Leslie Baumann in Cosmetic Dermatology, topically applied collagen is too large to fit through the stratum corneum [uppermost layer of the skin], as collagens have a molecular weight of 15000 to 50000 daltons, whereas only molecules of molecular weight 5000 or less can typically penetrate the skin.

8. Prevent future collagen loss!

Don't smoke. Wear sunscreen everyday and limit UV exposure. Eat - and topically apply - lots of antioxidants, which has been shown to be more effective than either method alone. Use retinoids or alpha hydroxy acids to increase cell turnover. And exercise - although the link between exercise and skin's collagen production is only implied, always remember, what's good for your health is good for your skin. :-) If you have advice to add, comment below! :-)