How Can I Rebuild Collagen?

Skin Care



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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! 🙂

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  • Victoria

    This was the most helpful article I have read. Very very much appreciated!! Love to read more. Thanks for the help!

  • Krithinidhi Mistry

    Hello, i read your blog occasionally and i own a similar one and i was just wondering if you get a lot of
    spam feedback? If so how do you protect against it, any plugin or anything you can suggest?

    I get so much lately it’s driving me crazy so any help is very much appreciated.

  • nell

    I’m a smoker who’s just started Retin-A to deal with, well, lousy skin from smoking. I knew that vitamin a supplements (beta carotene) increased cancer risk for smokers and ex smokers, but just read that even *topical* vitamin a is dangerous to smokers. Apparently the metabolytes can work their way into lung tissue.

    Smokers and ex smokers should in fact actively avoid supplements that involve beta carotene and probably topicals too. Personally, I’m going to have to choose a non retinoid for anti aging issues, since at 34 I’ve already got various pulmonary problems and I’m not up for fate tempting. Which is annoying, because the results from the cream were pretty amazing.

    Long-Term Topical Tretinoin and Excess Mortality in Older Patients

    (Weinstock MA et al. Topical tretinoin therapy and all-cause mortality. Arch Dermatol 2009 Jan; 145:18.)

  • Roni

    – the layer that ‘thins’ with retin A usage is the OUTER layer callled the stratum corneum (sp?) – this is a REALLY GOOD thing – bc that layer is the one that contains alll the DEAD DRY skin and NEEDS to be exfoliated daily in order to maintain bright healthy looking skin – also by keeping this layer ‘thin’ it helps the healthier younger skin under it absorb topical cream treatments better – like Retin A –

    while Retin A thins this dead dry top layer – it also THICKENS the epidermal layer under it – which is GREAT bc its in this layer that alot of the formation and maintence of collagen fibers are happening – so dont be afraid – USE your retin A DAILY – avoid sun – use SPF – and look into vitamin supplementation that may support collagen production like vitamin C with L-Lysine, google that with the words collagen and skin – its interesting –

    and oh yeah – i am a native floridian also -and i was told to ALWAYS use Retin A at NIGHT and to thoroughly wash it off before I leave the house bc if you have it on in sun – even under sunscreen – it can increase your chances of skin cancer lesions – so be SURE to ALWAYS wash it OFF about a half hour before you apply suncreen – hopes this helps! =D

    and Nicki – FAB ARTICLE!!!! you ROCK! I would LOVE to see u do one one on L-Lysine/C supplementation –

  • Patty

    Thank you for writing such a wonderful post. This clears up a lot of my questions and as always brings up a few more. I’m 28 and live in Florida so I’ve had quite a bit of exposure to the sun. I’ve been working on fighting the aging effects of the sun since I was about 23. I wear sunscreen every day and stay out of the sun now. I have tretinoin 0.025% for the wrinkles on my forehead (which in part are genetic) but I haven’t started using it because I heard that it can cause the skin to become thin with overuse. I was supposed to apply it every other night but now I’m skeptical. I also keep hearing about Origins Planscription but I don’t know if I’d be wasting my money. Help!

  • What about Roc deep wrinkle night cream? Does it have enough retinoid in it? What is the percentage?

  • What about Roc deep wrinkle night cream? Does it have enough retinoid in it? How much is in the cream?

  • Lisa

    I am about to try the E-Matrix resurfacing machine that my derm. is getting in next week. It is supposed to be AMAZING at turning back the clock. zero downtime, skin tightens slowly over a 2 week period. I am excited, but couldn’t find much on the web about it.

  • Hi Sarah,

    Yes, tretinoin is documented in numerous studies to be effective in rebuilding collagen and preventing future signs of aging.

    The most generic cream I know of that contains palmitoyl pentapeptide-3 is Olay Regenerist. It is a great moisturizer, containing both peptides and niacinamide.

    Hope that this helps you.

  • KJ

    Pores are not doors, they do not open or close. And NO, applying topical collagen will never penetrate the dermis because the MOLECULE is too big. Microdermabrasion in a series is the best way to treat acne scars, as long as they are not ice pick scars.

  • Sarah

    Thank you for taking the time to put this together! Is tretinoin effective? Is there a generic Palmitoyl pentapeptide-3 cream? I am worried about loose skin as I loose weight. I also have stretchmarks that I would like to take care of. I am 22 years old and do not smoke or have increased sun exposure.

  • Kimberly

    Would applying collagen products topically RIGHT out of a hot shower penetrate the skin, since the pores are open and abosorb products deeper then?

    What about using a dermaroller? I have been thinking on buying one?

    Are there any fillers you would suggest for acne scars?

  • Ann

    that sounds amazing. i have definatly been out looking for somthing to possibly do this. i’ve tried creams and such but no real results. the thing is, is that im 24. i use to party alot and just decided to really focus on my career. and looking at me now i feel like i look like i’m 29-30. any suggestions??

  • Paul

    All these methods are nice.
    But there is one method that actually TRIPLES the amount of collagen production of ANY of these methods… Sculptra injections. In fact, the collagen production stimulated by Sculptra is so profound… it actually increases the VOLUME of the areas treated… much the way Fat Grafting itself would do.

  • Adriana

    How about pro-xylane? Is it more effective than peptide treatments?

  • Joyce

    Thanks for a great post! Out of these methods you wrote, the ones that I do are applying retinoids, topical Vitamin C and sunscreen. Plus, I eat antioxidants and exercise. Hope the collagen in my skin do not diminish even with my acne.

  • I honestly don’t know. But if I had to take a guess, I would say slightly less effective, just because the formulation is slightly less potent.

  • Joanne Jacobson

    Is Renova at .02% just as effective as .05%?

  • Good point! I had forgotten about that one.

  • James

    what about Thermage?

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