Collagen and Elastin

Collagen and Elastin: What Role Do They Play in Skin Longevity?

By Philip Tajanko

FEB 15, 2023

In search of topical skin care products, whether it be a peptide body lotion or gentle gel cleanser that will serve your skin? You will likely come across ingredients or compounds that claim to increase collagen and elastin in the skin. Both of these proteins are commonly found naturally within the body and constitute primary building blocks of the structural components of skin as well as other tissues.

While collagen and elastin are both crucial for the structure of your skin, there are a few differences between the two that are important to understand. How the two of these proteins work together and how they impact the health and appearance of your skin will be explored in this blog.
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What is the role of collagen and elastin?

At their most basic level, collagen and elastin are two important structural proteins found in the human body. Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body and is found in tendons, ligaments, skin, and bones. Collagen gives strength and support to these biological structures, helping them resist stretching and bending that permanently damage tissues 1. Collagen production is also critical to the speed of wound healing as it makes up a large portion of the new tissue that must be created to fill and repair damaged skin2.

Elastin, on the other hand, is found in tissues intended to be flexible, such as skin, blood vessels, and other internal organs. The presence of elastin allows these structures to stretch and then return to their original shape, giving them a degree of elasticity3. Together, collagen and elastin help to maintain the flexibility and strength of the body's tissues. Particularly in the skin, collagen fibers provide the underlying structure, while the elastin fibers allows the skin to stretch and move without tearing.

What is the difference between collagen and elastin?

While collagen and elastin are both structural proteins, the greatest difference between the two is the properties they bring to the structure of tissues. Without collagen, skin would have minimal strength behind it and would be far too weak to withstand environmental stressors, even if it was highly flexible1. Similarly, without elastin, the skin would lack elasticity and the ability to return to its previous shape, resulting in skin that sags and is easily damaged3. Collagen and elastin, despite their differences, are needed in tandem to preserve the health of your skin.

How do collagen and elastin impact skin health?

As we age, the production of collagen and elastin naturally decreases, which can lead to wrinkles and sagging skin, as well as other signs of aging over time. With less collagen and elastin being produced, the skin becomes thinner, less elastic, and loses its ability to repair itself effectively. This can lead to common signs of aging skin, such as wrinkles and fine lines, sagging skin, and a loss of volume4. With this decline, the skin's natural ability to retain moisture decreases, leading to dryness and a duller appearance. This drying of the skin can, in turn, make it easier to develop wrinkles and fine lines, in addition to the usual irritation caused by dry skin.

While intrinsic aging is one way in which collagen and elastin production can be forced to slow down, other extrinsic factors like sun exposure, pollution, and smoking can also contribute to the breakdown of collagen and elastin. Sun exposure has been linked to decreases in the concentration of both collagen and elastin, thus accelerating the visible signs of aging5. Fortunately, the application of sunscreen prior to sun exposure has also been shown to protect collagen and elastin from damage caused by UV rays.

Do collagen and elastin work hand in hand?

Collagen and elastin work together to support skin elasticity, strength, and structure. As mentioned before, collagen provides the skin with its underlying structure, while elastin allows the skin to stretch and move without breaking. In this way, the components act like a bridge made of struts and cables, where the struts (collagen) provide the shape of the bridge while the cables (elastin) provide the bridge with some flexibility to respond to environmental changes. Together, collagen and elastin form a network of fibers that keep the skin firm and smooth. Collagen provides a scaffold for the skin, while elastin allows the skin to maintain its shape and bounce back after being stretched6. By combining elastin and collagen fibers, the skin is made strong, resilient, and able to resist accelerated development of wrinkles and sagging4. When both collagen and elastin are present in the skin in the proper balance, the skin appears smooth, plump, and healthy.

Why is it important to maintain optimal levels of both elastin and collagen?

As collagen and elastin fibers are fundamental components of maintaining youthful skin, proper levels of the two must be maintained to preserve the health and function of the skin. To do so, the greatest threats to collagen and elastin must be avoided. While it is already clear that UV rays can damage the collagen-elastin matrix of your skin, it’s also important to provide your body with proper levels of antioxidants. Antioxidants counteract free radicals, which, if unaddressed, can lead to inflammation and, in turn, damage collagen7.

In a similar vein, it’s crucial to limit the intake of sugary foods, as foods that have a high glycemic index can likewise lead to inflammation, breaking down collagen and elastin in a process known as glycation8. Finally, the adage about a good night’s rest rings true here, as sleep is the period during which the body repairs itself from the stresses of the day. If your body isn’t able to get the sleep it needs, your skin may lose its integrity as the decreased production of collagen and elastin results in a weaker underlying structure9.

In addition to lifestyle changes that can aid in maintaining optimal elastin and collagen levels, certain topical ingredients can be applied to boost the production of these proteins. OneSkin’s proprietary peptide, OS-01 has been scientifically proven to increase a key marker associated with collagen production01, allowing skin to produce more collagen on its own. Importantly, this is likely more effective than applying collagen directly to the skin, as most collagen proteins are too large to breach the skin barrier.

* Shown in lab-grown ex vivo human skin models

Key Takeaways

  • Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body, and it gives strength and rigidity to various structures.
  • Elastin is another abundant protein and allows structures of the body to stretch and return to their original shape.
  • Less collagen and elastin being produced with age can lead to physical signs of aging, such as wrinkles and fine lines, sagging skin, and a loss of volume.
  • Sun exposure and other environmental factors, such as pollution or smoking, can also contribute to the breakdown of collagen and elastin.
  • Sunscreen can help limit the damage done to collagen and elastin by UV rays.
  • Collagen and elastin form a network of fibers that keep the skin firm and smooth.
  • Free radicals, sugary foods, smoking, and lack of sleep can all limit your body’s ability to produce collagen and elastin.

By Philip Tajanko.
Philip is studying Bioengineering at the University of California - San Diego and is passionate about scientific writing and hormonal research.


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