Most of the time when you hear about collagen, it’s all about boosting the production in your skin to make you look younger and glowing. You see it all over the place, and that leads to the question, what is collagen after all? Why do we need it? And most importantly, what happens to it when we age?
Collagen is a natural protein that our bodies produce. A major structural component of the human body (different types of collagen make up our skin, bones, muscles, joints), we depend on collagen to keep our skin plump, hair strong, bones healthy, joints lubricated, and digestive system working smoothly.
Even though our bodies are able to produce ample amounts of collagen when we are young, sometime in our mid-20s, our bodies produce about 1 percent less collagen each year (in addition to the decline in the quality of our produced collagen). By our mid-40s, our collagen levels may have fallen by as much as 30 percent. The rate of this can vary depending upon lifestyle choices and environment. Without collagen, our cells lose structure, increasingly becoming weaker, stretchier, and thinner. This decline is the true cause of many skin woes like wrinkles, fine lines, dark circles, dry skin, and cellulite.
While there are many options available for supplementing collagen both topically and internally, it’s also good to consider how you can avoid collagen’s depletion in the first place. Here are the biggest culprits that deplete collagen:
Studies have shown that all it takes is two or three cups of coffee a day to stimulate the production of cortisol. Cortisol is otherwise known as the “stress hormone” that accelerates the aging process by thinning out your skin. Instead, opt to make an energizing drink from matcha. Matcha is known for boosting the metabolism, calming anxiety, and cleansing the body and is rich with antioxidants that prevent collagen breakdown.
As beautiful as it may look adding artificial color to your food, it is anything but healthy and can create major inflammation in the body. That inflammation can damage the skin’s collagen reserves, which manifests as premature aging. Instead, try natural coloring like beet juice, turmeric, and blue-green algae. Beet juice, rich in vitamin C, also helps support collagen production, which is so essential to the elasticity of the skin.
While we’re all about enjoying alcohol as part of a healthy wellness lifestyle, it can be dehydrating. When collagen is inadequately hydrated, the fibers start to crack and adhere to one another, leading to dry, flaky skin and the formation of wrinkles on the skin’s surface. Supplement your natural wine with glasses of water, or sub one out for a mocktail instead.
We all know by now that sugar is bad for your body, but did you know it can be equally bad for your skin? Refined sweeteners actively age you by speeding up the degradation of the key skin proteins elastin and collagen. The key is to substitute refined sugars with natural sweeteners that have deep, rounded, and complex flavors paired with other nutrients the body can use. Natural sweeteners, such as honey, dates, and maple syrup contain minerals and antioxidants that benefit the skin and have a lower glycemic index than white sugar, but they should still be eaten in moderation.
The Harvard Nurse’s Health Study found a connection between skim milk and damage to the collagen in the skin. While there are hormones in all cow’s milk that may trigger inflammation, the study found that those who drink skim milk suffer most from unsightly blemishes—possibly because there is a higher number of bioavailable hormones in skim that haven’t been absorbed by fat. If you do go for milk, choose one from grass-fed cows, or opt for a plant-based option instead.
Sun is vital for our well-being; we need at least 20 minutes of sun every day for optimal health and the natural production of vitamin D in our skin. But overexposure to the sun, especially when it results in a sunburn, causes damage to your skin. Prolonged exposure to UV light can cause collagen to break down at a higher rate than normal. So start listening to your skin, know when to get out of the sun and into the shade, and be sure to wear a natural zinc sunscreen to block those collagen-damaging UV rays.
Never underestimate the power of stress. It can wreak havoc on your body in countless ways and can weaken the integrity of your skin’s collagen, resulting in a saggy, lackluster, wrinkly appearance. I highly recommend combating stress through focus on your breath: Set aside five minutes a day to sit and focus on deep breathing, and you’ll see how you will feel instantaneously relaxed and rejuvenated. But don’t forget that stress comes in many forms. Most often we think of emotional stress, but poor sleep and nutrient deficiencies also cause stress within the body.
Sleep is absolutely essential for inner and outer beauty because it is crucial for overall wellness and vitality. Getting enough sleep at night allows your body to repair damaged collagen, which prevents wrinkle formation. Aim for a minimum of eight hours of uninterrupted sleep every night. Be sure to stop eating at least two hours before bedtime and allow for plenty of time to relax before bedtime without your devices.