Last Updated on February 9, 2021 by Alice Pien, MD & Asher Milgrom, PhD
Now that you have read the article What is Collagen? The Basic Biology, you know that healthy collagen is key to youthful and healthy looking skin. In fact, even for people who are un-educated about collagen, society is filled with advertisements about supplements, vitamins and products that improve skin by “boosting” your collagen. Do collagen supplements work?
Bottom line: If you are interested in skin tightening, or a variety of other collagen boosting treatments such as; a non-surgical facelift, skin rejuvenation, laser face lift, neck lift, etc, you must understand that collagen plays a major factor in all of these treatments.
Oops. Let me restate that. If you are interested in a natural way of skin tightening, then you need to understand that regenerating your own natural collagen is essential in achieving a natural, non-surgical face lift or neck lift. This can be achieved with the use of collagen supplements.
A QUICK REMINDER ABOUT YOUR SKIN
As a quick reminder your skin has two layers, the very thin epidermis on the top, and the much thicker dermis underneath. The dermis is made up primarily of collagen which is a protein (consisting of long chains of amino acid molecules bound together). Collagen fibers are networked together into very tight matrix of basket weave bundles that gives your skin its structural strength, elasticity, flexibility, lift, tone and overall youthful appearance. The more collagen your skin has, and the healthier it is, the “sexier”, younger and more beautiful your skin will be.
When we are young, we are able to repair and replenish aging and damaged collagen, as well as generate new collagen, a process called “cellular or tissue turnover”. However, as we age, our ability to repair and regenerate new tissue everywhere in our body diminishes, and we find that our skin thins, weakens, wrinkles and sags. This is especially true when over exposed to sun, or in the case of people who have inflicted excessive oxidative damage to their bodies, such as with smoking.
Nugget: Sun exposure is positively correlated with 90% of all skin cancers.
Thus, a comprehensive approach to preserving youthful, healthy and beautiful skin should provide methods that address 2 distinct physiological processes:
- Reducing the breakdown of collagen
- Increasing the generation of new collagen
1. REDUCING COLLAGEN BREAKDOWN
- Minimize unnecessary sun exposure… especially on your face, neck and chest. (Use a hat!!)
- When you are in the sun, use Broad Spectrum Sunblock, with SPF 50 or more.
- Sun block lasts only 4-5 hours. Thus, apply it as often as needed to maintain protection.
- Don’t smoke.
Nugget: Back to sunblock for a few words:
If you are going to be out in the intense sun, please consider using a sunblock that provides a complete physical block of the sun, like that thick white pasty creams lifeguards use on their noses. These types of sunblock are filled with either titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, and provide a complete 100% protection from the sun.
If on the other hand, if you tend to resist using sunblock because covering your face with pasty goo makes you look bad, let’s get real… do you really care more about how you look for a few hours at the beach than suffering a lifetime of sun damaged, sagging and wrinkled skin (let alone cancer)? Protect your skin, stay in the shade and wear a wide brimmed hat. If you are a die hard golfer teeing off on a fabulous golf course, I get it…. take your hat off when you’re swinging your club, and then put it back on!
COLLAGEN BREAKDOWN – WHITE vs ASIAN vs BLACK SKIN
In case you want proof of the deteriorating effect of the sun, consider the following familiar and common scenario.
Take three people of three different skin colorations, Caucasian; Asian and African, all of the same age, say 50 years old, same sex, same lifestyle, all in generally good health, and same amount of sun exposure. Compare the condition of their skin. Invariably, the darker the skin the better will be its condition. This is because melanin (the skins natural pigmentation) is engineered to absorb sun light and blocks sun from penetrating through the epidermis and destroying collagen. Thus the darker the skin, the more natural “sunblock” it has, and will be healthier and better looking than skin with less color.
2. INCREASING THE PRODUCTION OF NEW COLLAGEN
Before I describe the treatments available for increasing the production of new collagen, let’s first review what basic biochemical elements are required by your physiology in order to generate new collagen.
Nugget: You might be wondering if these physiological processes that generate new and healthy collagen can also work on treating cystic acne scars, surgical scar removal, and even the dreaded stretch marks. As a matter of fact they can. The protocols must be customized for each condition, but essentially the same principles are at work in each of those cases.
VITAMIN C – VITAL FOR COLLAGEN PRODCUTION
One of the most important collagen supplements that is vital for collagen production is Vitamin C. When deficient in Vitamin C, all of your connective tissues that contain collagen weaken, leading to various diseases such as scurvy, bleeding gums, skin hemorrhages and poor wound healing. Furthermore, as your immune system also requires Vitamin C, deficiency weakens your immune system. Accordingly, supplying extra Vitamin C can promote and accelerate collagen production. While Vitamin C applied topically is only marginally affective, oral Vitamin C and especially IV Vitamin C can have dramatic effects on collagen production.
Nugget: Humans are the only mammal that can NOT generate our own Vitamin C. When other mammals are in a state of stress, injury, illness, anxiety etc. they immediately produce much higher amounts of Vitamin C. That is a good indication of why it is so important for us to consume extra Vitamin C when we are stressed in any way. Vitamin C really does help our physiology deal with the stress, and keeps us from getting sick.
Nugget: People who suffer from chronic diseases that are characterized by systemic inflammation often suffer from thinning skin as well. Now you know why: Vitamin C is critical in the physiological management of inflammation. Thus if you have a lot of inflammation you will be using up all your Vitamin C…. and given that you cannot make your own, you are in need of an extra external supply of it.
B-COMPLEX – CRITICAL FOR HEALTHY SKIN
Vitamins B1 and B2 are critical in every cell’s ability to produce the molecule ATP, which is the chemical fuel that every cell uses to function.
Nugget: Every cell in our body must produce its own energy. There is no central energy source that produces energy that is delivered to all the cells. Our bodies are NOT like a city, where a central power plant makes electricity which is delivered to every house. In the physiological world, every “house must make its own electricity”. Therefore, every cell in our body has energy producing engines called Mitochondria, which are the “mini power station” for every cell in your body. Mitochondria produce ATP by converting the energy found in food (sugar and fat) and oxygen into the molecules of ATP. ATP is the chemical fuel that every cell in your body uses to perform all of its physiological functions in attending to its own wellbeing AND all the functions it does for the rest of the body. Example: specific cells in our pancreas make insulin. Insulin is a critical hormone that regulates our ability to metabolize sugar. Without insulin we would all develop diabetes and die. These cells need ATP to maintain their own health and extra ATP to make insulin for the rest of the body.
A person deficient in Vitamin B1 and B2 would be suffering from many problems including unhealthy skin. That is why B-complex made our list of collagen supplements that are critical for the care and feeding of your collagen.
In general the family of Vitamin B’s are extremely important in the ability of cells to generate energy and our physiology’s ability to metabolize amino acids, fats, and sugars, as well as generate neurotransmitters. Thus, Vitamin B’s touch most aspects of physiological life. B12 and B9 (folate) are especially critical to neurons and rapidly dividing cells such as red blood cells and cells of any epithelium, such as the lining of our intestines and the epithelium of our skin. Because of their importance to neurons and brain function, a deficiency can cause depression and other brain related illnesses.
Nugget: The B vitamins are water soluble, so if you take too much they are simply filtered out of your blood by your kidneys and eliminated from your body in your urine without causing any harm. The only exception is Vitamin B6 where doses that are too high can be detrimental.
VITAMIN A – PLAYS AN IMPORTANT ROLL IN THE CREATION OF NEW EPITHELIAL CELLS
Next on our list of collagen supplements for the care and feeding of your collagen is Vitamin A. A deficiency in Vitamin A will retard your skin’s ability to replace older cells with younger cells, which of course causes skin to age, become dry, flakey, wrinkled and fragile. Vitamin A is also very important for the health of our eyes and for the proper functioning of your immune system. (Remember your mom telling you to eat carrots?)
Nugget: Unlike the B vitamins which are water soluble, Vitamin A is fat soluble. This means that Vitamin A dissolves and is stored in fatty tissue, unlike the B vitamins which dissolve in water and are excreted in your urine. Therefore, if you take too much Vitamin A it will build up in your body to the point where it becomes toxic and even dangerous. This kind of toxic build up can happen with any compound that is fat soluble, including certain medications. Be aware of this and extra careful when taking any fat soluble products.
Nugget: To increase the effectiveness of CIT (Collagen Induction Therapy) the special formulations we use on the skin for dermal infusion contain Vitamin A along with other important elements.
AMINO ACIDS – PROMOTE AND ACCELERATE NEW COLLAGEN GENERATION
Collagen is a protein, which like all proteins is made up of chains of amino acids. Supplying the primary amino acids that are used to construct collagen can also promote and accelerate the generation of new collagen. Topical amino acids are of no benefit and supplying oral amino acids is rarely beneficial because a normal diet already provides all we need. If you are a vegan however, you must be extra vigilant to ensure that you are getting your full complement of essential amino acids. However, IV administration of amino acids can be remarkably effective in certain cases.
Nugget: Special collagen boosting IV therapy that provides your skin with critical biochemical elements needed for collagen generation can be very effective… especially after procedures and collagen supplements that have stimulated your collagen generating physiology!
Nugget: Of the twenty amino acids that are prevalent in human biology, our physiology can manufacture 13 on its own. The other 7 amino acids must be absorbed from external sources (food) and are thus termed “essential amino acids”.
COPPER PEPTIDES – IMPORTANT FOR COLLAGEN REPAIR AND GENERATION
Among the many mineral essential to human physiology, copper is particularly important in the process of generating and repairing collagen. However, applying copper in its pure metallic form doesn’t help at all, and can even be toxic if too much is taken orally, and cause oxidative damage when used directly on the skin. It must be combined with an organic molecule of three amino acids called a tri-peptide, resulting in a “copper peptide”.
Copper peptides are naturally found in healthy human plasma and have many desired effects throughout the body. These collagen supplements increase collagen production, accelerate wound healing, promote the formation of new blood vessels essential in generating new tissue, have anti-inflammatory properties, increase the natural generation of new stem cells, and even have anti-aging effects on DNA expression.
Nugget: Copper peptides are very useful to the skin when applied topically.
Nugget: IV therapy customized for an individual patient may also contain copper peptides, with remarkable results in healing a variety of illnesses, and of course, in boosting the creation of new collagen.
GROWTH FACTORS AND HORMONES – MAXIMIZE NEW COLLAGEN GENERATION
In order to maximize the generation of new collagen in the skin, simply supplying the necessary collagen supplements and biochemical ingredients is not going to be enough. Any time our body is creating new tissue, our physiology must call into action the needed resources to make it happen. Whether the situation is the repair of damaged tissue, the natural “turn-over” of aged tissue that is being replaced with new young tissue, or the generation of brand new tissue as in the case of a developing baby, many resources are needed. In the case of skin, new epithelial cells must be created to cover the surface, new fibroblast cells must be created who then generate new collagen, new nerve fibers must be created to enervate the new tissue, and new blood vessels need to be created to nourish the developing tissue, to name just a few of the needed processes. In every one of these processes, signaling molecules such as Growth Factors and Hormones are needed to direct the physiology to accomplish the needed tasks.
Nugget: A persons’ age is directly correlated with the level of growth factors are present in their skin. A 10 year old child can produce many times more growth factors than a 50 year old, which is a key factor in why a child’s skin is so much healthier and stronger than an adult’s skin. Simply stated, because of the ample presence of growth factors, a kid’s skin is constantly turning-over, replacing old tissue with new tissue.
Therefore a key to the successful treatment of older and/or damaged skin with collagen supplements is the presence of enhanced levels of growth factors. Growth factors can be applied topically, which will enhance the generation of new epithelium. However, to stimulate the generation of new collagen, growth factors would need to be present in the dermis. Once again, the issue becomes whether or not topically applied growth factors can find their way into the dermis on their own. In our experience, the most effective way to accomplishing this is by use of Collagen Induction Acupuncture (CIA). That is why in our multiple modality protocols for skin tightening, and non-surgical facelift, neck lift and cheek lift, we utilize CIA along with laser skin tightening and lifting techniques.
About the Authors
Doctors Alice Pien, MD and Asher Milgrom, Phd are established pioneers in the fields of Regenerative Medicine and Skincare. Their expertise ranges from advanced laser systems to HCT/P – Stem Cell medicine. Their medical education and advanced certifications span from medical schools of NY State University, the University of Chicago, to Johns Hopkins, Harvard and UCLA. They approach medicine with the clinical expertise of over 85,000 successful treatments over the past 20 years and significant scientific research resulting in proprietary protocols that they customize for each individual patient.