To supplement or eat?
Diet plays a surprisingly large role in the appearance and youthfulness of your skin, and that all comes down to collagen. Collagen is an incredibly important protein that gives skin its structure, suppleness and stretch. Collagen contains the amino acid hydroxyproline that's unique in youthful skin. Prolyl-hydroxyproline, a collagen fragment, was found to trigger skin cells to produce more hyaluronic acid, another component that's important for boosting the skins water content.
Furthermore, there are many types of collagen - 28 different types, to be precise - but not all of them help our skin! Our body mainly consists of type 1, 2 and 3. As we age, we produce less collagen in your skin - hence the tendency towards wrinkles and thinning skin we see as we get older.
Therefore, many people are on the lookout for a good collagen supplement - we see them all over our Instagram feeds and store shelves. But are collagen pills and powders the best route? The difference between yes or no (its really more complicated than that) may come down to the bioavailability, the body's ability to use a nutrient.
You've heard the phrase "you are what you eat", right? So, maybe we should consider food first. Foods like bone broth contain a bioavailable form of collagen our body can use right away, making it arguably superior to supplements. And no, this blog doesn't exclude vegetarians - are you a vegetarian? Not to worry! A 2012 review on nutrition and aging also concluded that fruit and vegetables are the safest and healthiest approach to boosting skin health.
Eating collagen-rich foods, or foods that boost collagen production, may also help create the building blocks (amino acids) you need for your skin goals. There are three amino acids important for collagen synthesis: proline, lysine and glycine.
So, what can you eat to support collagen formation?
To help your body do its best formation of collagen, you should consider a diet with high-collagen animal or plant foods, protein-rich animal or plant foods (for their essential* amino acids), and vitamin and mineral-rich fruits and vegetables.
*Essential amino acids can not be made by the body, they must come from food.
Bone broth is one of the most well-known and popular sources of bioavailable collagen. It's made by cooking beef, chicken, or other animal bones down until you draw out all those precious nutrients.
Protein, which is made up of amino acids, is important to consume since the production of collagen involves amino acids.
Turkey is not only a lean protein, but it contains lysine, one of the major amino acids that facilitate collagen production.
Grass-fed chicken and wild fish are also a good protein source because they both contain lots of omega-3 fatty acids, which plump up the cells making them bouncy and full. However, next time you're eating a fish dinner, you might want to leave the skin on. Ever wonder why a fish's skin is so smooth after you remove the skin? That's because there's a high concentration of Type 1 collagen, which accounts for the majority of collagen in the skin.
Grass-fed beef is not only high in protein and omega-3 fatty acids, but it is also high in zinc, which is one of the essential ingredients to collagen production. Additionally, beef contains three of the amino acids that make up collagen: glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline.
Eggs are high in protein - just remember to keep the yolk, that gooey yellow center contains collagen. However, the egg whites also carry the amino acids needed to make collagen.
Good news! If you're vegetarian or simply trying to cut back on meat intake, here are some great sources of both protein and lysine:
Soy is an excellent source of protein and lysine, but it also contains a plant hormone called genistein, which increases collagen, strengthens skin and blocks enzymes that can age skin.
Nuts, like cashews and almonds, contain both zinc and copper, both of which boost the body's ability to create collagen.
Beans are a high-protein food that contain the amino acids necessary for collagen synthesis. Beans are rich in zinc and hyaluronic acid, which keep your skin hydrated, plump and firm. Many of them are rich in copper, another nutrient necessary for collagen production. Beans such as garbanzo (chickpeas), red kidney beans and black beans are among the healthiest options.
Flax seeds, in addition to fish, avocados and grass-fed meats, are another excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which is essential to get enough of as our bodies can't produce it.
Vitamin C rich foods can increase the levels of hyaluronic acid and collagen in the body as both are important for the skin. Hyaluronic acid can help boost collagen production in the body. It is naturally found in the body, but it decreases with age. Additionally, vitamin C has the ability to help amino acids - lysine and proline - convert to collagen. It is crucial in helping to neutralize free radicals, which attack and break down collagen and elastin in the skin.
Citrus fruits, such as lemons, limes and grapefruits, are high in vitamin C. Vitamin C plays a major role in the production of pro-collagen, the body's precursor to collagen. It is crucial for the synthesis of hyaluronic acid, which can help boost collagen production in the body.
Berries are another excellent source of vitamin C and they are high in antioxidants, which protect the skin from damage by fighting those skin-ravaging free radicals while boosting collagen! Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries offer a hefty dose of vitamin C.
Tropical fruits, such as mango, kiwi, pineapple and guava are rich in vitamin C. Guava also boosts a small amount of zinc, another co-factor for collagen production.
Tomatoes are another source of vitamin C. One medium tomato can provide up to 30% of this important nutrient for collagen production. Tomatoes also contain large amounts of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant for skin support.
Bell peppers are high in vitamin C and they also contain capsaicin, an anti-inflamattor compound that may combat signs of aging.
Vitamin A rich foods stimulate collagen synthesis in skin, too. It also helps speed up healing, supports skin health* and promotes moisturizing - which means it helps to hydrate the skin effectively, giving it a radiant glow. Vitamin A assists in promoting and maintaining a healthy dermis and epidermis*; the top two layers of your skin.
Dark green vegetables are rich in both vitamin C and A, nutrients that help boost the body's collagen production.
Orange vegetables are high in vitamin A, too. Not only does vitamin A boost the body's natural production of collagen, but it also helps with skin elasticity and increases blood flow to its surface. Foods such as sweet potatoes, carrots, mango, cantaloupe and papaya.
Although vitamin E doesn't directly work in collagen production, it supports as both an inhibitor of scar formation and as an aid to healing. It is a powerful antioxidant that may be effective at reducing UV damage in skin and may help nourish and protect your skin from damage caused by free radicals.
Avocados are rich in vitamin E, which help fight free radicals and provide omega-3 fatty acids, which increase collage production.
Other sources of foods high in minerals and antioxidants that support collagen production:
Garlic is high in sulfur, which is a trace mineral that helps synthesize and prevent the breakdown of collagen. Garlic also contains taurine and lipoic acid, which help to rebuild collagen fibers that have become damaged over time. It's important to note that you probably need a lot of it to reap the collagen benefits. But with its many benefits, it's worth considering garlic part of your everyday diet - maybe even experiment juicing with it!
Red vegetables are rich in lycopene, an antioxidant that essentially acts as a natural sunblock and collagen booster. Foods like tomatoes, strawberries, watermelon and pink grapefruit contain this ingredient.
Leafy greens such as spinach, kale, swiss chard, and many others get their colour from chlorophyll, the source of pigment, which is known for its antioxidant properties. Studies also show that consuming chlorophyll increases the amount of pro-collagen, the precursor to collagen in the skin.
Algae can prevent oxidation from zapping your skin of its elasticity and collagen because most skin damage is caused by oxidation - the exposure of your skin to elements, like pollution, which can damage cell growth.
What to feed your skin?
It seems like absorbing them directly into your skin can be just as (or more!) effective than consuming them.
Look for topical products like creams containing vitamin A with ingredients like retinol and tretinoin. These are the gold standard for boosting collagen in the skin. Vitamin C serums are also fantastic for increasing collagen.
Skin hydration is also a common cause of tired-looking skin and easy to fix with serums and moisturizers as well. Look for humectant ingredients, or ingredients that promote moisture retention, like glycerin and hyaluronic acid to plump up skin and hide wrinkles.
Marine plant ingredients are becoming more popular as a part of beauty routines. This is because most skin damage is caused by oxidation - the exposure of your skin to elements, like pollution, which can damage cell growth.
Aloe vera plant increases collagen production (that's why it's used to heal cuts and burns!). This cell-growth stimulating property can help boost collagen production when applied directly to the skin in pure form.
Protecting your face with sunscreen is one way to maintain a healthy glow! Most importantly, sunscreen with high UVA protection will prevent free radicals from breaking down collagen in the first place.
Treatments, such as microneedling or collagen induction therapy (CIT), is a cosmetic procedure that involves repeatedly puncturing the skin with tiny, sterile needles. The purpose of the treatment is to generate new collagen and skin tissue for smoother, firmer, more toned skin.
How to avoid damaging collagen?
Sugar and refined carbohydrates: A diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates not only causes inflammation, but also increases the rate of glycation, a process where blood sugars attach to proteins to form new molecules called advanced glycation end products (AGEs).
AGEs damage nearby proteins and can make collagen dry, brittle and weak.
Smoking: Many chemicals present in tobacco smoke damage both collagen and elastin in the skin.
UV rays: Ultraviolet rays in sunlight, or tanning beds, cause collagen to break down more rapidly, damaging collagen fibers and causing abnormal elastin to build up. In other words, the UV rays damage the collagen in the dermis, and the skin rebuild incorrectly forming wrinkles.
If you're trying to help your skin look younger and healthier, protect your face from UV rays - at least wear sunscreen!
Autoimmune disorders: Some autoimmune disorders cause antibodies to target collagen.
Genetic changes: The collagen that is produced can be lower, or it may be dysfunctional, mutated collagen.
The aging process: Naturally, collagen levels deplete over time. There is no way to prevent this.
Avoiding tobacco (alcohol and drugs, too!) and excess sun exposure while following a healthy, wholesome diet and exercise regime can help reduce visible aging and protect collagen, keeping the skin, hair, bones, muscles, and joints healthy for longer.
P.S... to better support your intake of these essential vitamins and minerals, you can always supplement in addition to a healthy, balanced diet:
- Omega-3 (Fish Oil), an essential fatty acid that you must get from your diet
- Lysine + Zinc & Vitamin C (you can find it all in one for supporting a healthy immune system + helps collagen formation)
- Hyaluronic Acid for skin hydration
- Vitamin A + D (you can find it as a duo for supporting vision + skin health)
- Vitamin E capsules for antioxidant support
- Alpha Lipoic Acid plus Biotin (you can find it as a duo for healthy hair, skin + nails)
- Our Organic Green Superfood Powder works to support collagen production - it contains many great ingredients, including spirulina, a type of algae that contains chlorophyll (a substance found in all green plants). Our organic blend is also loaded with ingredients such as Barley Grass (which contains all the essential amino acids!), Wheat Grass, Spinach, Alfalfa, Kelp, and so many more! You can find a boost of vitamin A, C, E, copper, zinc, sulfur, biotin, chlorophyll - all of the nutrients that play a role in collagen production - as well as many others!
- Our Organic Optimum Superfood Blend will also work to support collagen production! The blend includes fruits, berries, greens and roots that provide a boost of antioxidants, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals that are crucial for collagen production. This blend also contains polyphenols, polysaccharides, bioflavanoids, and enzymes. It truly is a synergistic powerhouse.