What Is Collagen & Elastin?
Your skin functions as the largest organ on the human body, weighing roughing six pounds and renewing itself every 27 days, according to the Cleveland Clinic. But there's more to your skin than meets the eye; collagen and elastin are two vital proteins to which you want to give tender loving care. Once your skin stops producing collagen and elastin, or when collagen and elastin become damaged, signs of aging begin.
Collagen and elastin are proteins that work closely together to form your skin's structure. However, collagen is the largest component of your dermis, accounting for 80 percent of its dry weight, states the American Academy of Dermatology. The Cleveland Clinic describes collagen as your "fountain of youth," as it prevents wrinkles and lines from forming on your skin. The intrinsic aging process, as well as extrinsic factors, such as sun exposure, reduce your skin's ability to produce collagen.
The primary difference between collagen and elastin is that the latter protein gives your skin its resilience and spring, allowing it to return to its original state after you make a certain facial expression. Elastin is found in other parts of your body, such as your lungs, heart, liver and Achille's tendon, says the AAD. Time and environmental factors can also impair your skin's ability to renew and repair elastin. Reduced amounts of elastin also mean wrinkles on your face, as well as sagging, says the Cleveland Clinic.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, your skin is comprised of three distinct layers. There's thinnest layer that you see–the epidermis–which plays host to cells such as keratinocytes, which make up most of the epidermis; melanocytes, which give your skin its color; and Langerhans cells, which protect foreign matter from entering your body. The deepest layer, the hypodermis or subcutis, contains your sweat glands, fat and collagen cells, shielding your inner organs and keeping your body heat from escaping. There is also the middle layer, the dermis, where collagen and elastin are found.
How many wrinkles you get depends on the health of the collagen and elastin in the dermis. The Cleveland Clinic states that this layer is extremely complex, comprised of a network of blood vessels, hair follicles and oil glands--it also contains pain and touch receptors. Inside the dermis are cells called fibroblasts, which manufacture collagen and elastin. The presence and health of these two proteins dictate how fresh and youthful your skin appears.
Using comprehensive sun protection is one of the most important things you can do to protect your skin's collagen and elastin, states the Mayo Clinic. Stay out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and cover up whenever you go out. If you plan to spend time outdoors, apply sunscreen 30 minutes beforehand. Don't smoke, and do eat a balanced diet and reduce stress. The clinic encourages you to always treat your skin gently. Limit long baths and hot showers, and avoid cleansers with harsh ingredients. Moisturize daily using a cream or lotion formulated for your skin type.
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