Collagen proteins are the real bones of our bodies. When well-mixed with calcium, collagen forms our actual bones, but it’s also tendons, cartilage and is woven throughout our skin, teeth, and internal organs. Collagens are the most common proteins in the body and one of the main components of the skin, so a plan to keep them healthy can have a huge impact on long-term wellbeing.
All of us age naturally but collagen in the skin is exposed to the chemical stressors of the world and can be aged prematurely, leading to some of the external characteristics that are often associated with aging like wrinkles and sagging skin. Collagen isn’t just directly damaged as we move through the world, the DNA that governs how collagen is replaced and healed can also be impacted and cancer can result. Protecting collagen also involves protecting your genes.
WHAT SCARES COLLAGEN
Though ideally we will all get older with time and our collagen will naturally degrade, there are specific factors that can age us prematurely. Damage to collagen is usually due to oxidative stress, which can come from both internal and external sources. When collagen proteins are oxidized the links between them break and they lose structure. Cells produce antioxidants to neutralize ROS, but if they get overwhelmed it’s likely nearby collagen strands can be broken, moisture can be lost, and even DNA can be damaged.
Collagen’s primary external enemies are oxidants that arise from direct exposure to UV light, of which the sun produces a prodigious amount. When it interacts with the molecules present in the skin, UV light can be absorbed by oxygen to create unstable products in the skin called reactive oxygen species (ROS), which are powerful oxidizers. Most ROS only exist for a fraction of a second before they bind with your tissues.
UV light can even penetrate the cells of the skin and damage DNA. Prolonged exposure over the years leads not only to premature aging but other possible complications including cancer.
SMOKE AND GASSES
Another outside source of oxidative stress is exposure to smoke. When organic material like tobacco or wood burns and releases heat, oxygen absorbs enough energy to produce ROS that can land on the skin and cause similar damage as the sun. The tiny bits of smoke have a high surface area and they are full of free radicals, the most reactive class of ROS.
This is not confined to smoke from personal use or wildfire, the particles and gases that make up air pollution are also rich in oxidants and evidence suggests it can also damage the skin. Fossil fuel combustion can lead to not only smoke particles, but also reactive organic compounds. Air pollution can lead to an increase in ozone, which is a relatively stable ROS that can exist in the atmosphere for several hours and build up at ground level.
Any time you increase your metabolism more ROS will result. However, keep in mind that although regular exercise produces free radicals, the benefits outweigh any potential damage, particularly if you take steps to neutralize those radicals.
HOW TO NEUTRALIZE RADICALS
The best way to prevent collagen damage from ROS is to avoid exposure completely, but that would mean avoiding sunlight and the outside world in general. Even though we should use sunscreen and carefully consider how much tobacco smoke we’re exposed to, there are other steps we can take to ensure that our tissues have enough antioxidants to neutralize any free radicals or other ROS that could overstress our cells.
There are many substances in our bodies and throughout biology that could be considered antioxidants, but not all of them can be practically used to protect collagen and most need to be balanced with other nutrients. There are many antioxidant supplements available, such as vitamin C which occurs in citrus and other fruits. It is thought to be a great antioxidant, but studies have shown that most people get plenty in their diet and few benefit from taking vitamin C supplements. It’s not even quite clear if Vitamin C is really the antioxidant that protects against disease, it could be one of the other substances in antioxidant-rich foods.
Choosing a diet that provides sufficient nutrients to neutralize ROS is different for each body, so be sure to work with a nutritionist or other expert to figure out what is best for you. You can also ask your primary care doctor for a blood test to check out how well your current diet is working, and possibly recommend foods you should add or avoid as a result of your genetics. For most people, a diet that has plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables will be sufficient to produce the normal complement of antioxidants that protect collagen and your cells in general.
Vitamin E is an antioxidant that has been proven to be a powerful neutralizer of ROS when applied directly to the skin. It’s known as a free radical scavenger, it seeks out and binds with free radicals before they can damage collagen or stress out cells. Applying vitamin E to the skin can protect from sun damage, maintain moisture, restore stability, and even prevent skin cancer.
In addition, you can take steps to reduce exposure to ROS in your household’s air. When indoors, be sure to use ventilation or filtration to remove fumes from cooking and other indoor activities. Ozone is an ROS and should never be released in occupied spaces, so if using an air purifier be sure it removes ozone and never produces it. Activated carbon can remove ozone but is used up in the process so be sure to keep any filters fresh. PECO technology in Molekule’s air purifiers can also remove ozone along with smoke and organic gases.
Your skin is your main defense against pathogens and toxins, so protecting your collagen isn’t just a good way to keep up your skin’s appearance, it’s also a good way to help this vital organ keep the rest of you protected. You can use skincare products to help like Tata Harper’s newest skincare line, Superkind. It was engineered specifically for reactive skin and contains plant-based compounds engineered to help defend skin against environmental aggressors. Superkind is manufactured using green technology so less pollutants end up in the air. And to help remove the pollutants that are in your indoor air, you can rely on Molekule’s powerful filtration technology.