20 Ways to Preserve — and Boost — Collagen in Your Face
More collagen means fewer wrinkles and smooth, lifted skin. Here are the topical products, in-office treatments, and lifestyle habits to practice for a healthier-looking complexion now.
In search of smooth skin, you’ll hear a lot of chatter about “boosting collagen,” but what does that mean exactly? “Collagen is the main structural protein in the skin, which acts like scaffolding and provides volume so the skin is smooth and wrinkle-free,” explains Jennifer Chwalek, MD, board-certified dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology in New York City.
Environmental factors like sun exposure and pollution can break down collagen, making it more likely you’ll see wrinkles staring back at you in the mirror, says New York City–based board-certified dermatologist Marisa Garshick, MD. Age is a major factor, too. “As you get older, collagen production decreases so the skin can also appear thinner and have less structural support, which is why people begin to notice drooping or sagging of their skin,” she says.
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Collagen loss begins in the early twenties, says Dr. Garshick, making it important to both preserve the collagen you have — and stimulate your skin to produce it faster. Here are 20 smart ways to do just that:
1. Add Retinoids, the Gold-Standard Topical, to Your Routine
Retinoid/retinol are vitamin A derivatives that upregulate genes involved in collagen production. “Research shows an improvement in facial wrinkles after applying retinol for 12 weeks,” says Chwalek, referring to a study published in March 2016 in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology.
2. Try Bakuchiol if Retinoids Are Too Harsh
Bakuchiol is a natural alternative to a retinol/retinoid, and is thought to similarly stimulate skin cell turnover to rev collagen production with less of a risk of irritation, according to a study published in June 2018 in the British Journal of Dermatology. “This may be particularly good for people with sensitive skin,” Dr. Garshick says.
3. Protect Collagen With Topical Vitamin C
Slather on a vitamin C serum in the morning. The vitamin is an antioxidant that protects the collagen in your skin against UV damage, says Chwalek. More than that, she says, it triggers collagen formation and stabilizes the collagen proteins in skin.
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4. Pack in Peptides
Peptides are a short chain of amino acids that serve as the building blocks of proteins, according to Paula’s Choice. Products with peptides, Garshick says, “have been shown to help promote collagen and elastin in the skin, improving firmness.” (Indeed, past research establishes this collagen-boosting effect!)
5. Slather on Sunscreen Every Morning
Sunscreen is vital for skin cancer prevention — but also for keeping skin young and springy. “UV exposure can lead to the breakdown of collagen, which can lead to the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, so you’re never too young to start wearing sunscreen regularly,” says Garshick. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends choosing a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher.
6. Then Reapply Sunscreen Throughout the Day
Sunscreen lasts for two hours, says Garshick. “While making sunscreen a part of your daily routine is essential, it’s also important to reapply throughout the day, especially on days with extended sun exposure,” she says. Check the label on your product; reapplication recommendations vary, though the Skin Cancer Foundation recommends doing so every two hours.
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7. And Don’t Forget Below Your Chin
In your collagen-preserving sunscreen routine, don’t forget your neck, chest, and the back of your hands, says Garshick: “These areas can see the effects of cumulative sun damage, as the skin in these areas is thinner and therefore more likely to show the effects of aging,” she says.
8. Consider Taking Collagen Supplements
There are various collagen supplements available, including powders that you can mix into coffee and smoothies. While more studies are needed, says Garshick, she points to a January 2019 study in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology that notes that preliminary research shows that these supplements help increase skin elasticity, hydration, and the density of collagen within skin.
9. Add Lean Protein to Your Plate
Eat a balanced diet that includes an adequate amount of protein. “High-protein foods contain amino acids that are critical for collagen synthesis,” says Garshick. Lean protein sources include fish, seafood, skinless chicken breast, and lean cuts of beef and pork.
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10. Limit Your Added Sugar Intake
A diet rich in sugar promotes the formation of advanced glycation end products (aptly called AGEs) that break down collagen, says Chwalek. Limit sugar consumption by reading the back of food labels and looking at either the “added sugar” line in the nutrition label or reading the ingredient list.
11. Load Up on Produce
There are many benefits to filling half your plate with fruits and vegetables, including preventing heart disease, stroke, and cancer, as Harvard University calls out. Add skin health to that list: “Eating a diet rich in antioxidants [via fruits and vegetables], can help to ward off free radical damage that degrades collagen,” says Chwalek.
12. Wear a Hat to Block the Sun’s Rays
A wide-brimmed hat will shield your face, scalp, and neck from damaging rays from the sun, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Choose a hat that has at least a 3-inch brim made with a tightly woven material.
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13. Sport Shades to Protect Around Your Eyes
To discourage crow’s feet from forming, wear sunglasses. Wraparound shades stop UV rays from sneaking in around the sides. The good news is that even cheap sunglasses will protect against both UVA and UVB rays, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
14. Don’t Smoke — And Stop if You Do
Smoking cigarettes ages your skin in a variety of ways. “Smoking decreases blood flow and oxygen to the skin. It also creates toxic free radicals that damage collagen and elastin fibers, and sop up antioxidants in the skin,” says Chwalek. Ultimately, this speeds up wrinkle formation, and past research shows the habit ages your skin faster.
15. Consider a Chemical Peel
There are many options for in-office anti-aging procedures, including a chemical peel. These use hydroxy acids (like glycolic acid) to boost skin cell turnover, which in turn stimulates collagen production, says Garshick. Patients “see immediate benefits from chemical peels, as they can help with tone, texture, and the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles,” she says.
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16. Ask Your Dermatologist About Other In-Office Treatments
Ask your dermatologist if you are a good candidate for a resurfacing laser, radiofrequency treatment, microneedling, IPL (intense pulsed light), Juvederm/Restylane, or Radiesse. “These treatments work by stimulating collagen production and can help treat the visible signs of aging. Patients notice their skin looks more even and smoother over time,” says Chwalek.
17. Focus on De-Stressing Strategies
Stress causes inflammation and weakens the body’s ability to repair itself, speeding up skin aging, prior research shows. Maintain a list of de-stressing strategies to have at the ready for when life gets overwhelming.
18. Keep Moving
Physical activity keeps your body, mind, and skin young. “Exercise is another important factor in slowing the aging process,” says Chwalek. What’s more, staying active is a bona fide way to bust stress, the Mayo Clinic notes.
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19. Cut Back on Booze
Alcohol impairs skin’s ability to produce collagen, as well as its natural antioxidant defense system (making it more vulnerable to damage), according to findings published in an August 2019 survey in The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. People who drink eight or more drinks per week are more likely to have lines and wrinkles.
20. Get Your Beauty Rest
While more research in humans is needed, maintaining a regular sleep schedule may help with collagen renewal, research on mice in Nature Cell Biology in January 2020 suggests. The National Sleep Foundation recommends adults log 7 to 9 hours of (literal) beauty sleep per night.