Protect your collagen by avoiding radiation from the sun. Initially, fibroblasts produce short collagen subunits called procollagen. These subunits then leave the fibroblast cell and move into the extra cellular matrix, where cofactors such as vitamin C bind them together to make collagen. Without a sufficient supply of vitamin C, the subunits cannot be converted into collagen and the skin begins to lose its structure.

Protect your skin collagen, Vitamin C, Elastin, UVA and UVB

In the short term, this leads to weak, loose skin; in the long term, disruptions in collagen synthesis can lead to a variety of disorders, including scurvy. Scurvy is a disease where the body fails to produce collagen, and as a result, the body essentially falls apart as its support structures deteriorate.

Every day, fibroblasts produce collagen to help repair damaged tissue or to build new cellular structures. They also break down and recycle damaged collagen. With age, the level of collagen in the skin drops due to a decrease in collagen production and an increase in its degradation. Preventing this degradation is probably the best way to maintain a healthy, youthful looking appearance. Wearing wide brimmed hats and using sunscreen can help reduce your skin’s exposure to UVA and UVB radiation.

For battling the exposure you cannot avoid, nutrients are essential. Free radical damage can be prevented by ingesting antioxidants, which are present in many colorful foods such as berries, tropical fruit, and vegetables. Think of food as a peaceful warrior, ready to protect collagen and eager to help you look luminous and youthful.

Vitamin C is for Collagen

In 1981, researchers reported that human connective tissue cells, the same cells that make collagen in your skin, were stimulated to produce eight times more collagen when they were exposed to vitamin C for an extended period of time proof positive that stocking your diet with vitamin C–rich foods can help your body produce all the collagen it needs.

Promoting synthesis of collagen is another way to encourage healthy, plump, smooth skin. This means providing the skin with vitamin C, an important cofactor required to convert collagen subunits into active collagen proteins. Because vitamin C is water soluble, it cannot build up in the body and form reserves, so consuming vitamin C–rich foods frequently is important to ensure that your skin can make collagen.

Wrinkle Prevention by Elastin

Elastin is a coil-like protein that helps the skin resume its shape when poked or pinched. A decrease in elastin can cause the skin to lose its firmness. With age, the body produces more of a hormone called DHT, which inhibits elastin production. Thus, as we age, elastin production decreases and the resilience of existing elastin fibers diminishes. This results in areas of decreased firmness, especially along the jawline, along the neck, and around the eyes. In addition, repeated mechanical stress to elastin (from frowning, for instance) can permanently stretch out these fibers and lead to sagging and wrinkles.

Like collagen, elastin can be damaged by ultraviolet light from the sun, as can the fibroblast cells that make both collagen and elastin. Topical creams may claim that they contain elastin and can improve the skin’s elastin content; however, there is no proof that topical application of elastin increases elastin levels in the skin.

Because iron has been linked with increased elastin production, eating iron rich foods like spinach and dried fruits may be the best option for boosting the amount of elastin produced in your skin.

Maintaining Your Skin

Ever wonder how clean your skin really is? Dead skin cells are continually sloughing off the epidermis. Sweat and gland secretions are excreted continually in your skin, and dust, dirt, and other environmental pollutants land on your skin all day long. Together, these create a filthy layer on the skin’s surface. Minimizing this layer of grime will help your skin’s complexion shine, allow your skin’s functions to work properly, and reduce the chance of infection, inflammation, or acne.

A layer of dirt on the skin blocks some of the skin’s functions, including the production of antibacterial compounds. Unclean skin is a good environment for the growth of bacteria, which can lead to infection (not to mention an unpleasant odor). Proper hygiene practices can prevent dirt from accumulating on the skin, and wearing season-appropriate clothing can help sweat on the skin properly evaporate. Nutrition can also offer the skin healthy oils to promote a balanced, healthy moisture level.

Note, however, that none of these practices can prevent the presence of microorganisms on the skin. The skin supports its own ecosystem of microorganisms, including yeasts and bacteria. One square inch (25 mm) of skin holds up to 500 million microorganisms. If this makes you squeamish, you must realize that despite the staggering quantity of microorganisms, their volume is only about the size of a pea.

Not all microorganisms are harmful—in fact, some, known as probiotics, help keep the bad microbes in check and help the skin stay healthy. Stress, travel, changes in diet, and antibiotic use can disrupt the balance of microorganisms on the skin and in the body and can lead to red, puffy skin and even acne and psoriasis. Changes in the skin’s balance of microorganisms can decrease the number of helpful probiotics and allow bad microbes, like yeast, to grow and cause great discomfort. A proper diet can contribute to a healthy ecosystem of microorganisms on your skin.