Can Collagen Help Sun-Damaged Skin?
UV radiation from chronic sun exposure can damage your skin in more ways than one. While broad spectrum SPF sunscreen and shade can help protect the skin from sun damage, some studies and trials have suggested that some collagen supplements may potentially help with skin elasticity, though there has yet to be a definitive study on the connection.
Sunlight Impacts Your Skin
Oxidative stress is condition that occurs when our body has too many highly chemically reactive molecules (free radicals) that causes damage to cell DNA and not enough antioxidants to fight them. Having too many free radicals present in the body can damage cells and tissues in our bodies, leading to chronic inflammation and even cancer. While many things can increase the number of free radicals in our bodies, including our diet, environmental toxins, smoking, drinking, and stress, overexposure to sunlight can lead to a larger number of free radicals in the skin.
UV rays from sunlight change the structural integrity of our skin. When UVA and UVB rays come into contact with the skin, it can increase the number of free radicals which damages the DNA in skin cells. This can cause overactive cell proliferation, or cell division, which can increase the risk of skin cancers and premature aging.
Changes to skin cell DNA can cause additional problems. UV radiation can increase the inflammatory response, which can alter how quickly skin gets repaired and heals. It can also change the elasticity of our skin, and destroy essential proteins called collagen.
What is Collagen?
Collagen is one of the most abundant proteins in the body. It makes up connective tissues in nearly every system. Collagen can be found in bones, joints, cartilage, the lining of internal organs, and most importantly, in the skin. Collagen makes up about 80 percent of the skin, and it’s where the most immune cells reside.
Collagen production naturally starts to decrease as we age, but exposure to UV radiation can cause collagens to break down faster. This can make it more difficult for the body to replace those collagens with new ones.
How to Identify Sun-Damaged Skin
Sun damage prevention and protection starts with understanding what sun damaged skin looks like. There are many indications of sun damage other than the typical sunburn, although that should be taken just as seriously, as a high volume of sun burns can increase the risk of skin cancer exponentially.
Signs of sun damage include:
- Moles (cancerous and noncancerous)
- Wrinkles and fine lines
- Dry skin
Not all moles are cancerous — in fact many are non-cancerous — but they should be given special attention to as a precaution.
What do cancerous moles look like? Cancerous moles can range in appearance, but they typically have a few commonalities.
Cancerous moles can be:
- Different shades of brown or black
- Red, blue, or even white-looking as they grow
- Large in size
- Raised above the skin
You should schedule regular check ups with your healthcare provider to run tests to screen for skin cancers, especially if they are common in your family medical history.
Wrinkles and Fine Lines
While wrinkles and fine lines are a sign of natural aging, they can be worsened by chronic exposure to UV rays. Skin elasticity is dependent on the structural integrity of proteins and the amount of moisture retained by those proteins. Sunlight can weaken those proteins, which in turn, dries them out, making skin less hydrated. This causes the skin to become heavier, which can cause deep creases in the skin in the forms of fine lines and wrinkles.
For women who experience dry skin regularly, this may also be an indication of sun damage. Dry skin can be a sign that the skin is losing its elasticity at a faster rate than it naturally would during the aging process. We know that UV radiation from sunlight can break down collagens, which are where the majority of skin moisture is stored. However, it can also dry out natural oils that get produced in the skin.
The sebaceous glands are glands in the skin that release natural oils (primarily sebum). These natural oils help keep skin hydrated and help support the health of the skin microbiome. The skin microbiome is the collection of bacteria that live on the skin. These bacteria can help maintain the microbial health of the skin and work with immune cells to reduce the risk of other bacteria and viruses from spreading.
What Can You Do?
Staying hydrated, using sunscreen, staying in the shade, and moisturizing are all great ways to help reduce sun damage to a certain extent. You can also support skin health by stimulating collagen absorption and production through a healthy diet, full of foods with collagen in them (like bone broth) or foods that have the vitamins required for collagen production (like shellfish, whole grains, legumes, leafy greens, berries, bell peppers, and more). Some studies have suggested that collagen supplements may help skin retain greater elasticity; however, more research is needed.
Getting enough sleep, avoiding exposure to tobacco smoke, and coping with stress are also great ways to make sure your collagen production doesn't slow down prematurely.