What is Elastin and Collagen and how are they involved in skin laxity?

Loss of skin elasticity causes loosening of the supporting tissue, which leads to sagging. The skin is subjected to an aging process, made worse by the cumulative effects of sun, gravity, genetics and other factors such as stress
By: Ailesbury Media
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Dr Patrick Treacy
Anti-aging Medicine
Skin Sagging


Dublin - Dublin - Ireland

Jan. 12, 2010 - PRLog -- Elastin is also a protein, found largely in connective tissue. As expected by its name, it is elastic, which allows our skin to return to its original shape after it is stretched or contracted. Elastin also plays an important role in load-bearing tissues and it is used in places where mechanical energy is needed to be stored.

As we age we lose volume in our face, primarily fat. As a result skin loosens as gravity acts on it creating droopiness, wrinkles and bands. This excess skin leads to jowls, neck and eyelid sagging, and may require correction by plastic surgery (e.g. facelift, neck lift etc.) because the underlying tissues need to be repositioned. Some people say skin starts to sag from the day we are born.  However, we do know that babies faces quickly restore their plumpness when we ‘goo-goo’ them and pinch their cheeks while the same action in an elderly patient is more likely to incur their wrath over the bruise you have left behind. Somewhere, in the middle years is the day when you notice the skin's underlying structure is breaking down, robbing our faces of definition, youthful plumpness, and inner resilience. This usually happens in earnest during our early forties. Whenever we reach this stage we will soon know or if we don’t we will be reminded, because it  is the time of life when younger people tend to refer to our sagging faces with such unflattering terms like loose jowls, turkey neck, and falling face. This is the time we urgently need to see the cosmetic doctor.  And maybe then, sometimes it is just too late for any repair except surgery. The cosmetic doctor will fill the consultation by telling us how the skin now renews itself much more slowly than it once did. This is correct as most components of the skin, including collagen, undergo continuous turnover. At a younger age new collagen formation occurs as a result of active fibroblasts but this process slows in later life and the degradation of collagen predominates. Therefore, to keep your skin's collagen in synthetic balance, it is preferable after the age of thirty to do things that will boost collagen synthesis and reduce its degradation. The doctor will probably add that two of the other major causes of sagging skin are yo-yo dieting and prolonged exposure to sunlight.  He/she may also mention more specific things  like predetermined genetic make-up or even fat reabsorption but what we really want to know is what are you going to do about it?

What is Collagen and how can we form new deposits?

Collagen is the main protein of connective tissue in animals and the most abundant protein in mammals, making up about 25% to 35% of the whole-body protein content.  The word collagene is really a French made up word from the Greek for glue and birth. It came into the English language in 1865 and entered the Oxford English Dictionary in 1893 to describe “that part of connective tissue that yields gelatin no boiling. In the 1920’s, a French scientist called Nageotte discovered collagen could exist in fibrils. After using X-Ray’s it was discovered that this molecule was actually a triple-helix. In the 1960’s, another type of collagen was discovered in cartilage. It was slightly different than skin collagen and was called collagen II. Then we discovered another type in fetal skin and this was called Collagen III. Collagen type I and III tend to predominate in the skin, the agents and treatments shown to stimulate the synthesis of these types such as topical Vitamin C is advised.  

The only way we can restore the younger collagen is to provide a dermal insult to ‘kick-start’ the dormant fibroblasts or slow down the destructive process of UV light. Dermal insults include chemical peels, laser resurfacing, dermal rolling or radiofrequency devices. However, we should be aware that skin over forty years does not always respond to collagen synthesis boosters and trying to stop the degradation of collagen may prove to be a more sensible approach. I really saw this with the introduction of Isolagen® fibroblast transplanting some years ago. It was then apparent that the people who got the best results were the patients with acne scarring because they were all in their twenties and thirties. The only topical application that I feel that may slow the destructive process of UV light is the of photoprotectant vitamin C. This molecule has been shown in many studies to protect the skin from damage caused by prolonged UV exposure by reducing the amount of free radical formation and/or sunburn cells. Many companies try to sell products that will cause MMP inhibition but as yet none of them have satisfactory scientific results. There is some benefit in using retinoids also as they can act on inflammatory pathways and reduce the amount of MMP’s that are synthesised.

We wear sun protection to slow down wrinkle development; can we not slow down this laxity inthe skin?

This is a good question and involves a little science. Sunlight contains both UVA and UVB radiation, which causes collagen fibres to break down and cause wrinkles but it also causes abnormal elastin to accumulate. Many dermatologists feel exposure to sunlight accounts for 90% of the symptoms of premature skin aging. There is little doubt that UV radiation can cause skin damage including wrinkles, aging skin disorders, and cancer. If we look more closely at the laxity problem, we have to admit that we still do not fully understand the process. Sun exposure causes an accumulation of denatured elastin and enzymes called metalloproteinases, which normally remodel sun-injured skin by manufacturing and reforming collagen. However, something happens during sun exposure, which causes some of these matrix metalloproteinases (MMP’s) to actually break down collagen into disorganized fibres known as solar scars. The ratio of organised collagen to disorganised collagen determines the age of our skin. In younger years collagen is freshly deposited by young healthy fibroblasts and it has a definite orderly structure under the microscope. It is interesting to watch how it changes its structure after exposure to sun, free radicals, smoking and underlying metabolic conditions to lead to diminished skin texture and wrinkles.

We hear a lot about free radicals. What are they?

Free radicals are really unstable oxygen molecules formed by UV radiation. The oxygen molecule becomes unstable because UV radiation splits up an electron pair on its surface. This means the molecule remains unstable until it can secure another electron from a nearby molecule and it often does this by scavenging these from nearby genetic material. Free radicals can also activate MMP’s (matrix metalloproteinases), which in turn break down collagen. It is known that they can induce cancer by altering genetic material. Some cells try and protect themselves against turning cancerous by committing a form of cell-suicide called apoptosis.

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Ailesbury Clinics Ltd is the leading provider of advanced medical aesthetic skin care in Ireland. It was awarded Best Medical Practice in Ireland 2005.

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Tags:Dr Patrick Treacy, Anti-aging Medicine, Cellulite, Collagen, Skin Sagging, Elastin
Location:Dublin - Dublin - Ireland
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