Secret to Beauty Found Deep Inside the Skin

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Nurse Practitioner Christina Smitley with Advanced Dermatology PC Offers Tips to Preserve What Makes Skin Healthy.

Christina Smitley, FNP-C

Collagen, a long, fibrous, structural protein found in the inner layer (dermis) of skin, is more than a simple preventive for skin wrinkles, creases and sags.

Beauty is certainly skin deep when that skin is reinforced by a strong underlayment of collagen, but collagen, a long, fibrous, structural protein found in the inner layer (dermis) of skin, is more than a simple preventive for skin wrinkles, creases and sags, according to Christina Smitley, FNP-C, of Advanced Dermatology, PC.

“Collagen composes a third of the proteins in the human body and serves as an important, supportive structure for cells in bones, muscles, tendons, as well as skin. Studies have shown various types of collagen play a key role in healing wounds, including heart repair; maintaining skin elasticity; acting as a protective coating for internal organs; and preventing some diseases, such as cancer and even Alzheimer’s disease,” said Smitley, a board-certified family nurse practitioner.

For example, authors of a 2016 study in the journal, Oncotarget, found that changes in the arrangement of collagen fibers surrounding pancreatic tumors proved to be a “biomarker” for a patient’s early death. Similar changes in collagen have been associated with colorectal, breast, head, neck and esophageal cancers. Other research has shown collagen’s ability to trigger chemical signals that protect the body from cancer.

Meanwhile, Smitley said the critical role that collagen plays in maintaining “beautiful, healthy” skin was most recently highlighted in a July 2017 study, published in the online journal, eLife. There, scientists reported that a type of collagen, COL 17, helps maintain the outer layer of skin, or epidermis, in a “juvenile state” by preventing epidermal cells from “over-proliferating” and causing the kind of skin thickening that comes with aging. Smitley concurs with authors that the finding could go a long way toward developing new anti-aging strategies for skin.

“As we age, collegen breaks down, causing the fibroblasts in skin to lose their normal, stretched state and collapse,” said Smitley, referring to a 2008 report from University of Michigan researchers, who indicate that people in their 80s have four times more collagen breakdown than those in their 20s. The ongoing loss of collagen leads to sagging, wrinkles and, eventually skin that tears and bruises easily, she said.

That’s the bad news. The good news: collagen can be restored -- up to a point, Smitley said, although she adds that simply slathering collagen-containing ointments, creams and moisturizers on the skin will not boost collagen production in the inner skin layer. “Collagen molecules are too big to move beyond the outer layer.”

Some preliminary clinical studies have shown that oral dietary supplements containing collagen peptides may be effective in restoring the cellular matrix in the skin’s dermis and improving the look and quality of skin, Smitley said. Administration of the nutritional supplement, collagen hydrolysate, has proven beneficial to patients with osteoarthritis and the relief of joint pain in otherwise healthy athletes. A 2012 study determined that extracts from the ginseng herb, which has anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor and antioxidant properties, can positively affect the number and function of fibroblasts in the dermis. Loss of fibroblasts leads to a decrease in collagen.

Smitley, however, cautions care in the use of dietary supplements, which are not currently regulated by the federal Food and Drug Administration.

“The bottom line: you are what you eat. The best way to maintain healthy, radiant skin is to protect it by following a well-balanced diet. That means consuming plenty of fruits and vegetables rich in natural antioxidants, such as beta-carotene and vitamins A, C and E, and food high in omega-3 fatty acids, like fish, nuts and seeds,” Smitley advises.

She also offers these tips:

  •     Use an effective sun block and wear protective clothing when outdoors. “UV light damage from the sun can cause premature aging of skin.”
  •     Drink plenty of water.
  •     Exercise and get sufficient sleep.
  •     Don’t smoke.

Bio: Christina Smitley, FNP-C, is a family nurse practitioner who is board-certified through the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners.

Advanced Dermatology P.C. and the Center for Laser and Cosmetic Surgery (New York & New Jersey) is one of the leading dermatology centers in the nation, offering highly experienced physicians in the fields of cosmetic and laser dermatology as well as plastic surgery and state-of-the-art medical technologies.

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