Your skin is tough but not invincible. As you age, it loses its natural elastic quality, but living a healthy lifestyle helps slow the natural aging process. Building basic healthy habits can help your skin. Don't smoke, avoid the sun's skin-damaging rays and take the right vitamins to maintain skin elasticity.
The most helpful vitamins for your skin are vitamin C and vitamin E.
The Biggest Organ
Usually, when you think of organs, you imagine a beating heart or lungs filling with air. Those vital organs keep you alive, but there's another organ that spans your entire body: your skin.
Your skin protects you from infection, making it an essential part of the immune system. It can also help protect you from injury, sun rays and heat.
There are three layers to your skin. The toughest layer, which is on the outside, is the epidermis. Underneath is the dermis, which houses nerve endings, sweat glands and hair follicles. This layer of skin is very important for the elasticity of your skin because it contains connective tissues collagen and elastin.
Underneath the dermis is the subcutis, which often contains subcutaneous fat. This layer contains vital structures like sweat glands, sebaceous glands, sensory nerves, hair follicles and blood vessels.
What Makes Skin Elastic
Your skin is elastic. Push your finger into your arm and you can see how flexible it is without breaking. Elastin is a protein that gives skin the ability to stretch without being damaged.
As you age, your skin loses elasticity slowly. Wrinkles are a telltale sign that your skin is aging. The loss of elasticity is associated with a breakdown of the protein elastin, according to a study published in Biochimie in September-October 2016.
While the loss of elastin is part of the normal aging process, the study shows that too much sun can also lead to the breakdown of this all-important protein. As elastin production slows, your skin naturally loses elasticity.
Collagen is also important in maintaining the integrity of the skin. More than 70 percent of the dry layer of the dermis is composed of different types of collagen, according to Derm 101. Along with elastin, these two forms of protein keep your skin healthy and stretchy.
Healthy Habits for Healthy Skin
Protecting your skin from sun is important if you want to keep your skin elastic. Wearing sunscreen or avoiding sun altogether will help. Simple health habits like drinking enough water and avoiding cigarette smoke can help. Eating a balanced diet with antioxidants can save your skin from damage.
Antioxidants Keep Skin Elastic
Throughout the day, your body produces free radicals. These are a byproduct of normal functions, or they're created by something in the environment. When sunlight hits your skin, for example, free radicals can form. A free radical is a highly reactive compound, according to the University of Michigan's Michigan Medicine.
One of the most damaging free radicals is oxygen. It has two free electrons in its outer shell, making it extremely reactive. Free radicals like oxygen are inherently unstable and can bind with and change other molecules in the body. They disrupt and even damage your cells, including skin cells. Damage to skin cells is part of the aging process and can decrease the elasticity of your skin.
Antioxidants help fight free radicals by donating an electron to make them less reactive. Your body produces its own source of antioxidants but you can get more from food or supplements. Some vitamins are particularly potent antioxidants.
Best Vitamins for Skin Elasticity
There are three main vitamins that help your skin stay elastic by protecting it from the sun, according to a May 2015 study in Biomolecules & Therapeutics: vitamin A, vitamin E and vitamin C. All three are antioxidants, although they play different roles in skin care. Keep in mind that they can slow the aging process, but can't reverse it. Unfortunately, there aren't vitamins to tighten loose skin.
Vitamin A, in the form of retinol, is found in many skin creams. According to an article from the Linus Pauling Institute, it can protect your skin from harmful UV rays if you apply it before being exposed to sunlight.
According to the article, applying retinoid cream can reduce signs of skin aging like wrinkling, freckles and roughness. Vitamin A supports collagen, which might be why it's so beneficial for skin health.
As an antioxidant, vitamin E can help your skin stay elastic. It helps protect your skin from harmful UV rays, which can damage elastin. While it's no replacement for sunscreen, vitamin E can help you in the battle against skin-damaging UV rays.
How to Get Vitamin E
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin, which means the best way to get it is by eating certain fatty foods. Vegetable oils, nuts, seeds and green leafy vegetables are all high in vitamin E, according to MedlinePlus.
You can also take a vitamin E supplement if it's lacking in your diet. However, vitamin supplements for your skin are probably unnecessary if you're eating a balanced diet.
According to the National Institutes of Health, adults need only 22.5 international units (IUs) of vitamin E per day. Most supplements contain between 100 and 1,000 IUs, which is far more than required.
Vitamin C plays a similar role in the body as vitamin E since they're both antioxidants. They both help protect your skin from the aging effects of sunlight, according to an August 2017 report in the journal Nutrients. In addition to its role in protecting the skin, vitamin C is a vital part of collagen production.
Vitamin C and Collagen
Collagen is made in the dermis of your skin and is important for the structural integrity of your skin. In fact, according to a 2015 article in the Journal of Medical Nutrition & Nutraceuticals, supplementing with collagen can decrease wrinkles and improve the elasticity of your skin.
If you don't ingest enough vitamin C, collagen production slows. That's why one symptom of scurvy, a condition that stems from low vitamin C levels, is damaged skin.
Read more: How to Boost Collagen Under the Eyes
Antioxidant Effect of Vitamin C
Vitamin C and vitamin E are partners in the fight to keep free radicals from damaging your skin. They work particularly well together, according to the August 2017 study published in Nutrients. Vitamin C can actually help recycle vitamin E to be used again.
Getting More Vitamin C
Humans don't make their own vitamin C, so the only way to get it is through diet and supplements. To get more vitamin C naturally, up your fruit and vegetable intake. Fruits like watermelon, pineapple, strawberries, mango and citrus fruits like grapefruit are high in vitamin C. Vegetables such as broccoli, green and red peppers, spinach and potatoes are high in vitamin C, as well.
You can also opt for a vitamin C supplement if you're having trouble consuming enough naturally. The optimal amount of vitamin C for an adult male over 19 years of age, according to the National Institutes of Health, is 90 milligrams.
For a female over 19 years, it's 75 milligrams. Supplements can contain 500, 1,000 or more milligrams of vitamin C. These high doses aren't dangerous because vitamin C is a water-soluble supplement, which means your body quickly flushes it out.
- Biochime: "Molecular-Level Insights Into Aging Processes of Skin Elastin"
- Derm 101: "Embryologic, Histologic, and Anatomic Aspects"
- National Institutes of Health: "Vitamin E"
- Medline Plus: "Vitamin E"
- Oregon State: "Vitamin E"
- American Academy of Dermatology: "Beauty From the Inside Out: Improving Your Diet or Taking Supplements May Lead to Younger-Looking Skin"
- Medline Plus: "Vitamin C"
- National Institutes of Health: "Vitamin C"
- Britannica: "Human Skin"
- Lumen Learning: "Connective Tissue"
- Our Good Living Formula: "How to Improve Skin Elasticity"
- Nutrients: "The Roles of Vitamin C in Skin Health"
- Nutrients: "The Role of Vitamin C in Skin Health"
- Journal of Medical Nutrition & Nutraceuticals: "Effects of a Nutritional Supplement Containing Collagen Peptides on Skin Elasticity, Hydration and Wrinkles"
- Colorado State: "Free Radicals and Reactive Oxygen"
- Harvard Health: "Antioxidants: Beyond the Hype"
- Biomolecules & Therapeutics: "Role of Micronutrients in Skin Health and Function"
- Linus Pauling Institute: "Vitamin A and Skin Health"