What Are the Causes of Collagen Degradation?

Collagen is an helical protein found in connective tissue through out the body. At least 27 different types of collagen have been identified, with types I-IV being the most prominent in the human body. All serve the same purpose--to protect tissues from stretching. Collagen comprises approximately 25 percent of all the protein found in the body and supports and strengthens bones, teeth, tendons, skin and internal organs.

A jar of facial cream. (Image: Natalia_Grabovskaya/iStock/Getty Images)

Vitamin C

Vitamin C plays an essential role in supporting the stability of collagen molecules. Without vitamin C, collagen production gradually slows to a standstill--a condition known as scurvy. Symptoms of scurvy include loose teeth and easy bruising. Since the human body cannot generate vitamin C on its own, a diet rich in vitamin C is critical for maintaining collagen production. Sources of dietary vitamin C include citrus fruits, strawberries, red peppers and many other fruits and vegetables.


Unfortunately, the break down of proteins like collagen is an unavoidable part of the aging process. Loss of elasticity and strength results in sagging skin and wrinkles. However, collagen maintains its structural integrity for longer if it is protected from environmental threats like UV exposure.

UV Radiation

Exposure to ultraviolet radiation causes proteins like collagen and elastin--both responsible for the smooth flexibility of the skin--to break down resulting in wrinkles and crevices in the skin. Exposure to natural sunlight is healthy and important for maintaining vitamin D levels; however, wear sunscreen to protect the delicate matrix of proteins supporting the skin. Avoid tanning booths as they damage skin rapidly with intense UVA light, which penetrates the skin even more deeply than natural sunlight.


Smoking slows the production of collagen in the skin. (Image: PongMoji/iStock/Getty Images)

Smoking accelerates the aging process considerably adding fine lines and wrinkles to an otherwise biologically young face. Researchers at the University of Oulu in Finland found that smoking negatively impacted the rate of collagen I and collagen III synthesis in the skin. Slower collagen synthesis means that the skin loses some of its tensile strength and begins to sag prematurely.

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