Located within the dermis (below the outermost layer of skin), collagen is the foundation of connective tissue that supports the skin’s structure—making it essential for younger-looking skin. But, as we age, the body produces less of it, since naturally occurring enzymes break collagen down, in turn, causing the skin to thin, lose fullness and form wrinkles. The sun, pollution, free radicals and smoke are also responsible for disintegrating collagen.
While the body is constantly creating new collagen to repair what’s been damaged, around age 35, collagen production naturally begins to taper off, and the quality of collagen is not as good as in years past. The good news? In addition to topical products, and treatments, food is a great way to naturally boost collagen in the skin. “Stimulating collagen with at-home topical products, in-office treatments and proper lifestyle choices helps the skin maintain its strength, resiliency and volume,” says Madison, WI, facial plastic surgeon Richard C. Parfitt, MD.
Flip through this gallery to see the best foods to restore, regenerate and repair damaged collagen. Get out your pen. It's time to make an anti-aging shopping list.
Creates stronger cells: “Fish like tuna and salmon are loaded with omega-3 fatty acid,” says New York nutritionist Brook Alpert. Skin cells are surrounded by a fatty membrane that protects them. When the cells are healthy, they are able to support the structure of the skin.
Pump up sun protection: Tomatoes, peppers and beets contain the antioxidant lycopene. "Lycopene acts as a natural sunblock, protecting the skin from damage while increasing collagen levels,” says Alpert.
Dark green vegetables
Rev up collagen production: Rich in vitamin C, dark green vegetables like spinach and kale can rev up collagen production. In topical products, “vitamin C has antioxidizing properties that stabilize the messenger enzymes that break collagen down. It also protects against free radicals to prevent weak collagen,” says Orlando, FL, dermatologist Dr. Dimitry Palceski.
Restore and regenerate: Vegetables that are orange in color, like carrots and sweet potatoes, are rich in vitamin A, which restores and regenerates damaged collagen.
Ward off damage: Blackberries and raspberries scavenge free radicals while simultaneously increasing collagen levels.
Blocks aging: Whether sources from soy milk, cheese or tofu, soy contains genistein (plant hormones that serve as antioxidants), which prompts collagen production and helps to block enzymes, like MMPs that can age the skin.
Supports structure: According to research conducted by Kingston University and Neal’s Yard Remedies, white tea may protect the structural proteins of the skin, specifically collagen. It’s believed to prevent enzyme activity that breaks down collagen, contributing to lines and wrinkles.
Studies show that citrus fruits such as oranges, limes, lemons and grapefruits that are rich in vitamin C have the ability to help amino acids—lysine and proline—convert to collagen. Antioxidant vitamin C is also extremely important in helping to neutralize free radicals, which attack and break down collagen and elastin in the skin.
In addition to giving your body a dose of healthy protein that it needs, egg whites are high in both lysine and proline, as well as collagen itself, so adding more egg whites into your diet could help support your body's natural production of collagen. And for those who choose the vegetarian or vegan route and don’t want to incorporate animal products like eggs or lean meats into their diet, try nuts (particularly peanuts), which also supply lysine.
One of the best sources of sulfur, which is necessary to collagen production in the body, garlic also provides lipoic acid and taurine that help rebuild collagen fibers that have been damaged.
A favorite among exotic foods, oysters are a naturally rich source of zinc—an essential element of the collagen-building process. Also chock-full of vitamins and minerals including iron and vitamin B12, oysters provide a low-calorie option and a long list of health benefits.