You know about collagen and you’ve read about hyaluronic acid, but are you up to speed on elastin? This naturally occurring protein is responsible for skin that snaps back like a rubber band—something we all want as we get older. There’s been little emphasis on elastin, but that’s about to change as new research suggests that it may be the missing link to ageless skin.
What is elastin?
A protein comprising peptides and amino acids, made by fibroblasts (the most common type of cell found in the connective tissue), elastin lives in the deepest layer of skin (the dermis) and gives skin its ability to stretch and recoil. “When you pull on your skin and it snaps back into place, that’s elastin allowing it to act in that way,” says Seattle dermatologist Peter Jenkin, MD. Over time, skin loses its ability to rebound its shape.
Elastin is sometimes present in skin-care products, but it’s important to note that it is majorly different from what’s in skin itself. Most experts feel that elastin, as an ingredient in products, does not penetrate skin past the protective layer to make a difference at a cellular level.
Addressing Lost Elastin
It’s known that with age you lose the ability to produce elastin (there is a genetic component to it as well), but could this be reversed? “If you look at old skin, it’s obviously wrinkled, saggy and loose—that’s a sign that it’s missing collagen,” says Boca Raton, FL, oculoplastic surgeon Steven Fagien, MD. “A loss of elastin in skin is like an old leather seat that has been sat in for years. At one time, the leather was tight, plump and cushiony, but over time, it buckles, thins and gets crinkly. The same phenomenon happens to skin. We lose the fabric in skin, plus what’s in between the layers of elastin.” Dr. Fagien adds that even if lasers are used to address aging skin and wrinkles, the quality of the skin and it’s pliability can only be improved slightly because collagen, not elastin, is being addressed.
The Connection to Collagen
The emphasis in skin care and anti-aging has focused more on collagen and less on elastin. “It’s always been collagen, collagen, collagen. While lasers, fillers and some other treatments do produce collagen, when you look at your skin after these treatments, it looks better, but there’s still something missing: that elastic quality. We know elastin is important, and that collagen alone does not necessarily make skin younger or more elastic,” says Dr. Fagien. “Sure, collagen is a critical component of healthy skin and healthy healing, but we’ve learned from years of injecting collagen that we weren’t replacing any that had been lost. Skin looked great, but didn’t reap any long-term benefits.” New York dermatologist Doris Day, MD, says, “Collagen and elastin go hand in hand in supporting the function of the skin. Elastin allows skin to be elastic, pliable and firm, and collagen makes it plump. If you don’t have one, or enough of one, the other can’t function and support skin properly.”