Beautiful, age-defying skin with firm, youthful contours that maintain their shape – that’s elastin. And it not only helps keep facial skin taut and in place, but also skin on your arms, breasts and legs, especially above the knees, from loosening.
Elastin equals elasticity. And the stronger your elastin fibers, the better equipped they are to resist sagging and loss of elasticity, two telltale signs that elastin is breaking down.
Aging may be inevitable, but by understanding the critical role elastin plays in your skin elasticity and health, you can be proactive about defying gravity through a combination of diet, elastin-boosting skin care and elastin supplements.
What is Elastin?
Elastin is one of two main fibrous and structural proteins found in connective tissue, along with collagen, that the body produces naturally. It’s an important part of the body’s extracellular matrix (ECM), an expansive network of proteins and other molecules that surround, support and give structure to cells and connective tissues in the body.*
What is the Function of Elastin in the Body?
As a main component of connective tissue, elastin is found in skin, joints, tendons and ligaments, as well as in other organs that expand or contract, including lungs, arteries and the uterus. Elastin makes their flexibility possible, thereby supporting their healthy function.
In skin, elastin is part of the dermal layer, the thick, structural mid-layer made of connective tissue, oil and sweat glands, collagen and elastin fibers, and other structures. It’s where dermal fibroblasts are found, which are cells responsible for manufacturing structural proteins to renew collagen and elastin, and promote wound healing.*
Like a rubber band, elastin forms an intricate network of coil-like fibers, oriented both perpendicularly and in parallel, a design that enables skin to stretch and spring-back into shape.* Elastin is what makes facial expressions possible, without which skin would be too rigid to stretch.
How is Elastin Formed?
Elastin is comprised of amino acids, the building blocks needed to synthesize protein-dependent tissue throughout the body. Specifically, proline, glycine, desmosine and isodesmoisine are the amino acids that interact with other nutrients, such as vitamin C, to form and repair elastin fibers.
Youth Proteins: How Elastin and Collagen Work Together
Elastin doesn’t have the recognition of collagen, though it’s equally important.
As the most abundant protein in the body, collagen comprises about 75% of the dry weight of skin and is responsible for adding strength and structure.* Elastin, by comparison, only makes up 2-4% of the dermis.*
But elastin fibers can do something that collagen can’t. This flexible protein is approximately 1,000 times stretchier than collagen, making its job of maintaining skin’s flexibility and ability to spring-back into shape crucial for healthy, beautiful skin.**
Here’s an easy way to understand the difference between these two main structural proteins:
Elastin is for skin elasticity. Collagen is for skin firmness.
So, it’s not a “collagen vs elastin” competition, because the appearance, health and function of your skin depend on healthy production of both youth proteins.
The Role of Structural Proteins in Skin
As your body’s largest organ, skin has a tremendous task of creating an external barrier against injury to vital organs and health systems, and to protect your body and immune system from harmful bacteria, viruses and other pathogens.
Together, elastin and collagen form this outer armor, particularly in support of skin’s dermis, which creates a protective cushion for deeper structures and plays a role in would healing.* This is why it’s integral for your overall health to reinforce the formation of both elastin and collagen.
The side benefit of a strong, functional dermal layer is, of course, visible, resulting in firm, radiant skin with youthful contours. But when elasticity diminishes, the signs are also visible.
Signs of Diminished Elasticity
Skin aging doesn’t occur overnight. Aging and loss of elasticity are multi-factorial processes influenced by both internal and external events, some of which you can proactively counter.
Gradually, intrinsic aging diminishes skin’s thickness and increases its vulnerability to wrinkle formation. And extrinsic factors degenerate tissue, causing skin to become thinner and accelerate the aging process. Over time, this combination gives way to the visible signs of aging impossible to ignore, such as:*
- Deep wrinkles
- Sagging skin
- Weathered-looking skin
- Crow’s feet
- Undereye pockets and lines
Internal and External Causes of Loss of Elasticity and Sagging
As with many systems in the body, it’s inevitable for production of collagen and elastin to slow down, along with other processes that support skin’s health and renewal, causing the integrity of structures to weaken over time.
Here’s a look at some of the most common reasons why elasticity declines as you age:
With age, cellular turnover slows down as cells become less able to grow and multiply, and perform their necessary functions optimally.* It’s estimated that collagen synthesis alone decreases by 1% annually after age 20, along with production of elastin and hydrating glycosaminoglycans (GAGs), and diminished functioning of sweat and oil glands, all of which contribute to skin’s healthy function and a youthful, radiant glow.*
Women face a double-blow at menopause when their skin loses about 30% of collagen during the first 5 years, after which the decline slows to roughly 2% per year.*
While cellular aging is an internal process guided in part by nature and genetics, many external factors can accelerate the process.
Overexposure to the sun’s ultraviolet radiation, both UVA and UVB rays, can be harmful to your skin in different ways, leading to sunburn, wrinkles and loss of elasticity, and can play a role in the formation of certain types of skin cancers.*
UVA rays have the ability to penetrate the dermis where collagen and elastin fibers are found and produced, and cause changes to DNA over time and lead to premature aging. These long-term consequences are referred to by dermatologists as photoaging, photodamage or sun damage.
UVB rays reach only the top layer of skin, the epidermis, which cause sunburns and lead to the formation of free radicals, unstable molecules that can accumulate and interfere with normal cellular function.
A hectic lifestyle can introduce health issues that have a direct effect on your skin health. Lifestyle factors such as extended periods of elevated stress and anxiety, and sleep deprivation, which are strongly correlated, can disrupt both collagen and elastin synthesis.
Skin cells have a circadian rhythm that dictates when certain processes occur, and skin regeneration occurs overnight. Without adequate levels of deep, restorative sleep, this process cannot take place properly. In fact, after just one day of sleeping only four hours, you can experience a measurable decrease in elasticity and hydration, and an increase in the processes of wrinkle formation.*
Time and time again, science has proven that you are what you eat, and your dietary choices and patterns affect the condition of your skin as you age. In Western societies, nutrition deficiencies are not the culprit. But an imbalanced or incomplete diet can contribute to diseases and aging, thereby affecting skin health as you age.*
Amino acids are the nutritional foundation of elastin. The protein you eat is broken down into these building blocks that interact with other nutrients, such as vitamin C, B-vitamins and minerals to synthesize and renew elastin. But with aging may come dietary restrictions or decreased appetite, which can create nutritional imbalances that disrupt your body’s ability to produce elastin.
While aging may appear to be out of your control, you can proactively make dietary and lifestyle changes to protect your skin elasticity and combat the damage.
How to Improve Skin Elasticity: Elastin Protectors
There are two simple and practical steps you can take to protect your skin elasticity and minimize the effects of aging.
The first step to renewing your skin elasticity is to protect your epidermis and dermis from the effects of prolonged UV exposure. Without stemming the tide of sun damage and oxidative stress, your elasticity will remain under fire from age-accelerating activity.
Wear sun protective clothing and stay out of direct sunlight, especially midday when the sun’s rays are most intense.
And when you spend time outdoors for periods longer than 5-10 minutes, apply sunscreen liberally and reapply as needed. Whether you use a mineral or chemical-based formula, look for one that’s broad spectrum to help guard against UVA and UVB rays.
Elastin Skin Care Products
Topical elastin skin care products are a great way to add elastin to your daily beauty routine and get an immediate burst of hydration to refresh skin and smooth-out the appearance of lines and wrinkles, and visibly improve skin’s texture. These topical formulas typically include collagen or elastin protein ingredients that support healthy skin by binding to moisture.
But these youth proteins are large, and since the protein ingredients found in over-the-counter skincare don’t have the molecular structure to penetrate deep layers of skin, you probably won’t get the results you would hope for, especially from pricey skincare products.
What does work: vitamin-rich skincare formulas with vitamin C, an essential cofactor in the production of collagen and elastin.
Getting Elastin from Foods and Supplementation
If you want to know how to increase elastin in skin, look no further than your kitchen. In fact, science is clear about one thing: stimulating collagen and elastin comes from the inside of the body, not the outside.
Therefore, your best bet for supplying your body with the adequate levels of amino acids and cofactors needed to counter loss of elasticity is to consume them through a combination of diet and supplements. This allows you to stimulate the actual process of collagen and elastin synthesis to help repair and regenerate both of these vital skin structures.
Elastin in Food
The best elastin-boosting foods are the ones that are rich in essential nutrients and cofactors used to maintain skin’s healthy function and resilience, including amino acids, vitamin C, biotin and minerals such as zinc and copper.
In addition, you want to also protect skin’s youthful structures from free radical attacks by consuming plenty of antioxidants to scavenge these unstable molecules.
Antioxidants can be vitamin-based, for example, vitamins A, B (B3, B12), C, D and E, and CoQ10 are potent compounds that neutralize oxidative stress.* Or they can be plant-based antioxidants found in fruits, vegetables and botanicals.
Polyphenols are one particular type of antioxidant found in grapes, blueberries, teas and dark chocolate known to combat skin aging, inhibit inflammation and fight oxidative damage.* And many studies support their ability to resist the effects of photoaging and free radicals.
To support the increase of both collagen and elastin in skin naturally, make these foods part of your daily menu:
- Protein – meat, chicken, seafood, eggs and dairy, nuts
- Leafy greens – spinach, kale, microgreens
- Cruciferous veggies – broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower
- Citrus – oranges, grapefruit, clementines
- Berries – blueberries, strawberries, raspberries
- Grapes – especially red grapes
- Tea – especially green tea varieties
- Coffee – especially dark roast
- Red wine – especially pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon and syrah
Benefits of Elastin Supplements
As with collagen supplements, elastin supplements are showing promise in their ability to help curb the loss of elasticity, encourage natural production of elastin, and minimize the effects of skin aging.*
Scientifically advanced technologies are capable of hydrolyzing, or meticulously and precisely ‘cutting’ elastin proteins into micro-sized molecules that are soluble and can be absorbed. These hydrolyzed elastin peptides are then delivered either in capsule or powder form, ready to interact with cofactors to deliver a variety of skin benefits:
- Help reduce sagging
- Minimize loss of elasticity
- Enhance moisture content
- Repair and renew elastin fibers
- Promote skin elasticity
- Improve suppleness
Sources of Elastin Supplements
Marine-derived elastin protein is the main source of elastin supplements. Fish are rich in elastin, which is processed and hydrolyzed to yield concentrated, biologically active peptides that can be absorbed and utilized to activate natural elastin production.
In fact, hydrolyzed fish elastin has been recognized as a promising food ingredient for improving skin and blood vessel conditions.*
Human clinical studies on hydrolyzed fish elastin peptides indicate its ability to activate fibroblasts and support elastin synthesis, which measurably improved the condition of skin in a number of ways, including elasticity, moisture, number of wrinkles and blood flow, compared to the placebo group.*
Clinical studies on marine elastin ingredients range from low-dose usage of 10-30 mg daily to 1,000 mg daily. In fact, elastin supplements are very well tolerated at daily doses of up to 1,000 mg, an amount that supplies abundant levels of amino acids needed to manufacture elastin naturally.