Collagen vs. Elastin: What’s the Difference?

July 22, 2020
Samantha Holender
By: Samantha Holender | by L'Oréal
Collagen vs. Elastin: What’s the Difference?

If you’re one to slather on anti-aging moisturizers and serums galore to achieve or maintain the appearance of plump, firm and youthful-looking skin, we’re right there with you. And while you can visibly see anti-aging formulas at work over time when you look in the mirror (read: decreasing the appearance of fine lines, even tone and a taut complexion), did you ever wonder what’s really going on behind the scenes? In short, it boils down to two naturally-occurring skin proteins called collagen and elastin, a duo that are key to younger-looking skin. To get more information on how these proteins differ from one another and how they work together, we turned to esthetician Josie Holmes from SKINNEY Medspa and board-certified dermatologist and expert Dr. Joshua Zeichner from Zeichner Dermatology. 

The Difference Between Collagen and Elastin

You’ve likely heard both of these anti-aging buzz words. While collagen and elastin work in tandem to give the appearance of youthful-looking skin, their individual functions are slightly different. “Collagen is the main structural protein found in our intercellular matrix and is one of the body’s building blocks essential for keeping our skin firm, plump and youthful,” says Holmes. “Elastin is also a key protein, but it’s responsible for maintaining elasticity in the skin, or the ability to maintain shape.” She explains that elastin helps keep the skin taut and, if elastin levels are properly maintained, this may help with sagging and signs of aging down the road. 

Although collagen and elastin are different structural proteins, Dr. Zeichner explains that having high levels of both are key to younger-looking skin. “Think of your skin like a mattress: Your collagen serves as the frame, while the elastin serves as the springs,” he says. “Collagen provides structure and support, but elastin provides bounce and allows the skin to return back to its normal shape after it’s been stretched.” He explains that weak collagen translates to crepey, wrinkled-looking skin, while weak elastic fibers can contribute to sagging of the skin. 

How to Help Revive Skin’s Cushion and Bounce

Our natural stores of both collagen and elastin deplete over time. While this is largely due to age, environmental and lifestyle factors like smoking, sun exposure and weight gain can also play a role. “If you have damaged collagen, then you likely have damaged elastic fibers as well because they both react similarly to environmental damage,” says Dr. Zeichner. “Think of it this way, if you jump on your mattress, you will both damage its frame and the springs.”  

The good news? A lineup of anti-aging skin care products can help with skin’s cushion and bounce. Holmes recommends looking for products with antioxidant formulas, which help to defend skin’s surface from damaging free radicals and incorporating retinols (we like the La Roche-Posay Effaclar Adapalene 0.1% Gel) and peptides into your routine. She adds that while a high-quality skin-care routine is a must, those with more moderate signs of aging might want to consider laser treatments, such as the Clear & Brilliant laser. “It causes microscopic wounds in the skin via laser technology and triggers the body's natural healing response, which is to produce collagen and elastin,”says Holmes. 

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