Why You Actually Do Need to Worry About Collagen in Your 20s

Emily Ratajkowski

Photo: Jason Merritt/Getty

Admit it: When people start talking about antiaging creams and in-office treatments that stimulate collagen, it’s easy to tune out. As twentysomethings, we’re flush with the stuff. So it’s easy to figure that collagen-chasing is something for the middle-aged—like marriage and wearing sensible shoes. Or so we’ve been told.

But recently, the mind-blowing advice of a few dermatologists has us doing a skin-strategy double-take. Though we currently have collagen and elastin (the stuff that keeps skin smooth and firm) aplenty, the key to looking good later in life is in bolstering collagen reserves and protecting elastin to help slow its depletion now.

“We have a finite amount of elastin, and largely this can’t be stimulated to regrow,” notes Dr. Melanie Palm, a San Diego–area dermatologist and assistant clinical professor at the University of California, San Diego. “It’s about investing in your skin now—doing things to encourage collagen growth and protecting against UV damage.”

How do we do that, exactly? By starting with healthy skin care habits—something that can be particularly tricky considering the live-fast lifestyle that dominates modern twentysomething life. Poor skin care habits, like social smoking, suffering REM deficit, skipping SPF, and sleeping in makeup causes short-term skin problems, like breakouts, and long-term damage, like the destruction of collagen and elastin. And that’s something that can make us look older faster.

“The loss of collagen can happen remarkably early [in life], particularly in smokers and sun worshippers,” notes Dr. Heather Rogers, a Seattle-based dermatologist and clinical assistant professor in the division of dermatology at the University of Washington School of Medicine. Ditto goes for elastin, which isn’t as studied and—as of now—as easy to replenish. Dr. Palm agrees, adding, “In your 20s, it’s important to build habits to protect against environmental and UV damage. Overall, your skin will be in better shape over the decades to come.”

This means laying off the cigarettes and minimizing UV exposure—both of which destroy precious elastin and collagen. Dr. Howard Sobel, a dermatologic cosmetic surgeon in New York City, suggests incorporating a moisturizer that contains complex peptides in order to improve collagen production. And as much as we’ve heard it hundreds of times, we should wear SPF and antioxidant-rich serums daily; this will help protect against both UV damage and pollution.

“The sooner this process starts, the less damage there is that has to be undone and the more these efforts can work toward building and maintaining collagen, which is like putting money in the bank,” Dr. Rogers says.

If your budget can accommodate an in-office treatment, all the better, notes Dr. Sobel. “It’s always good to start [in-office treatments] before the damage can occur,” he says. “In the 20s, the best way to start stimulating collagen production is with peels at regular intervals.” He also suggests deep-cleaning facials that use antioxidants and hyaluronic acid to nourish skin.

Not only can these treatments step up your aging-prevention game, they can give you the most bang for your buck. “The younger and healthier our skin is, the better it responds to treatments,” Dr. Rogers says. “So tightening treatments to build collagen, like Thermage, Exilis, or Ulthera, typically get better results and build more collagen with a younger patient than an older patient.”

Whether protecting the elastin you’ve got or stoking collagen production in anticipation of the aging process, it turns out that the more we antiage in the “me decade,” the fewer worry lines we may need to confront in the future.

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