Collagen is a naturally occurring protein in the human body, serving as the main structural protein in the extracellular space in the various connective tissues. In general, collagen comes from skin, bones and cartilage from fish and common livestock (bovine, porcine and chicken). Popular in joint support, bone health, beauty from within, healthy aging and sports nutrition, collagen products are using increasingly innovative delivery formats, such as gummies, chocolates, chews, bars, beverages, shots and sachets.

What are connective tissues?

They support or connect other types of tissues or organs in the body. They’re called “cellular glue” as they help give tissues their shape and keep them strong. Cartilage, fat and tendons are examples of connective tissues.

Collagen is also found in ligaments, blood vessels, bone, the cornea of the eye, and of course, in skin.

Elastin is a major protein component of tissues that require elasticity such as arteries, lungs, bladder, skin and elastic ligaments and cartilage. It is composed of soluble tropoelastin protein containing primarily, glycine and valine and modified alanine and proline residues. Tropoelastin is a ~65kDa protein that is highly cross-linked to form an insoluble complex. The most common interchain cross-link in elastins is the result of the conversion of the amine groups of lysine to reactive aldehydes by lysyl oxidase. This results in the spontaneous formation of desmosine cross-links.

Why Are These Two Proteins Always Referred To Together?

We often hear about these two proteins in skin care because they work together to give skin its shape and firmness. Collagen provides rigidity, while elastin allows skin to stretch—such as when we make an expression—and then return to the original shape.

You can think of collagen as the framework, giving skin its strength and foundation, while elastin allows skin to return to the shape collagen gives it after stretching or changing because of expressions.

What is the Difference Between Them?

Collagen’s main benefit is strength. It’s comprised of very strong fibers that have impressive tensile strength, and is the foundation upon which the outer layer of the skin is anchored.

Elastin is not as plentiful in the skin as collagen, but is critical for skin function. It provides softness and elasticity to skin, forming a three-dimensional network between the collagen fibers.

These proteins are also found at different depths in the skin. Collagen is plentiful in the lower layers of the dermis, whereas elastin is more in the middle layer of skin.

Collagen and Elastin

How Do They Affect the Appearance of Skin?

These two proteins have everything to do with wrinkles and sagging—or the lack of them.

In young skin, they are plentiful and healthy, and keep skin smooth and taut. As we age, however, we produce less of these two proteins. In addition, UV damage and other factors mess up the connective fibers in skin.

how collagen changes as we age

Collagen becomes more cross-linked and rigid, like a brick wall that is gradually marked and broken. This results in a weaker framework for skin, so it caves and bends, forming wrinkles. Wounds heal more slowly and the skin thins, becoming even more vulnerable to environmental stressors.

At the same time, as these collagen-related changes are occurring, we’re also producing less elastin. The elastin we do have also starts to lose its ability to snap back.

the result?

Imagine that rubber band again—stretch it a hundred times, and it will start to lose its ability to go back to its original shape, becoming more permanently stretched. The same thing happens as we age.

Elastin fibers lose their resilience, and the skin doesn’t snap back as well, resulting in the sagging we see around the eyes, jaw line, and neck.