Medically reviewed by Minimalist Health Specialist -  Written by Viddhi Patel (Journalist) on 19th Feb 2021

Collagen & Elastin: The difference, similarities, and why they are essential for your skin

What's the difference between Collagen & Elastin

Two proteins are so significant to our skin's appearance that without them, our skin would collapse. Collagen and elastin ensure our skin's beauty and health prospers when the economy doesn't. The duo gives your skin firmness, elasticity, and resistance. But it doesn't last long; the production declines, and your appearance starts getting affected. The produced proteins start breaking down, too, considering the environment and your lifestyle habits. Loss of these proteins will have you standing in front of a reflection that has wrinkles, thanks to elasticity loss.

When we're youthful, we don't have to worry about a lack of collagen and elastin. With age, our priorities change, and so do the levels of these two proteins. Our skin starts aging due to the depletion of collagen and elastin. While we don't produce much collagen and elastin naturally as we age, UV exposure and environmental aggressors like pollution make our skin condition worse by damaging collagen and tissues. The result? Premature aging.

30% of our body's total protein content is collagen. It is a group of proteins our body possesses naturally. Mostly found in the connective tissues, collagen is an abundant protein that gives our skin its health and youthfulness. Elastin is a protein found in the connective tissues and provides skin its youthfulness, but it differs from collagen in many respects. Elastin's elasticity makes it peculiar in the sense that it helps your skin bounce back when you rub it or pinch your cheeks. The skin takes its original shape after stretching it due to Elastin. It is the protein responsible for allowing body tissues to bounce back.

Why is this duo better than the Abbas-Mustan duo? Because together, they give your skin stiffness and firmness, and springiness. Your skin holds its place and structure due to collagen, and it returns just fine to its shape every time it is stretched due to elastin. The dual action keeps the horror of wrinkles at bay.  

What is collagen?  

Collagen also can be referred to as the main fibrous protein in the body. It is a group of proteins present in our body's connective, fibrous, and supportive tissues.

Out of 16 types of collagens, all of them are assigned with distinct functions and structured differently; most, i.e., 80-90%, are types 1, 2, and 3. Collagen is mainly found in the extracellular matrix of connective tissues. These tissues are a cellular adhesive that holds and connects several tissues and organs of our body. Fibrous tissues are cartilages, fats, and tendons. Collagen is also present in the ligaments, blood vessels, smooth muscles, digestive tract, gallbladder, kidney, heart, and in the bones, along with the most apparent: the skin.

Collagen is hard with a sturdy structure. Molecules are packed together, forming long and thin fibrils. These fibrils form a supporting structure and bind the cells together, giving strength and elasticity to the skin.

In the middle-most layer of the skin, also called the dermis, collagen forms fibroblasts: a fibrous cell network.

New cells can grow on fibroblasts, also taking place is replacing and restoring the dead ones.

The primary function of collagen is to provide strength to our body's structure. It also forms the protective covering for the kidneys and other delicate organs. Collagen also protects our body from pathogens, toxins, and cancerous cells by holding the internal structures together.

As we age, collagen production of our body declines, affecting the structural integrity of our skin, leading to wrinkles, sagging, and skin that can get damaged easily. Our skin gets damaged easily, and our joints get stiff. Menopause hits the collagen synthesis quite hard.   

What is Elastin? 

Elastic structures have connective tissues primarily based on elastin, a protein that gives stretchability to the skin. The protein is produced by fibroblasts, which can create a network of elastic fibers. The fibers give our skin the elasticity that makes it look bouncy. These fibers account for a mere 5-10% of the total dermal fiber, but their presence ensures skin elasticity. Unlike collagen, elastin can stretch like a rubber band and return to its original form.

Wonder why we enjoy jiggling and pinching kids' cheeks but not their mothers'? For one, it will be awkward to do it and also, the cheeks of an adult are very unlikely to bounce back! Elastin production occurs in the early developmental stages and our childhood.

Elastin also forms a major protein component in blood vessels; loss of elastin may lead to atherosclerosis and emphysema when lungs have insufficient elastin.

Like its name, elastin ensures that your skin goes back to its original structure after being pulled or stretched. Elastin reduction or loss will decrease the skin's flexibility and its ability to heal a wound. 

Difference between Elastin and Collagen 

While the two work together to give skin its shape and firmness, they differ on various levels. Collagen gives rigidity to the skin, while elastin lets your skin stretch when you laugh or blow balloons, or make any signature expressions. Comparing the two may be difficult given their functions, but they have distinctive ways of functioning to flourish the skin's health.  

1. The meaning attached to their existence  

Collagen, a structural protein, is found in the skin and the connective tissues, while elastin, also a structural protein, is found in the connective tissues and elastic structures.  

2. The volume of proteins present  

Collagen ranks third in the list of most abundant proteins in the body, whereas elastin is scarce.  

3. Color  

Collagen is white, while elastin is yellow.  

4. Actions performed 

Collagen strengthens the internal structures while elastin provides flexibility to structures.  

5. Production  

The production of collagen depletes only as aging starts, but the elastin is produced only during the fetal period and early childhood.  

6. Placement in the body  

Collagen is easily found in the body's connective tissues with skin, tendons, ligaments, and bones.

Elastin is found in elastic connective tissues, mostly the blood vessels in the skin.

7. The proteins suffer due to:  

Collagen suffers when exposed to UV radiation, autoimmune disorders, and a high sugar intake. Smoking affects collagen levels too.

Elastin suffers from UV exposure, weight changes, dehydration, stress, insufficient sleep, and smoking.  

8. Deficiencies of these proteins lead to:  

Depletion of collagen leads to the formation of osteogenesis imperfecta, chondrodysplasias, and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.

Depletion of elastin leads to Marfan's syndrome, atherosclerosis, and emphysema. 

9. The similarities between Elastin and Collagen: The Ultra Duo 

The proteins are both fibrous components of the connective tissues.

Collagen and elastin are both formed by fibroblasts.

UV light is the destroyer of both the proteins, meaning it can damage collagen and elastin fibers, potentially leading to skin cancer.

Either of their depletion will lead to wrinkled skin and a leathery appearance.

You'll know the skin's support system is weakening, vis-a-vis collagen and elastin are depleting when you notice skin sagging around your neck. 

How do Collagen and Elastin affect your beauty? 

The proteins put our skin's youthfulness at stake when they deplete. We have established that we will produce less collagen and elastin as we age, and this has everything to do with our aging skin, wrinkles, and sagging.

Collagen will become more cross-linked and rigid while elastin will turn weak like we have stretched it too much, imagine the hairband you have been using for a month now.

The breakdown of these proteins shows itself in the form of sagging skin around the eyes, jawline, neck. 

What you can do to save your skin from premature aging 

As we saw earlier, UV exposure wrings the skin of collagen and elastin. It would help if you buckled up with a broad spectrum SPF (30 or above) to fight and shield your skin from the grim horrors of photo-aging.

Moisturize your skin and keep it watered to avoid dehydration in the skin; the action helps you keep the collagen production in check.

Various products are stacked in the anti-aging skincare line's aisles, but you need to answer the basic questions about what is causing premature aging, to begin with. These products essentially are meant to boost collagen production, support it, or stimulate the formation of collagen and elastin, like retinol, niacinamide, and peptides.

Collagen supplements have been proven to work effectively on skin hydration, elasticity, and roughness along with density.

Granactive retinoid 2% by Minimalist boosts cellular turnover, stimulates collagen, rids your skin of age lines and wrinkles. The serum effectively delivers, giving you a radiant glow.  

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Advice By Minimalist

The market is full of collagen and elastin creams. Marketing strategies will fool you into believing that they support or boost your natural proteins, but they don't penetrate deep enough due to their larger molecular structure in reality.

What you can do is turn the fibroblast cells on to produce the needed fibers through prescription retinol, retinoids, peptides, and alpha-hydroxy acids. This can also be targeted through in-office procedures like microdermabrasion, chemical peels, and laser resurfacing.

Sleep well and enough to let the body produce enough collagen through treatments or otherwise. 

Wrapping up 

Your skin constantly indicates its health (or your overall health) by subtly or explicitly pointing it through its appearance. Its appearance defines your age, and a healthy glow helps to look youthful.

The Collagen-Elastin duo constantly helps keep your skin together and holds it tight, giving you a healthy and youthful feel. The supporting structure of your skin is made up of collagen and elastin; while the former provides the skin with its firmness, the latter works towards the skin's flexibility and tightness. It boils down to their difference in action or functions they perform in the skin or body.

When you are young, these proteins support your beauty with their abundance, but the breakdown with age and sun changes things and your appearance.

Age and damage bring no good to either of the proteins, making you look dull, saggy, and wrinkled. Protecting the layers of collagen and elastin then becomes essential.

Knowing your skin type can help you look after it and protect the collagen and elastin layer better.