The signs of skin aging include reduced skin elasticity, fine lines, furrows, pigmentation and dryness. Once elasticity of the skin is lost, lines become permanent wrinkles or folds in the skin.
Skin elasticity, or snapback, is one of the best biological markers of chronological age. It’s not only a good indicator of general aging, it’s also a good indicator of how effective our anti-age regimens actually are.
The protein responsible for elasticity, elastin, is part of a fiber network providing resiliency and elasticity to skin.
Collagen and elastic fibers are the main types of fibers in the dermis and which form the extracellular matrix. Both are formed by fibroblasts—cells in connective tissue that produce collagen and elastin fibers.
Collagen is responsible for tensile strength while elastin provides elasticity to the skin. The production and density of each decreases with age resulting in sagging and wrinkling. Wounding also alters the amount and quality of these fibers.
Elastic fibers make up 2% to 4% of the total volume of the dermis. The elastin protein network they form has remarkable elasticity combined with tensile strength(2).
Elastic fibers are continuously degraded and replaced by newly formed fibers under normal health conditions, however this turnover is slow.
Elastic fibers maintain normal skin tension and provide extensibility.
Intrinsically or biologically aged skin—skin that is following a natural process of aging—is thin, relatively flattened, dry and unblemished with some loss of elasticity and age-related loss of what is called architectural regularity in skin structure.
The integrity of a robust, hydrated elastic fiber network in skin is very important because wrinkling, looseness, sagging and other structural and mechanical changes that appear in aging skin are caused by negative changes in this network.
Skin Tightness and SoftnessTightness and softness are skin conditions mainly dependent on skin compactness and elasticity which may be influenced by several factors:
• exposure to chemicals like soaps and detergents
• atmospheric conditions like sun or wind
• pathogenic conditions such as eczema
Skin tightness and softness are features of the deep tissue of the cutis or dermis. These are determined by strength and abundance of collagen and elastic fibers.
Both intrinsic/biological and extrinsic/environmental or photo-aging lead to a degradation of collagen and elastin fibers with a consequent intensification of wrinkles, dryness and scaling of skin.
The truth of skin aging is that it’s a combination of intrinsic/biological/chronological aging combined with environmental/photoaging.
Improving the Elastin Fiber Network in the Body
“A healthy diet is one of the prerequisites of healthy skin. Proteins, vitamins, minerals, trace elements and antioxidants obtained from our diet are the routinely available basic ingredients for formation and maintenance of skin fibres. Vitamin and protein supplements in the form of neutraceuticals enhance the availability of substrates for synthesis of new fibres. Antioxidants (vitamins A, C and E, trace elements such as selenium, copper and zinc, polyphenols, flavonoids, glutathione, peroxidases and superoxide dismutases) prevent degradation of tissues caused by free radicals.” —Sujata Mehta-Ambalal in Neocollagenesis and Neoelastinogenesis: From Laboratory to the Clinic
There are many ways to provoke the body to create more elastin. The scientific name for this process is called neoelastinogenesis:(3)
Antioxidants: Mentioned in the quote above, antioxidants prevent degradation of all sorts of tissues. Consuming an array of rainbow colored fresh fruits and vegetables will help ensure you get the antioxidants both skin and body need.
Neroli oil: This essential oil distilled from the flowers of the Seville orange actually improves elasticity and reduces stretch marks. It’s an excellent facial skin softener and is wonderful for overall skin care. It helps regenerates skin cells and tones mature, dry, sensitive skin.
Sufficient protein: Elastin is composed primarily of the amino acids, glycine, lysine and valine. By ensuring your diet includes an appropriate amount of quality protein, you can feel confident you’re providing your elastin fiber network with the raw materials it needs to maintain itself.
Avoid prolonged exposure to sunlight: Skin does need some sunlight to remain healthy—about ten minutes a day. To prevent ultraviolet light from causing free radical damage to skin, stay out of the sun during its most intense time from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wear a hat if you go out in the sun along with sunglasses and sunscreen if you’re staying out in the sun for very long. Many of the visible signs of deterioration in photo-aged as opposed to biologically aged skin result in major structural changes in the dermis. The dominant change is hyperplasia* of the elastic tissue which results in complete disorganization of the fibers. Elastin degradation is much slower in biologically aged skin.
Use products that contain natural oils for moisturization: Coconut oil, glycerin, shea butter are examples of natural oils that help prevent free radical formation while keeping skin’s connective tissues supple and strong. These oils can also help dissolve dead skin cells. They are excellent lubricants that protect the moisture barrier of skin while attracting more moisture to the surface of skin. These three lubricants have been shown to restore damaged skin.
Keep your environment slightly humid: Subjecting skin to dry weather contributes to the development of wrinkles once elasticity is on the decline because of biological aging.
Omega-3 fatty acids: Fish oil, cod liver oil and sea buckthorn oil help normalize skin lipids thereby preventing dehydration in the cells while keeping them strong. Omega-3s have an anti-inflammatory effect that calms irritated skin.
Stop smoking: Smoking causes collagen breakdown which, in turn, causes sagging skin. Smoke damages the microcapillaries in skin and also skin’s ability to absorb nutrients and quality moisturizing creams.
Stop dieting: The stress of constantly gaining and losing weight causes skin to become less elastic. Drink plenty of water, take vitamins and perform anaerobic (weight bearing exercise) and aerobic exercise (brisk walking, swimming). Progressive facial fat loss also contributes to the development of wrinkles caused by elastin fiber loss.
Collagen: Consume a small cell, bioavailable collagen product to help bolster the collagen content of connective tissues since degeneration of connective tissue is partly caused by elastin fiber loss.
Bio-active keratin: This nutrient deeply penetrates skin and acts as a sort of liquid dermis. It urges both collagen and elastin to reproduce naturally and helps to create new skin cells.
Hyaluronic acid: Using moisturizers fortified with hyaluronic acid is believed to help skin regain some of its natural elasticity. Consuming a quality hyaluronic acid supplement may also be beneficial.
Soy products like tofu and soy milk: Soy contains the isoflavone and phytoestrogen, genistein. Studies show genistein improves elasticity in the skin.
Japanese sea kelp extract like Wakame: Sea kelps have abundant antioxidant properties that help increase skin’s elasticity. The extract works by attacking a particular enzyme that destroys hyaluronic acid in the skin.
GHK (glycyl-l-histidyl-l-lysine) copper peptides: First studied for wound healing in the 1980s for its effects on skin and hair, GHK has been found to improve skin firmness, elasticity and clarity. It tightens loose skin, thickens older skin, reduces fine lines and the depth of wrinkles, and it repairs protective skin barrier proteins.
Witch hazel: One in vivo study found Hamamelis virginiana extract, more commonly called witch hazel, to be effective at reversing loss of elasticity, reducing wrinkles, and increasing skin’s overall firmness.
Chocolate containing at least 320 mg of cocoa flavanols: One study found that daily consumption of cocoa flavanol compounds naturally occurring in chocolate improved skin’s elasticity and reduced wrinkles.
Moisturizing cream containing pantothenic acid: Topical dexpanthenol, also known as the B complex vitamin, pantothenic acid, acts like a moisturizer, improving skin’s hydration, reducing transepidermal water loss and maintaining skin softness and elasticity.
Certain therapies have also been found to increase elastin fibers in the dermis:
• radio frequency therapy
• infrared therapy
• deep ultrasound
• laser therapy
• light therapy
1. hyperplasia: the enlargement of an organ or tissue caused by an increase in the reproduction rate of its cells, often as an initial stage in the development of cancer
2. together with a small amount of microfibrils composed of a family of proteins
3. The process of regenerating collagen in the body is called neocollagenesis.
• Myles, Jasmyn. Sagging Skin - Look Years Younger Naturally, Firm Up Without Surgery. United Kingdom, Lulu.com, 2020.
• Obagi, Zein E.. Obagi Skin Health Restoration and Rejuvenation. Germany, Springer New York, 2000.
• Pickart, Loren. GHK Copper Peptides: for Skin and Hair Beauty. N.p., Cape San Juan Press, 2017.
• Nutraceuticals and the Skin: Roles in Health and Disease. N.p., MDPI, 2018.
• Simplified Facial Rejuvenation. Germany, Springer Berlin Heidelberg, 2008.
• Mehta-Ambalal, Sujata R. “Neocollagenesis and Neoelastinogenesis: From the Laboratory to the Clinic.” Journal of Cutaneous and Aesthetic Surgery, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2016, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5064677/.