Over 30% of total protein in the human body is collagen. Collagen is the main structural protein found in the skin, the hair, the nails. Collagen even forms the connective tissues that anchor the teeth to your gums.
Your heart needs collagen to beat efficiently, and the cornea and lens of your eyes are comprised partly of collagen. Basically, this protein is vital for your health…
…and it’s particularly vital for acne-free skin. It’s estimated that below the age of 25, 80% of your skin is collagen. Collagen provides the “scaffolding” around which almost all new cells are constructed.
You can see that from ageing; collagen content in the skin drops by roughly 1% each year from age 25 onwards, and that’s why wrinkles appear, why elasticity is lost, and why the skin thins. With no collagen at all, your skin would just fall apart.
Collagen supercharges the healing of old acne
Such a vital protein is clearly a contender to help acne, and collagen does that well.
First of all, collagen is the complete opposite of the skin protein keratin. Keratin overgrowth is the second biggest cause of clogged skin pores. Collagen, on the other hand, has a beneficial power: to massively accelerate the healing of your dying pimples.
Simply put, collagen is the single most important protein for wound healing. If you cut your arm open, then roughly 10 hours later your immune system fibroblasts begin to churn out copious amounts of collagen. Large amounts of this protein create a cellular matrix, or a scaffolding, to which other structural proteins attach themselves to reform the wound, including more collagen itself.
Many other immune system chemicals base themselves on this matrix, chemicals with anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and tissue constructing powers. They use the collagen mass as a sort of hub, a base from which they are sent forth to fix your wound.
After about three weeks this type 3 collagen is replaced with the much stronger type 1 collagen. Then the recovery begins in earnest. The wound has been sealed from infection and calmed down, and now collagen is continually manufactured to build the cells up and strengthen the skin back to normalcy.
Collagen is critical for all kinds of wounds, whether a bullet wound, a piece of shrapnel or a papercut. That applies to your acne in full force. If acne is created by your immune system attacking p.acnes bacteria with too much power (which most are) then this bombardment also damages the surrounding tissues.
The layers and structure of cells in the lower layers of skin are especially weakened. They have to be repaired and again, collagen is needed to lay down the structural matrix. Likewise, any acne that you pop and hack at can become a clear breach of the skin, one that needs to be healed like any cut.
With more collagen, immune system chemicals designed to calm acne inflammation (the redness and swelling) will have far superior coordination. Neutrophils and other actors designed to break down useless tissue won’t get out of hand and cause damage outside of their remit. Any acne scabs and areas will be sealed up far faster.
Basically, your old acne won’t hang around; the bodily processes that gradually restore the skin to normal will become far more efficient.
For that reason collagen is truly critical for acne free skin. By optimising your collagen output you can enjoy far less acne at any given time.
Have you ever had a particularly vicious and inflamed piece of acne that caused you a lot of grief and pain for a few days, acne which then gave you a further poke in the eye by hanging around for weeks and weeks afterwards? Good news – collagen is great at moving along such monstrosities.
It doesn’t end there– collagen can strengthen the structure of your entire skin. It’s completely true these days we are exposed to a soup of acne-causing environmental chemicals on a daily basis. Air pollution from cars and factories, cosmetics like shampoo and makeup and even polluted tap water can bombard our skin with toxic chemicals. They can create acne by generating free radicals and oxidising the sebum on your face, and also directly inflaming existing acne and skin cells upon contact.
More collagen can protect your skin against all manner of chemicals. The hardier your skin’s structure the more free radicals it will take to oxidise the cells.
While you can take many steps to avoid environmental chemicals, like using natural cosmetics, the reality is that you’ll always be exposed to some. Heavy metals like mercury and arsenic, for example, have a half-life of hundreds of years and linger in your house and neighbourhood for years.
Therefore it’s a key part of any acne patient’s strategy to strengthen the skin itself. Collagen is a terrific way to achieve that. Increasing collagen is thus particularly useful if you live in a polluted area or if you can’t afford natural, chemical free personal care products.
Collagen makes your skin bulletproof
Another great advantage is that collagen protects the skin from UV radiation from the sun. These rays can cause skin cancer, sunburn, and acne, again by mutating the cells and creating free radicals. However, you also need UV rays to make vitamin D, a nutrient that’s critical for controlling inflammation and preventing insulin resistance.
And realistically, you can’t just avoid sunlight all your life and neither would you want to. You wouldn’t be able to get a tan, you wouldn’t be able to surf and sunbathe at the beach, and you couldn’t even go to waterpark without getting inflammatory acne.
Collagen has been shown repeatedly to increase your skin cells’ resistance to UV light. This study fed patients a collagen peptide formulated to dramatically increase collagen production in the skin. The patients’ skin became highly resistance to ultraviolet-B rays, with a smaller decrease in skin hydration and less hyperplasia (proliferation) of skin cells. The scientists concluded that “these results suggest that collagen peptide is beneficial as a dietary supplement to suppress UV-B-induced skin damage and photoaging”.
Additionally, elderly people are notoriously more prone to skin cancer, and the fact that collagen plummets after age 25 is a big reason why. You can get the same benefits from the special peptide supplement the scientists used, by eating more protein or any acne strategy that increases collagen.
You’ll be able to enjoy time in the sun, and make more vitamin D (read why it’s great for acne here) without fear of new acne being born.
The study above also found that 333mg of the peptide boosted skin hydration by 65.8%, which will work wonders for the tone of your skin.
The ultimate collagen strategy for acne
That’s especially true if your body is not manufacturing enough for your health needs, let alone cosmetic. Many people living in Western civilisation could do with more collagen, possibly including you.
There are three important factors for an acne patient to consider…
Protein intake – collagen is a protein and as such is synthesised from protein. Most people eat plenty of chicken and steak these days – protein intakes aren’t criminally low, although there is a large movement in health and fitness circles for high-protein diets in order to accelerate your metabolism (which does work by the way).
However, we don’t eat a broad enough range of protein. In traditional hunter gatherer societies, the whole of an animal was eaten, with generous helpings of organ meats like liver and connective tissues.
The bones were ground down and their tissues were extracted and eaten. We were starving back then and ate whatever straggles of meat were available, and we thus fed ourselves a very wide variety of different amino acids.
Nowadays though we just eat muscle meat like steak. Hence, our bodies are overloaded with the amino acids tryptophan and cysteine, at the expense of proline and glycine…
…and it happens that collagen is synthesised directly from proline and glycine. These two ingredients are needed in the first step of the process. We do eat enough protein, but it’s not ideal for collagen production. Most people accordingly have weak skin, and that’s one of many reasons why inflammatory acne is common.
The acne solution – eat a wider variety of protein. Of the traditional meats, pork is higher in glycine than others.
Chicken legs are a decent option because the skins are precisely the sort of connective tissue where glycine and proline accumulate (partly because it’s skin and contains plenty of collagen itself). You could also eat a load of livers and kidneys, or bone broth, if you eat those foods anyway.
But the best solution for anyone with acne is this gelatin supplement. This Great Lakes Pasture-Raised Gelatin is a dense source of the connective muscle tissues of cows, ground down into a jelly. These supplements are specifically designed to increase collagen within the body, and they do that well because the amino acid composition is 27% glycine and 15% proline.
You can simply consume a tablespoon on its own, or add the gelatin to meat, homemade baking, or any other recipe where you need some jelly. This healthy brand would beat the additive laden gelatin sourced from pigs raised in crowded and unhealthy CAFO facilities any day.
Increase your vitamin C intake
To make collagen, proline and glycine are first assembled into procollagen, a precursor to collagen. Next the procollagen is catalysed with two hydroxylase enzymes which react with proline and also lysine. This is the stage that forms collagen itself, and in this stage vitamin C is critical. Vitamin C serves as a cofactor for the two enzymes; they cannot function without it.
Hence if you don’t get enough vitamin C through your diet, your collagen production will be severely impaired, because the body itself cannot manufacture vitamin C.
Witness the condition of scurvy, which in the 17th century plagued sailors everywhere. Seamen everywhere feared this disease which started with lethargy and lacklustre energy, progressed to bleeding gums, weak joints and strange spots on the skin, and finally ended with death as the blood vessels collapsed and haemorrhaged.
Eventually, scientists fed sailors on long haul flights around the British Empire citrus fruits and noticed that scurvy mysteriously didn’t occur. The solution was clear. From that day forth, sailors carried crates of oranges everywhere they went. When vitamin C was discovered in the 1930s, it became clear that scurvy was just an extreme form of deficiency.
But what people don’t understand is the specific process involved, and the answer is that without vitamin C, your body cannot make collagen, and it is collagen deficiency which causes all the horrific symptoms. Teeth dropping out, strange blotches on the skin, and an irregular heartbeat are all caused by the weakening of connective tissues. Collapse of blood vessels happens because collagen forms a big part of the smooth tissues that allow blood to flow efficiently.
Basically, vitamin C is critical for proper collagen production. But many acne patients don’t get enough for two reasons.
Firstly, the quantity of vitamin C in fresh fruit and vegetables has dropped substantially over recent years. One study by the Kushi Institude analysed 12 different fruits and vegetables and discovered that in just 22 years, from 1975 to 1997, the vitamin C content fell by 30%. The levels have likely fallen even further since then.
It seems that conventional farming has something to do with this decline. Analysis of conventional vs organic strawberries found that the organic ones contained 10% more vitamin C. Soil depletion could also be a factor.
Secondly, parents don’t force their kids to eat green vegetables as much as they used to, with kids now relying on pizzas and ready meals for their sustenance. Most people are eating less foods like broccoli, kale, and spinach which are all packed with vitamin C.
The acne solution – eat green vegetables, berries like strawberries and raspberries, bell peppers, and tomatoes. Get your carbohydrates from white potatoes, which contain 20mg (33% of the RDA) per 100 grams. You can get enough vitamin C for your skin’s collagen needs through diet.
However, if you want to take things to the next level, you can megadose by taking this camu camu powder supplement. The camu camu berry, hailing from the jungles of Peru, is the single richest source of vitamin C in the world. The powder is a dried and highly condensed version and by mixing 5 grams into a glass of water and drinking it, you can obtain roughly 800% of the RDA. I take 5 grams or more per day. I use this Navitas Naturals Organic Raw Camu Camu Powder.
Alternatively, if you dislike the taste of camu camu powder or are too busy stir it into water and drink, you can take a good old fashioned miracle pill, and the best on the market is this Garden of Life Vitamin Code Vitamin C.
This brand is food-derived and thus well-absorbed, organic, still fairly cheap, and contains a massive 500mg of vitamin C per pill. That’s roughly 833% of the RDA, and remember that vitamin C is one of the few vitamins with great potential for megadosing.
Avoid cigarettes and environmental pollutants
Cigarettes are bursting with acne-causing chemicals. Tobacco, tar, pesticides, chemical weapons, rat poison and other contaminants in cigarettes can both inhibit the production of collagen and warp the structure of that which is made, rendering it less effective at strengthening your skin.
- This study applied a cigarette smoke extract to collagen cells and observed that the collagen began to deteriorate. Patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease were also given the extract and their collagen levels also suffered. Scientists observed that the cigarettes increased levels of inflammatory immune system chemicals called neutrophils, which generate free radicals. Scientists blamed them for damaging the collagen. Additionally, the breakdown of collagen triggered further neutrophil activity, creating a self-propagating cycle of ever greater inflammation and tissue damage.
It’s not known how cigarettes achieve this. The average cigarette contains roughly 3500 different chemicals like nickel, carbon monoxide, and cyanide, so it could be anything. Collagen depletion is one reason why smokers always age so quickly.
The acne solution – quit smoking and minimise your intake if you can’t.
Other acne-causing contaminants have similar effects. Mercury has been found to inhibit the entire synthesis of collagen in this study. While the metal copper was found to inhibit the hydroxylase enzymes from converting the procollagen, mercury was found to inhibit every step of the process beginning at the assembling of glycine and proline.
According to many studies, mercury has a particularly high affinity for the molecular structure of collagen. Mercury can thus attach to present collagen in your body and twist it to an ineffective form.
Worse, your body does not recognise this mutated protein, and launches an inflammatory assault against it. This increases systematic inflammation within your body and ultimately inflames your acne. Mercury has a half-life of 444 years and accumulates in the body. It also causes acne via insulin resistance and yet more acne through direct inflammation.
The acne solution – boost your selenium levels first and foremost. Selenium is a truly excellent acne mineral, because it binds to mercury and prevents the metal from biding elsewhere. The mercury is thus easily removed from the bloodstream. Furthermore, selenium cures acne in other ways; it helps to manufacture the all-important acne antioxidant glutathione. Selenium can easily be obtained from a multivitamin or by eating two Brazil nuts per day.
Secondly, our oceans are polluted with mercury and because they are high in the food chain and eat all the smaller fish that contain mercury, concentrations are highest in the largest fish. Therefore you should avoid tuna, king mackerel (not Atlantic mackerel), and shark.
Aluminum can bind to the molecular structure of collagen and thus prevent it from being formulated properly. This study applied aluminum to rats, fibroblast cultures and chick embryos and discovered that collagen synthesis was inhibited in all tissues. Cadmium, which was a popular pesticide in the 1950s but is now banned, can also cause acne in this way.
In fact, disruption to collagen formation is a very common effect of many chemicals which cause acne. In my eBook Annihilate Your Acne, there’s a 10 page chapter on how to avoid all such acne-causing chemicals. A good start is to buy organic foods and natural personal care products.
The topical treatments
Complimenting the basic nutrition your body requires to manufacture collagen, you have natural topical treatments which mysteriously increase levels. These secret weapons aren’t required by the human body but are somehow able to accelerate collagen production or prevent existing collagen from degrading anyway.
Actually applying collagen itself is one of the least effective strategies. Found on beaches in Indonesia, tree barks from India, or in curries eaten worldwide are compounds which boost collagen counts indirectly:
Cinnamon – a highly unexpected collagen booster. The everyday cinnamon powder added to dessert or coffee was found to boost collagen levels strongly when applied topically in this 2012 study, with scientists concluding that “cinnamon extract is useful in antiaging treatment of skin“.
Cinnamon contains a compound called cinnamaldehyde, also responsible for the flavour, which stimulates IGF-1 activity when applied to the skin. Among various other growth factors, this hormone controls collagen production. Top product: Frontier Organic Ceylon Cinnamon Powder.
Tamanu oil – the oil of the tamanu fruit growing on sandy beaches in Oceania. Polynesians use it daily but few acne patients are aware, and the lucky few who are aware still don’t know about tamanu oil’s strong collagen boosting properties.
Tamanu oil was applied to healing wounds in one study, and a 40% increase in collagen levels was observed after 24 hours. As a bonus, tamanu oil also kills p.acnes bacteria effectively. Top product: Gio Naturals Certified Organic Cold Pressed Tamanu Oil.
Lavender oil – an essential oil (rather than a fat-based oil) derived from the petals of the lavender flower. Lavender oil increases collagen levels by activating a regulator in the skin called protein-transforming factor beta, a regulator which controls collagen formation. In studies, lavender oil increased collagen formation after 4 days and produced the expected benefits: faster wound healing and reduced wound size. Top product: Mary Tylor Naturals Organic Lavender Essential Oil.
Vitamin C – you should always consume vitamin C for collagen first and foremost, but studies have shown that applying vitamin C topically also increases collagen production locally. Since vitamin C is an antioxidant, it might also protect existing collagen from degrading and being targeted for replacement by your body. Top product: Navitas Organics Camu Camu Powder.
Turmeric – this spice can accomplish seemingly anything for acne: providing antioxidants, lowering inflammation, and when applied topically, reducing oily skin fairly well (although not as strongly as green tea). Boosting collagen is yet another benefit since turmeric’s signature compound curcumin has been shown to increase not just collagen formation, but also its strength, improving the viscosity, density, and heat resistance of existing collagen. Top product: Frontier Organic Turmeric Root Powder.
Aloe vera – the aloe vera plant stem or gel contains numerous natural compounds: giberrellin, lupeol, and glucomannan. All can increase your type 1 collagen production through various pathways, including binding to growth receptors on your skin and stimulating them. There was even one study where cells exposed to ale vera rapidly became 2 times more concentrated with collagen than usual. Top product: Amara Organics Aloe Vera Gel.
Possibly avocado oil – only a potential collagen weapon, because the studies remain promising but clouded. Avocado oil has been shown to increase collagen levels, but only when applied to rat skin. It’s been shown to inhibit the enzyme lysinase, which breaks down lysine, one of the key amino acids in collagen, but only in an oral study. Furthermore, avocado oil is high in irritating oleic acid, so if you wish to experiment, you should dilute it, perhaps with tamanu oil. Top product: 100% Pure Organic Cold-Pressed Avocado Oil.
Possibly neem – another unproven remedy, but one with less side effects. The neem tree is a plant native to India and Pakistan, whose leaves and oil are popular remedies in ancient Indian medicine and now modern acne experimentation. Neem leaf extract was shown to inhibit the Matrix Metallo-Proteinase (MMP) enzyme, which degrades and removes existing collagen.
The problem? That was one study, on one of the skin’s enzymes, and neem has never been shown to increase collagen itself, but the potential remains. Top product: Blue Lily Organics Neem Leaf Powder.
Shea butter – back to proven remedies, we have one of the greatest ever. Shea butter, the fat of the shea nut, popular in West African countries like Ghana. Shea butter is an excellent acne-friendly moisturiser, but its collagen-boosting properties are less famous. One study made 47 people rub shea butter into their skin daily – significant collagen increases were detected. Another applied shea butter to 30 people – significant collagen increases were detected.
The pathway is particularly excellent for this remedy. Shea butter inhibits collagenase, the single most active enzyme in breaking down existing collagen. Normally, this is healthy, as it replaces weak and inferior collagen, but too much collagenase is a disaster. Shea butter is the African secret to strong and youthful skin and with its moisturising properties you receive a double whammy. Top product: Majestic Pure Shea Butter.
Royal jelly – the contribution of the bee kingdom to healthy collagen levels. Royal jelly is fed to a female bee to turn it into the queen bee, granting it massive size and longevity. Royal jelly increases both type 1 and type 3 collagen, through a fatty acid called “queen bee acid”. Don’t worry, you won’t wake up as a freaky human/bee combination (although that might have advantages), but this unique fatty acid can stimulate transforming growth factor 1, another skin master regulator which controls collagen. Top product: Stakich FRESH ROYAL JELLY.
If you combine two or three of these treatments, e.g. the essential oil of lavender with a fat based oil like tamanu oil, you can push your collagen levels even higher.
Your diet and lifestyle comes first, but topical treatments are the second step towards skin with superhuman strength and youth.
Follow those steps and you could enjoy less acne within a couple of weeks. You’ll provide your immune system with far more ammunition to hoover up acne pimples, particularly the smaller, more inflamed acne. Your skin might also become smoother and more hydrated.
Aside from acne, collagen depletion is also a huge factor behind all forms of ageing. Levels decline by 1% each year from age 25 onwards, and that’s partially why wrinkles appear, the skin begins to sag, and lose its elasticity. Therefore, increasing collagen levels can actually extend your youthful years. It could even reverse aging and make you look younger.
For the last year or so I’ve been megadosing vitamin C with camu camu powder each day. I did this to treat some old injuries, and I succeeded in that, but I’ve actually noticed my skin becoming extremely strong, elastic, and smooth too, not to mention acne-free.
Therefore, taking more vitamin C, correcting your protein intake, and following any other acne-friendly strategy to boost collagen is a great idea for acne.
Thanks for reading!