We spend tons of time trying to keep our bodies in shape—but many of us fail to think about keeping our complexions toned, too. Strong collagen is the key to maintaining a youthful look, so taking measures to keep it healthy should be a daily exercise. Want to keep your skin fit? Here’s the drill.

What Is Collagen?

Simply put, collagen is the fiber beneath the skin that gives it structure and contour. It’s strong and plentiful when we’re young, but over time collagen gets weakened. Think of a pillow. When it’s new, it’s plush and smooth. But over time the stuffing inside starts to break down, creating a slackened surface. The same thing happens with your skin: As your collagen depletes, your skin loses its firmness, resulting in wrinkles, creases, sagging and more.

What Causes Collagen Breakdown?

Over time, collagen is damaged by free radicals and everyday wear and tear, primarily caused by sun exposure. UV rays produce MMPs (Matrixmatello Proteinase), which are enzymes that break down proteins and collagen. The body repairs and rebuilds it, but it’s never quite the same, so over a long time, chronological wrinkles form.

How Can You Avoid Collagen Loss?

Avoiding sun exposure will dramatically decrease collagen loss in the first place. Dr. Jeanine Downie, one of the New York area’s top dermatologists, suggests introducing collagen-boosting products into your skincare routine in your mid-20s and wearing sunscreen “every day, rain or shine, January through December, regardless of your ethnicity. This will keep collagen from depleting,” she advises. Other ways to avoid weakened collagen? No smoking and no tanning, both of which Dr. Downie notes are prime culprits for collagen loss.

How Can You Promote Collagen?

In order to boost your collagen levels, you must stimulate fibroblasts—cells that synthesize collagen. While retinoid and growth factors are extremely effective at jump-starting fibroblasts, natural ingredients like rosehips, omega-3s, Centella Asiatica extract, soy proteins and vitamin E are also known to improve the health of your collagen, strengthen its weave and keep skin as taut as possible.

Proven Products for Boosting Collagen

Collagen Products

Sibu Beauty Sea Buckthorn Hydrating Serum, $40

Vitamin C-rich rosehips promote healthy collagen levels.

Moor Repair & Renewal Cream, $150

Helps plump skin with powerful peptides, which visibly reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

One Love Organics Skin Savior Waterless Multi-Balm, $68

Plumps skin with potent chia seed extract—a natural collagen-building ingredient.

African Botanics Botanical Eye Serum, $85

Soy proteins provide a tightening effect, stimulate collagen synthesis and encourage cell turnover to ensure smoother, firmer and more radiant skin.