Here’s How Fat Cells Boost Collagen and Make Your Face Look Younger

Babies have the cutest, chubbiest little cheeks. In essence, they remind us of youth, which is probably why fillers are on the rise as an aesthetic option. Cheek implants in particular have gone up 8 percent from 2016 to 2017 (and 37 percent since 2000), reports the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

And this isn’t just an aesthetic movement. Newer research also draws a correlation between dermal fibroblasts (translation: fat cells) and younger-looking, supple skin.

Again, think of babies and how their skin falls into everything we imagine great skin to be (collagen-rich, soft, bouncy, etc.).

That’s dermal fibroblasts cells at work.

Dermal fibroblasts naturally boost collagen as well as produce laminin, fibronectin, and other protein molecules that protect the skin’s barrier. Together, these components work around the clock to repair our skin and fight off bacterial infections by producing peptides.

So, what happens when dermal fibroblasts slow down?

“After the 20s, our collagen and elastin start to decrease, and the skin becomes looser,” explains New York-based and board-certified plastic surgeon Dr. David Shafer. “As we age, we lose volume in our face. This results in a sunken and flatter appearance, as if the face is falling.”

Without volume, Shafer says we lose that high-cheekbone appearance. “[When we’re young], we have an inverted triangle or heart shape appearance to our face. As [we get older], the face becomes more square or bottom heavy, which gives an older, more tired appearance.”

So, fat has a lot to do with it. But that doesn’t mean you should go devour a box of meat lovers pizza (extra cheese!) or scarf down an entire sleeve of chocolate chip cookies to look young.

The “fat for youth” process is a little more complicated than gaining weight.

For example, researchers discovered dermal fibroblasts are also responsible for protecting against bacterial infections. However, for people with a higher weight, dermal fibroblasts can lose their ability to convert into immune system-friendly fat cells, thanks to a protein called transforming growth factor beta (TGF-β).

Instead, it’s better to focus on keeping a diet that’s rich in antioxidants and aging-friendly foods.

Foods to keep in your rotation

  • fish
  • legumes
  • nuts
  • seeds
  • broccoli
  • dark leafy greens, like kale
  • kiwis
  • berries and citrus fruits

The foods listed above are packed with vitamin C, omega-3 fatty acids, and antioxidants, so they naturally boost collagen formation while restoring damaged collagen. Moreover, they prevent environmental toxins from wreaking havoc on your skin as well as help speed up cell turnover rate. That process is essential for glowing, healthy looking skin.

You can also try limiting your sugar intake. Sugar molecules can attach themselves to collagen fibers, which can affect the elasticity of your skin. (Your happiness is more important than your looks, though! Don’t skip on the doughnuts thinking one will change the shape of your face.)

Other nutrients and vitamins that may help include zinc and copper. They activate enzymes that are linked to the formation of collagen. Try:

  • beef liver
  • shellfish
  • shiitake mushrooms
  • dairy
  • eggs
  • dark chocolate (yes, really!)
  • whole grains

A more permanent solution for your cheeks?

Most of us are born with collagen-rich skin that’s maintained by dermal fibroblasts. As we age, it’s inevitable that the process slows down. Sometimes we don’t have control over the type of food we can eat, either.

If the loss in volume is affecting your mental health, there’s an aesthetic solution. “[For] many patients who are seeing early stages of volume loss or laxity in their face, dermal filler treatment is a good option,” Shafer says. “Cheek fillers [also] help replace lost volume in the face.”

Skip the collagen creams and supplements The science is patchy in this area and needs further research. Instead, focus on preventing collagen degradation. Protect your skin from the sun and create a daily, doable skin care routine. 

Who knew babies and fat cells played such a huge role in how we think about youth and cheek fillers!

Princess Gabbara is a writer, editor, and storyteller who has penned stories for Billboard, Shondaland, Bitch Media, Vibe, Ebony,, Essence, Bustle, Sesi, and Greatist to name a few. She was previously the things-to-do reporter for the Lansing State Journal, part of the USA Today Network. Follow her onTwitter andInstagram and visit herwebsite.


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