The Extracellular Matrix, Hyaluronic Acid and Your Skin
No, it’s not the sequel and final showdown for Neo, Morpheus and the crew (but if Keanu wanted to make an educational video for AP Bio students on the skin and its components, we’d be first in line to watch). The extracellular matrix (or ECM) is actually the largest component of human skin, and the area of most importance when it comes to healthy aging, as well as the area directly impacted by hyaluronic acid supplements. The most advanced anti-aging treatments today, by many accounts, are those that focus on rebuilding the ECM, which provides physical support for your skin, aids in nutrient transport as well as facilitating growth factors to help skin regenerate.
When we here at Ananda Natruals Co. visualize the extracellular matrix, we liken it to the soft white pulp found throughout the center of a pomegranate that surrounds, props up, and protects the juicy pomegranate seeds. It occupies the space between cell and cell in your skin, and is present in all connective tissues in your body, not just the skin.
The ECM and pomegranate pulp actually function quite similarly. The ECM in your skin is a protein based kind of structural support or scaffolding holding everything up and together. To better visualize it, think about if you were to cut into a pomegranate and the area that is normally soft and spongy, holding all the beautiful pomegranate jewels tightly in the fruit was found to be dry, shrunken and dehydrated. This would be visually striking (and sad to see!). And even if the pomegranate seeds were still ruby red, juicy and plump, the overall picture would be pretty unattractive (and unappetizing!). This is a graphic way to think about the ECM and your aging skin…as it ages it begins to look more like this sad pomegranate, full of voids and gaps, dehydrated and stiff.
When it comes to aging and the skin, protein damage and dehydration are the fundamental causes of thin, wrinkled, and dull looking aged skin. In the extracellular matrix, the two primary components are proteins like collagen, which we all have heard tons about, and another kind of protein called proteoglycans. We won’t dwell on the name because it sounds technical and can be intimidating, but hyaluronic acid is one type of proteoglycan, and like our pomegranate visual, they are highly important for skin hydration as well as providing cushioning for the cells in your skin.
So how else does hyaluronic acid fit into this scenario? Hyaluronic acid is known to attract and retain water, and is also found in increased amounts in damaged and growing tissue. Low molecular weight hyaluronic acid, like Velvet-GLO, stimulates cells in a way that prevents and reduces the effects of aging. It also acts as an environmental cue to its neighbors in the ECM, signaling cells to get active during tissue healing and growth. Low molecular weight hyaluronic acid, like Velvet-GLO, actually stimulates cells into action, preventing aging. Compared to other compounds found in the skin and body, the half-life and thus degradation of hyaluronic acid is very rapid, so the need for steady replenishment is big.
We hope this has helped highlight and underscore the importance of the extracellular matrix and its role in skin (and joint and other connective tissue) health. It’s incredibly important, and the shift in the science of anti-aging over the years to focus on it reflects the importance of the role it plays in healthy skin and healthy aging.