What is elastin?
Elastin is one of the most abundant proteins in your body. It’s a stretchy protein that resembles a rubber band — it can stretch out (extend) and shrink back (recoil). It’s a major component of tissues in your body that require stretchiness, like your lungs, bladder, large blood vessels and some ligaments. Smaller amounts exist in your skin and ear cartilage.
Is elastin a collagen?
No, elastin isn’t a collagen. However, elastin and collagen are both proteins that often get confused with each other. In fact, healthcare providers who study tissue structures on a microscopic level (histologists) use special dyes and chemicals to stain the important features of body tissues and show the differences. These dyes stain any structures in your body that have a lot of elastin brown or purple.
Collagen’s main role is to provide structure, strength and support in your body.
Elastin’s main role is to provide stretchiness in your body, and it’s approximately 1,000 times stretchier than collagen.
How is elastin produced?
Many molecules of a large, flexible molecule called tropoelastin join together to form elastin.
What is elastin’s function?
Elastin’s main function is to allow tissues in your body to stretch out and shrink back.
Your arteries are tube-shaped blood vessels that carry blood from your heart through your body. Elastin gives your arteries stretchy characteristics that make it easier for your heart to pump blood.
Elastin allows your lungs to work like an elastic bag. When you breathe in, your diaphragm contracts (tightens). Your lungs create potential energy as they contract, and the elastic tissues in your lungs store that potential energy. When you breathe out, the potential energy in your lungs is released as your lungs shrink back.
As you age, the elastin in your skin decreases. For example, hold one of your hands in front of your body, palm-side down. Pinch the skin on the back of your outstretched hand and hold it for several seconds with your other hand.
Elastin allows you to stretch your skin. If you have a lot of elastin in your skin, the skin on the back of your hand will shrink back into place very quickly once you stop pinching. If you don’t have a lot of elastin in your skin, it may take several seconds for your skin to shrink back into place.
Where is elastin found?
Elastin is in the dermis layer of your skin, your lungs, blood vessels, ligaments, ear cartilage and other body parts that require elasticity.
What does elastin look like?
Elastin’s structure is controversial. When at rest, some believe that elastin is a random network of polypeptide chains. Others believe that the polypeptide chains are disordered but not random. However, the disordered structure decreases when stretched as the chains align themselves while maintaining strength and elasticity.
What color is elastin?
Elastin is the primary component of the elastic fibers in your body, which are yellowish.
What is elastin made of?
Amino acids make up proteins. The main amino acids that make up elastin are proline, glycine, desmosine and isodesmosine. They’re grouped in short, repeated sequences of three to nine amino acids which create strong, flexible structures.
How much does elastin weigh?
Elastic fibers account for approximately 2% to 4% of the fat- and moisture-free dry matter in adults’ dermis.
Conditions and Disorders
What are common conditions and disorders that affect elastin?
Some conditions that affect elastin include:
- Atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is a disease where plaque builds up inside of your arteries, which causes your arteries to narrow and can lead to blood clots, a heart attack or a stroke. Several studies on atherosclerosis have noted a decrease in native elastin in arteries.
- Cutis laxa. Cutis laxa is a disease in which your skin lacks elasticity, so it may appear loose or wrinkly, and very slowly returns to its place. A mutation in the elastin gene is typically responsible for cutis laxa.
- Emphysema. Emphysema is a lung disease that typically develops after years of smoking. The elastin in your lungs breaks down, and you may have symptoms including shortness of breath, a cough, wheezing, fatigue and long-term mucus production.
- Supravalvular aortic stenosis (SVAS). SVAS is a heart defect that develops prior to birth and causes your aorta to narrow. A mutation in the elastin gene causes SVAS.
- Williams syndrome. Williams syndrome is a rare developmental disorder caused by the deletion (missing piece) of the gene for elastin and the enzyme LIM kinase. SVAS also frequently occurs in people with Williams syndrome.
What are common treatments for elastin conditions?
A combination of treatments may help boost elastin and collagen production in your skin:
- Venus Viva™: Venus Viva is a skin resurfacing treatment where tiny, heated needles create small wounds in your dermis. As your skin heals, it produces more collagen and elastin.
- Retinoids (vitamin A derivatives): Retinoids, such as Retin-A®, help boost your skin’s metabolism, which increases collagen and elastin production.
Simple lifestyle tips to keep your elastin healthy.
Along with collagen, elastin helps keep your skin firm and stretchy. The following tips can help you maintain or increase the amount of elastin in your skin:
- Apply sunscreen. Wear sunscreen every day throughout the entire year (even if you’re mostly indoors or the weather is cloudy). Choose a sunscreen with a broad-spectrum sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30.
- Eat healthy foods. Many foods can help increase elastin, as well as collagen in your skin, including leafy greens, citrus fruits, berries, fatty fish and nuts.
- Establish a skin care routine. Regularly clean and moisturize your skin. Skin creams and moisturizers that contain ferulic acid, vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin E may reduce the appearance of wrinkles and help restore damaged skin cells. Products containing hydrolyzed elastin may also help your skin look younger. However, the elastin in these products usually comes from animal products, so if you’re a vegetarian, you may not want to use these products.
- Exercise. Exercise helps boost the metabolism in your skin cells and boosts blood circulation, which can help keep your skin healthy.
- Quit smoking. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and electronic cigarettes age skin faster.
Can supplements increase the amount of elastin in my skin?
Herbal supplements, such as aloe vera, green tea and ginseng, and elastin supplements may increase the amount of elastin in your skin. However, there’s not yet enough research to draw definite conclusions.
Not everyone can take herbal supplements, so it’s a good idea to check with your healthcare provider before use.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Elastin is a protein that your body produces naturally. It provides strength and elasticity to your skin and many other organs. There isn’t enough research to conclude that herbal supplements increase the amount of elastin in your skin. But you can help your body produce elastin naturally by eating a well-balanced diet that includes greens, citrus fruits, fish, berries and nuts. You can also help maintain elastin in your body by exercising, establishing a proper skin care routine, quitting smoking and wearing sunscreen every day.
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