Elastin is a protein found in the skin and tissue of the body. It helps to keep skin flexible but tight, providing a bounce-back reaction if skin is pulled. Enough elastin in the skin means that the skin will return to its normal shape after a pull. It also helps keep skin smooth as it stretches to accommodate normal activities like flexing a muscle or opening and closing the mouth to talk or eat.
As people age, elastin usually depletes, resulting in wrinkled or stretched out skin. One might note the “pregnancy pouch” many women have many years after having a baby. In part, the leftover skin is a result of inadequate elastin, and also overstretching of the skin covering the abdomen during pregnancy.
One may also note elastin listed as an ingredient in “anti-aging” skin care products. These proteins are not from human sources; they typically are harvested from either cows or birds and in theory should promote better skin elasticity.
Actually, elastin in skin products has been shown to have little effect on skin elasticity. It may form a coating on the skin that helps the skin better hold in moisture, but it will not provide more flexibility. In skin care products, this protein does not penetrate the skin layer, which would be needed in order to make the skin more elastic.
Further, some medical professionals are concerned about elastin sources in cosmetic products. Since it comes primarily from cows and birds, it can be argued that the protein potentially might expose users to mad cow disease and avian flu. Such an exposure would be worst case scenario. At the moment, no cases of mad cow disease or avian flu have been linked to use of elastin in cosmetics. Yet risk does remain as these diseases continue to spread.
Further, dermatologists often feel that products containing elastin make false claims regarding their benefits. For example, one product claims to restore depleted elastin and collagen. Another claims to be made of real anti-aging molecules. These claims are undoubtedly false, but are often quite convincing, using impressive sounding scientific terms to sell products at a high price.
Most dermatologists are quite clear that elastin applied topically cannot replace what has been lost from the skin. Some of the products containing it may temporarily cause the skin to appear younger because the skin is properly moisturized. Clearly, however, the protein is no magic bullet for stopping the march of time across one’s skin.