Ever wondered what the secret to plump, bouncy, positively juicy looking skin is? The answer, is Collagen. It's infused in our serums and mixed in with our moisturisers, but what actually is it? And what does it do?
“Collagen is the most abundant protein [essential for building muscle] in the body. It's a long, fibrous, structural protein [rope-like in appearance] that gives the skin strength and elasticity,” says Alexis Granite, dermatologist at Mallucci London.
Often described as scaffolding for the skin, it acts like a trampoline providing a supportive base structure and giving us the boiiing we need for bouncy, healthy-looking skin.
With it's fundamental face-perking credentials, it stands to the reason that beauty brands and consumers want in on the action and skincare that promises to give our complexion added oomph in the form of collagen are big business.
But to explain how and why it works, we called on industry experts to give us the run down on what our fave face ingredient actually does. Here's your need-to-know guide.
Where does collagen come from?
Collagen is not just essential for the skin, but a vital component of the entire body. “There are at least 28 different types of collagen, but over 90% of the collagen in our bodies is type one. It's found in skin, tendons, blood vessels, organs and bones,” says Granite. Essentially, it works like glue to bind tissue together. Whenever we encounter damage in or on our body, collagen is triggered to help repair and heal the wound.
If it's found in our body why do we need it in a cream?
“Your skin makes fresh collagen all the time and then as it gets damaged, it's taken down and new collagen is produced," says Dr Frauke Neuser, Olay’s principle scientist. But like all good things, the levels we produce don't stay consistent as we get older.
"Collagen production diminishes with age, as well as with exposure to UV radiation and environmental stressors such as smoking and pollution. Typically the decline in collagen production begins in your twenties and drops by about one percent each year," says Granite. "The appearance of fine lines are the first signs, such as early wrinkles and crepey skin that doesn't snap back as quickly as it may once have.”
It has also been linked to hormones, with peak collagen production aligning with peak fertility. “Women experience a further dramatic reduction in the production of collagen with the onset of menopause,” reveals Granite.
That's the bad news. But, if you’re already mourning the inevitable slowing of collagen production, the good news is, it's never too late to switch to these collagen-boosting solutions.
Daily sun cream
UV exposure plays a major part in the degradation of our collagen levels. “If you are really good with your UV protection and wear it daily, whether it's cloudy or not, it’s the single biggest thing you can do to push out the collagen slowdown,” says Neuser.
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Anyone for bone broth? Made from collagen-rich bones, the broth is broken down into amino acids in the gut. These are then used as building blocks to produce more collagen. Still not keen? “The best sources of these amino acids include egg whites, meat and cheese, while cabbage is a vegetarian option,” says GLAMOUR's resident nutritionist, Grace Barnes. "Other supporting nutrients for collagen production include vitamin C (strawberries broccoli, oranges, peppers); copper (shellfish, nuts and red meat); vitamin A (liver, egg yolks, carrots and sweet potatoes)."
Whether a HIIT class or park run is your favoured way to workout, exercise can have a positive impact, says Granite. Increasing oxygen and blood supply makes for healthier skin.
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We all know by now that smoking damages our skin. Specifically, smoke and toxins unleash free radicals that cause oxidative damage to the skin, which limits collagen production.
So long, sugar
“Excessive sugar consumption may lead to glycation, a process that can cause collagen to become weak and brittle and therefore reduce its effect on skin elasticity, leading to signs of premature ageing,' explains Barnes. We don't have to forego the white stuff completely, but the 4pm chocolate bar may need to go.
Can skincare make the difference?
Collagen masks are the skincare trend we can’t get enough of, but collagen molecules are too large to be absorbed into the skin. Instead, it's more likely your mask includes skincare actives to support the skin’s ability to produce collagen.
For example, “retinol has a unique metabolism so boosts collagen as part of its mode of action,” reveals Neuser.
Granite also points to ingredients developed from wound healing and stem cell technology. “Peptides and growth factors applied topically can also help signal the skin to produce more collagen.”
Vitamin C is essential in collagen synthesis, so is often recommended as a topical antioxidant. Granite also recommends, “Niacinamide, azaleic acid, reservatrol, vitamin E, green tea.” While they are unlikely to penetrate deep into skin, they work at surface level to neutralise free radicals, bolstering UV protection.
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Be wary of cosmetic claims that go beyond 'supporting' skin function. “Collagen is in the dermis, the thickest lower levels of the skin, so it’s a question of what can actually get there," says Neuser. "Skin penetration is a huge science in itself and the skin is good at keeping things out. Cosmetic products can change the levels of collagen, but are not supposed to as this would officially make them drugs.”
“And remember your SPF, no negotiation, otherwise all your other good work will be negated by the UV exposure,” she adds.
Professional 'deep' treatments
If you're serious about safeguarding your collagen stocks, you may want to investigate the pro treatments that take collagen regeneration to the next-level. "They work by controlled injury of the skin to induce regeneration and a lot of that is collagen production," says Neuser.
"Chemical peels, ablative laser such as Fraxel and iPixel, microneedling, radiofrequency and Ultherapy (using micro-focused ultrasound) can all affect collagen," says Granite. The deeper the treatment, the better the results tend to be, but the downtime is the trade-off. Not to mention the expense. Before booking in, always do your research to assess if the treatment is right for you.
Profhilo, the skin remodelling injectable, is causing the latest buzz as an alternative to fillers that replace the youthful volume lost through collagen depletion. It works by slow release of highly-concentrated hyaluronic acid to tighten skin, improve hydration and stimulate collagen production. Two treatments are required four weeks apart, with results lasting up to six months. And it's already gaining fans.
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Shot or sprinkle? Boosting collagen from the inside out
There's countless capsules, powders and liquid shots featuring hydrolysed collagen peptides on offer, with a multitude of potential beauty benefits, from stronger nails, healthier hair, smoother skin, and muscle repair. It’s more a question of how you take it; mix it in your tea or sprinkle it on your breakfast?
These supplements can help to improve collagen production, but they can't guarantee where the collagen will go.
“There are studies to show that those taking collagen supplements for a period of time see improvements in skin elasticity, but like food, they are broken down in the gut. So, there’s no guarantee if or where it will be involved in collagen creation. The body is far too complex for that,” says Barnes.
However, with collagen derived from bovine (cow), porcine (pig) or marine (fish) sources, many supplements aren’t suitable for vegetarians and vegans. Look instead for those packed with nutrients (like hyaluronic acid, vitamin D, zinc) to support collagen synthesis, minus the stuff itself.
Finally, look out for sugar in your supps. Considering its implication in damaging collagen, there’s still a surprising number of formulas that sweeten with the sugary stuff.