Collagen & How it Works in Anti-Aging Skin Care
It’s impossible to talk about anti-aging skin care without certain ingredients coming up in the conversation, one of which being collagen. The reason for that? Among other roles, collagen is the most important structural protein in our skin and is responsible for giving us plump, youthful-looking skin. But thanks (or rather, no thanks) to aging and other outside factors, our collagen breaks down over time. In an effort to restore that collagen, we turn to whatever we can get our hands on the fastest, be it collagen creams, collagen-stimulating ingredients, collagen supplements—the list goes on.
But with all the different forms and types of collagen skin care, things can get pretty confusing. Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about collagen, including which products are even worth trying.
What is Collagen?
Collagen is often referred to as the body’s scaffolding, and the reason for that is because, as we mentioned above, it’s the most important structural protein in your skin. Not only is collagen made in our bodies, but it can also be derived from plants and animals. It’s available in topical and ingestible forms, and in the past, it was also a popular injectable (we’ll dive deeper into the different forms a little later on). As far as topicals, collagen is found most commonly in creams (aka collagen creams), but depending on your intended goal, your collagen skin care products might not be as effective as you would think or hope.
Not only do we naturally produce less collagen starting in our 20’s, but we also lose collagen with age and other factors, like sun exposure, smoking, or sugar. In other words, as we age, we lose more collagen than we make. So, what’s the fix? One idea is to apply collagen to the skin with collagen skincare in an attempt to replenish it, but that doesn’t quite work: simply put, the entire collagen molecule is very, very large, and way too big to penetrate the epidermis of the skin.
However, hydrolyzed collagen is enzymatically broken down into fragments that have a delivery of getting into the dermis, and therefore, it’s actually able to get into the position of where collagen would be. Even still, not enough clinical testing has been done to support the idea that this would lead to making collagen.
Benefits of Collagen for Skin
Putting collagen into your skin isn’t going to stimulate other collagen, sadly enough. However, collagen is known for have great moisturizing benefits when applied topically, so if your nightly routine consists of applying a collagen cream, it’s not a total loss. Topical collagen creams are said to improve fine lines and wrinkles by replacing the lost collagen, but in reality, the collagen mostly moisturizes it. This can make the skin can feel softer and smoother, but as far as actually building collagen?
Not so much.
If your ultimate goal of using collagen skin care is to stimulate collagen production, adding to your routine a retinoid or retinol (which is the gold standard for boosting collagen) or peptides and growth factors as a less irritating option that can help by acting as “messengers” to signal cells to create collagen. Vitamin C (another collagen producer) and sunscreen with UVA protection to prevent your collagen from breaking down further.
Side Effects of Collagen
Despite the fact that your collagen cream, sadly, will not turn back time, there’s no harm in using one if you like the way it feels and the results you get. However, it’s possible to be allergic to any molecule or any chemical in any skin care product, so if you have a reaction to it, stop using it. And the same goes for supplements.
How to Use It
Whether it’s an ingestible or topical form of collagen skin care, you can use it any time of the day, morning or night. As a moisturizer, collagen cream can be applied either once or twice a day. For either form, it’s best to follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
As we mentioned before, collagen is also available in an oral form to improve hair, nails, and in the interest of this article, skin. Despite the claims, which range from glowing skin to improved wrinkles and skin elasticity, the studies to back them up are limited; however, between collagen creams and collagen supplements, the oral version would be the most beneficial to the skin.
With that said, there are things to keep in mind when selecting a product. As is the case with all supplements, oral collagen isn’t FDA-regulated, which is why it’s important to always consult your physician before making any changes to your regimen. In general, be wary of any products that contain animal by-products and look for supplements with collagen types I and III that comes from a cage-free, free-range, and antibiotic-free source.
So what’s the final verdict? Do you actually need to be taking a collagen supplement? The answer isn’t totally clear. It does benefit the skin, but it also benefits other things internally, like joints, that a topical doesn’t. And if you don’t need it, well, your body won’t absorb it and will excrete any over-supplementation.
Oh, and about those collagen injections. Circa 1980s, before hyaluronic acid fillers were the top choice, collagen injectable fillers were used to soften wrinkles and plump up lips. They’ve since been replaced by longer-lasting hyaluronic acid fillers, which are less allergenic. But in laymen’s terms, any collagen is better than no collagen!