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Collagen in Skin Care: Does It Really Work?
Healthy Options
Personal Care

While collagen had its 15 minutes of fame as an injectable lip plumper back in the day, it’s now making a comeback as one of the skincare world’s supposedly magical ingredients. After all, it’s the glue that holds skin together and gives it its elasticity, so it makes sense to slather the stuff onto your skin, right?

Not quite. You don’t get the benefits of collagen just by rubbing it onto your skin. Sure, it can make your skin feel smoother afterwards, in much the same way your other moisturizers can instantly improve skin texture. But collagen molecules are too big to penetrate the top layer of the skin, and thus don’t do anything to boost the collagen you already have. Read on to understand how collagen works.


What Is Collagen?

Collagen is the most abundant protein found in the body, making up your skin, hair, cartilage, and connective tissue among others. In an interview for a health magazine, dermatologist Dennis Gross, M.D. likened collagen to “a bunch of sturdy, fat Roman columns placed close together, holding up the top layer of skin.” This component makes skin feel firm and plump. Your body naturally gets rid of old or damaged collagen and produces new collagen to replace it. Your skin is more efficiently able to do this when you’re young, producing lots of collagen to give you that youthful look. But this production slows down as you get older, beginning your mid-30s. By then, you’ll notice that skin doesn’t naturally spring back to fill in the lines and creases you make when you smile (i.e., you start developing fine lines and wrinkles) because there isn’t as much collagen.

How to Supplement Collagen

While collagen-infused skincare products don’t really do anything to increase collagen in your skin, there are some ingredients that help stimulate production. A review published in the journal Nutrients looked into the role of Vitamin C in skin health and suggests that aside from providing protection against UV rays, Vitamin C is also crucial in collagen synthesis. Studies are still inconclusive as to the efficacy of topical treatments containing Vitamin C, but it’s worth a shot. Better still if you can up your Vitamin C intake. Another study found that prescription retinoic acid and retinol encourage collagen production. (Run it by your dermatologist first and limit use as these can be irritating on skin.)  

When it comes to collagen supplementation, research is still inconclusive, but seems to show that oral consumption may have positive effects. A paper published in Skin Pharmacology and Physiology indicated that the intake of collagen peptides for eight weeks reduced wrinkles and improved skin health. (Other studies suggest that collagen supplements also have a positive effect on joint health and digestive health.)

But don’t just rely on supplements. The best thing to do is to start with a balanced diet to safeguard and stimulate collagen production. Make sure you consume food that is rich in Vitamin C (like citrus fruits and red bell peppers), Vitamin A (like sweet potatoes and other yellow or orange vegetables), omega-3 fatty acids (like salmon), and lean protein (like turkey).

What to Avoid

Steer clear of the things that are known to damage collagen so you make the most of the natural collagen that you have:

Sunlight. It comes as no surprise that sunlight is one of the culprits behind collagen degradation. Exposure to UV rays accelerates collagen damage by as much as 20 percent, according to a study.

Excessive intake of sugar. As if possible risks to your heart health and an increase in belly fat aren’t enough reasons to cut back on the sweet stuff, sugar also triggers the production of enzymes that damage collagen as well as a process called glycation, which worsens some skin conditions.

Smoking. A review entitled “Impact of Smoking on Collagen Metabolism” found that smoking enhances collagen degradation. Quitting smoking for three months can minimize continued collagen damage, but the effects seem irreversible.

Pollution. Research published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology found that air pollution in highly urbanized areas like London, New York, and Beijing is causing skin damage and premature aging. While the mechanisms are still being studied, research suggests that irritants on skin cause enzymes to work overtime, removing more collagen than normal in the process.

By limiting your exposure to these factors, you can make the most of the collagen benefits on skin for years to come.











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