If you’ve ever fallen down the skincare hole, you would have heard collagen mentioned once or twice. This abundant protein is essential for plump, healthy-looking skin. But, due to ageing and environmental stresses, our collagen supplies break down over time.
In an effort to maintain our youthful skin, we reach for collagen-boosting products, supplements and even expensive facial treatments. Brands and manufacturers believe by providing an external source of collagen, our skin’s prime state can be restored. However, experts remain sceptical as to whether these creams and powders actually work.
What is collagen
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body and is responsible for providing structure to the skin, resulting in elasticity and volume. Our bodies naturally produce collagen, but it can also be sourced from plants and animals and is available in topical, ingestible and injectable forms.
There are as many as 16 different kinds of collagen in the body, but as we age, our bodies produce less and less of this vital protein. Additionally, external stresses like UV damage, pollution and smoking can cause our existing collagen supplies to degrade, leaving us with damaged, loose and wrinkly skin.
To remedy the situation, many people turn to external supplies of collagen, such as creams. But, experts warn that our efforts may be in vain as these products likely don’t work.
Why collagen creams might be a waste of time
It makes sense that collagen creams could help restore and repair the skin. However, the reality is that collagen molecules are rather large, and when used topically in creams, these molecules can’t penetrate the skin’s epidermis. Suzan Obagi, M.D., UPMC dermatologist and American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery president, explained to SELF:
Your skin might feel softer and smoother [or] your wrinkles might look less prominent, but that's all an illusion—that's just what's happening on the surface, it's not actually building collagen.
Hydrolysed collagen or collagen peptides also exist, breaking the protein into small enough molecules to penetrate the skin. But, while it seems plausible that these creams can stimulate collagen production - provided the molecules can penetrate the skin - the evidence behind these claims has yet to be explored and supported by science.
But, this doesn’t mean you should throw away your collagen creams. These products can still moisturise the skin giving it that soft and smooth feel.
Collagen supplements in the forms of pills and powders, on the other hand, do have some scientific evidence backing them up but get ready for a long-term relationship if you want to see lasting results.
How to boost collagen in your skincare routine
If the aim of the game is to prevent ageing and aid in skin healing and restoration, then there’s another product that shows much more promise than topical collagen: retinol.
This miracle skincare ingredient can be bought both over-the-counter and in stronger doses by prescription and helps promote skin cell turnover and thicken the skin’s epidermis. Retinol also increases hyaluronic acid and collagen production while inhibiting collagen breakdown, leaving your skin looking plumper, brighter, and more youthful.
If you want to maintain the effects of retinol and prevent the breakdown of existing collagen, then SPF and antioxidants are also essential. Exposure to UV rays and environmental stressors can promote collagen breakdown and is one of the leading contributors to skin ageing, which is why you should protect your skin with an SPF of at least 30.
Antioxidants like vitamins C and E, also help protect the skin from free radicals and oxidative stress, which contribute to collagen breakdown, not to mention they can boost the performance of SPF.
The bottom line
Collagen is vital for healthy and youthful skin, but trying to replenish this diminishing protein with collagen creams and supplements may be a fruitless endeavour. Instead, try using other products such as retinol, SPF and antioxidants like vitamin C, which can help to stimulate collagen production and protect existing supplies.