Collagen is the beauty world’s latest craze—a lot of it for good reason. But between supplements, ingredient lists, and clever marketing, it can be tough to decipher what is true or not about what it can actually treat, cure or prevent. But we’re here to sort through the good and the bad so that you just have the best information possible.
What is collagen?
Collagen is a naturally-occurring protein that is present all throughout your body. It’s one of the essential building blocks of not only your skin, but also your bones, muscles, and hair. Because of this, it plays an important role not only in skin health but also bone and joint health.
The role of collagen in the body, especially in your skin, is as a protein-binder. It’s the natural glue that holds our body together and keeps things tight. Because of this, it’s often referred to as what keeps out skin looking young and youthful. Collagen benefits include promoting skin elasticity, preventing sagging, fine lines, and reducing wrinkles.
As we age, it’s natural that our body stops producing collagen as quickly as when we’re fresh-faced kids. For women, this begins in the late-twenties. By menopause, it’s possible for women to lose up to 30% of their collagen production.
For these reasons, it is very much tied to anti-aging products and regimens. After all, wrinkles and sagging are some of the biggest issues facing women’s skin as we age. It’s no wonder that it is catching a lot of buzz considering how closely it’s tied to the aging process.
Does consuming collagen actually work?
You may have seen an uptick in supplements as of late. Collagen pills, gummies, liquids, and even in tubs like protein powders. But what does research tell us about the efficacy of these?
You will likely encounter these supplements as collagen peptides—a water soluble form of collagen. It’s fun to note here that collagen is actually nearly identical to gelatin; in commercial products, both are almost always derived from animal products like bones or fish scales (this also makes them not vegan-friendly).
Many supplements don’t have strong scientific backing to them, because supplements are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). There have been studies examining whether ingested collagen supplements make it to your skin cells. And the result is they maybe, probably don’t.
Here’s the problem with these types of collagen supplements: when ingested, it makes it to our stomach and is broken down by our digestive system. It’s unclear if it actually makes it to our bloodstream to be circulated throughout our body.
While the above study states that there is some evidence your body can see an increase in amino acids from certain highly-concentrated forms of collagen, it doesn’t guarantee your skin is going to be on the receiving end. As we talked about in the beginning, collagen is an essential protein for your entire body, including top-priority places like your heart. If there’s any shortage, these new nutrients will be headed straight there.
The exception here is if you’re in the later stages of aging. As we grow older, it’s natural for our body to produce less collagen, particularly in our skin—hence why it sags. Here, oral supplements can be beneficial because it’s much more likely the collagen will make it to the skin, as this is where it’s most lacking.
So could supplements help you? Maybe! But we don’t think the science here is strong enough to justify taking them.
Collagen in skin care products
Now, let’s move onto topical skin care products like creams. This is a much better way to use collagen, as it ensures the protein is actually going to the place you want it to—your skin. However, there’s another catch here.
Collagen is quite a large molecule when in a topical form, which means it’s difficult for your skin to absorb through its mucus membranes. This is an important thing to know, because often products containing collagen as an ingredient are on the expensive end.
Ultimately, your best bet are products that contain collagen-building peptides that help your body increase its own collagen production, or ones that help protect what you already have.
As we talked about our post about Rosehip oil, retinol (aka vitamin A) encourages your skin to produce more collagen all on its own by sending signals to up its production. It’s a great, natural source of retinol and in our Facial Recovery Elixir, isn’t in high enough concentrations to irritate your skin like prescription-grade retinoids. And it’s totally vegan.
In addition, mineral sunscreens are a great way to block collagen-damaging UV rays from hitting your skin. This is part of the reason sun-damaged skin tends to look older than skin that is not. Other topical, soothing antioxidants also help to reduce inflammation that can break it down.
While the science is still out on collagen, sunscreen and retinol are proven to help increase its production and have anti-aging benefits of their own. Taking a supplement or using a product is unlikely to harm your skin, but it’s also not likely going to give you the spectacular results you seek.