When we talk about skin aging, we are really talking about collagen – or more precisely, a lack of it. Just about every desirable feature of a healthy skin is based on the collagen content: the more that protein we have, the firmer, plumper and juicier our skin looks like.
But as we get older – and especially when we smoke, drink and UV-irradiate during aging – our collagen production drops off, and the collagen we already have is starting to break down. This leads to wrinkles as well as a loss of fullness or fullness. To counteract these symptoms, collagen loss must be addressed in one way or another.
To this end, there are a number of collagen-rich products on the market, most of which fall into one of two categories: moisturizers (especially creams) and oral supplements. Trendy supplements dominate the market today, while collagen creams are a bit more old-fashioned.
Regardless of the shape of the product, manufacturers claim that adding more collagen to the skin helps replenish and improve the loss, everything from moisture and elasticity to fine lines and wrinkles. Experts, however, remain skeptical.
Can a moisturizer or supplement really help your skin cells produce more collagen?
The short answer is no. The long answer may be, but probably still no. To understand why, it helps to learn more about collagen and how it is made.
Collagen is the most important structural protein in human connective tissue, especially in our skin. Most of the collagen in our skin is located in the dermis (the second layer of skin located under the epidermis), where it is also produced. Skin cells in the dermis (fibroblasts) synthesize the collagen that holds the rest of the dermis together, giving our skin the underlying structure.
As for the structure of collagen itself, it resembles a braid or a rope : Single amino acids combine to form long chains that bundle into thicker strands. These strands then rotate and wrap around each other to form triple helices. Eventually, these helices connect end-to-end and stack on top of each other to form clusters called fibrils. In other words, collagen is a fairly complex and massive molecule.
Therefore, pure collagen-formulated creams simply can not live up to their high standards – these huge braided molecules are just too big to penetrate your epidermis and definitely big enough to get into the dermis where true magic happens , Although collagen creams feel good and can help moisturize the skin, it has benefits.
"Your skin may feel softer and smoother [or] Your wrinkles may not look that strong, but that's all an illusion. That's exactly what happens on the surface, "says Dr. Suzan Obagi, UPMC Dermatologist and President of the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery, told SELF. "It does not actually build collagen."
To circumvent the problem of sizing, most lotions, potions, and pills that promote collagen as a major ingredient currently contain hydrolyzed collagen or collagen peptides. (Fun fact: gelatin is a form of hydrolyzed collagen!)
Essentially, hydrolyzed collagen has been broken down into smaller chains of amino acids called peptides, says John Zampella, M.D., NYU Langone Dermatologist, SELF. Some researchers and dermatologists believe that these peptides "can penetrate the skin cells in your outer skin barrier and enter the dermis, essentially [providing] the building blocks for the formation of new collagen by fibroblasts," Dr. Zampella.
And it seems plausible that applying a cream full of these collagen precursors could help to increase collagen production across the board, provided these peptides eventually enter the dermis. However, this theory has not really been tested, let alone experimentally proven.
Surprisingly, there are some studies that suggest that oral collagen may improve the appearance of the skin. Following at least three recent studies oral ingestion of collagen peptides is associated with improved skin hydration, elasticity and wrinkling compared to placebo. However, these studies have some asterisks: they are rather small (about 60 participants), short-term (4-12 weeks), and are only for women over 35.
The observed results could be be due to an increased collagen production or another mechanism. In both cases they are mild at best and we have other options (such as retinoids) that are more beneficial. It's also important to remember that dietary supplements are not FDA regulated or tested for their effects, so you may not know what you are getting or how well it might work.
And if you eat normally With a balanced diet ( with high-protein foods such as meat, eggs, dairy, and beans ) you probably already get all the needed collagen.
So should I throw away all my products? Collagen products?
A little extra collagen probably does not make a big difference in your skin, but it's also pretty harmless. So, if you love your collagen peptide moisturizer or enjoy the perceived benefits of supplements and you do not notice any negative side effects, keep it up. But if you really want to minimize collagen loss, there are more effective options, starting with – what else? – Sunscreen .
"The most important thing is sunscreen – you obviously want your [existing] collagen from breaking down," Dr. Zampella. "Number two is a retinoid because that's the thing for which we have the most evidence for building collagen ."
Dr. Obagi agrees, especially considering the cost of overpriced collagen products: "You can buy products that cost hundreds of dollars – if not a thousand or two – and I do not know that [they’re] will be better than a prescription Retino Acid , In fact, I can guess that pretty well [they won’t].
If you're wondering how to best treat wrinkles or other collagen loss side effects, consult a dermatologist for recommendations on your specific skin.