It’s the beauty buzzword on everyone’s lips, but what are the real facts on collagen?
A wealth of collagen products have been launched in the past few years. But what exactly is collagen and why is it so important for skin health?
“Collagen is the most abundant protein in the whole body. It’s found in our skin, bones, muscles and tendons,” says Dr Sophie Shotter, founder of the Illuminate Skin Clinic. There are actually 16 different types of collagen found in the human body. In skin, collagen provides structural integrity, strength and resilience.
“There are many diseases and disorders that affect the quality of our collagen, and these can lead to a wide variety of health problems such as Ehlers Danlos Syndrome and Osteogenesis Imperfecta (brittle bone disease). Gramme for gramme, some types of collagen are even stronger than steel,” says Dr Shotter. Collagen is important — it’s the scaffolding inside our body, helping hold everything together. Think of it as the glue that holds our ligaments, joints and bones together in order to function every day.
Our skin’s strength, elasticity and ability to replace dead skin cells is partly down to collagen. As we go through life, though, levels naturally start to decrease.
“In collagen terms, ageing starts at 25 years old — we begin to lose 1-1.5% of our collagen each year. For women, this accelerates at menopause. Within the first five years of menopause we will lose 30% of our collagen, and thereafter continue to lose it at 2-2.5% per year,” says Dr Shotter.
“This accounts for some of the joint aches and pains that often become more apparent around menopause, as well as the more visible changes in our skin,” she explains.
“Additionally, environmental factors such as pollution and sun damage can decrease the quality of our collagen. In young skin, the collagen fibres form an organised support structure within the skin, whereas with age this becomes fragmented and the structural integrity of the skin is therefore compromised.
“You will be able to see and feel this — your skin no longer feels as bouncy and smooth, it perhaps no longer glows like it did, and even wounds may take longer to heal.”
It’s this decrease in levels that the beauty industry has latched on to in the past few years — and experts say we’re increasingly interested in trying collagen products.
One method is drinking a “shot” of collagen, as part of your morning routine.
It’s been reported that drinking collagen increases the amount in the bloodstream, which in turn, triggers the body’s own collagen production to speed up. This sudden boost of collagen fires up the fibroblasts — our own collagen “factories” — helping our complexion to glow and hair and nails to strengthen.
Collagen can also help to relieve joint pain, with studies showing that taking supplements can improve symptoms of ostearthritis. Not only have that, but research claims collagen can help boost gut health, promote heart health and increase muscle mass.
Dr Shotter is a fan. “I love collagen shots. Aim for marine collagen with Vitamin C and MSM, which are essential for our bodies to produce collagen.”
The most rapid decline in our natural levels of collagen occurs once you are post-menopausal, due to reduced oestrogen.
If oestrogen levels are a concern, Dr Shotter suggest oestrogen receptor activators. “Emepelle is a phenomenal innovation that activates oestrogen receptors in the skin’s cells, enabling them to function better and produce more collagen. If it’s absorbed into the bloodstream it is deactivated, meaning it is useful even for people who cannot have hormone therapy.”
Collagen-boosting skincare hacks
That’s regardless of the temperature outside. Use a high SPF that protects against both UVB and UVA rays, for double the defence against collagen loss.
Protect with antioxidants
Use an antioxidant serum in the morning containing vitamin C and E, which can reduce free radical damage and create more collagen.
Add a retinol to your night-time routine
It’s one of the few products proven to stimulate collagen production. Use before bed to wake up to a glow.
Smooth on hyaluronic acid
This skincare hero is a potent collagen stimulator. Choose carefully, though. Dr Shotter explains, “Hyaluronic acid is a large molecule that doesn’t easily penetrate the skin’s barrier. So it needs to have a good delivery mechanism’.” Try the Institut Esthederm Intensive Hyaluronic Acid Cream.