Read The Label: All Of Your Collagen Questions Answered
Can collagen address dull, sagging, and wrinkled skin to give it a plumper, more youthful appearance? The experts break it down.
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Feel like you need a dictionary every time you look at the ingredient list of a beauty product? Still unsure of the difference between retinol and retinoids? What about the unique benefits of vitamins B, C, and E? Are alpha and beta hydroxy acids the same thing? The skincare aisle can be overwhelming, but you don’t need a PhD in cosmetic chemistry to navigate it. With expert help, The AEDITION is demystifying and simplifying the beauty industry — one label at a time.
Few ingredients in skincare have become as synonymous with their benefits as collagen. Promising a younger complexion and reduced signs of aging, the word has been plastered on countless beauty products promising to ‘boost’ its powers. From skincare to haircare to supplements and even aesthetic treatments, collagen has become integrated into just about everything.
This naturally produced protein is an integral part of our skin’s structure, and we are born with an ever-dwindling reserve of it. In theory, replenishing collagen is important, but can collagen-powered products truly deliver such results? The AEDITION spoke with several experts to investigate the benefits of this powerhouse ingredient, how it works, and how to add it into your routine.
What Is Collagen?
A fibrous protein that is naturally occurring in the body, collagen is a structural behemoth that helps the skin have a plump, youthful, hydrated appearance. There are at least 16 types of collagen. Type I is the most abundant, making up 90 percent of the collagen in the body. It is, however, so precious because our internal speed of production slows down with time. “Collagen is what gives our skin structure,” explains Sheila Farhang, MD, a board certified dermatologist and founder of Avant Dermatology & Aesthetics. “We start losing approximately 1 percent of our collagen each year starting at the age of 20 and loss of collagen and elasticity is what causes sagging less plump skin.”
How Does Collagen Work?
Collagen is a key component of the elasticity and firmness of the skin but also the strength of joints, hair, and nails – let’s just say, it does a lot of heavy lifting. “Natural collagen breakdown can begin as early as your twenties,” says Tammy Yaiser, head formulator and vice president of product development at Algenist. “Over time, the pace of collagen depletion accelerates, resulting in visible wrinkles and a loss of firmness and elasticity.”
Collagen production naturally decreases with age, but external factors can speed up the process. “Certain extenuating factors – including stress, pollution, and genetics – may contribute to breakdown at an increased pace,” Yaiser notes. “At the same time, the rate at which we naturally produce collagen decelerates.” This combination can have a direct effect on the quality and aesthetic of the skin. “The appearance of accelerated aging caused by dryness, roughness, tightness, oxidative, and daily stress helps contribute to thin, fragile skin,” she explains. “They may contribute to the loss of storage of skin-plumping collagen and the slowing of natural new production leading to decreased elasticity. When collagen and elastin break down, skin loses firmness and radiance, and fine lines and wrinkles appear more visible.”
Despite the laundry list of stressors that can speed up the degradation of collagen, there are ways to counteract it. “Collagen loss is accelerated with UV exposure, smoking, and pollution,” Dr. Sheila says. But a healthy lifestyle can help.
What Are the Benefits of Collagen?
The benefits of collagen go beyond the skin. “In addition to improvements in the visible appearance of your skin, healthy collagen levels provide additional whole-body benefits,” Yaiser shares. Because it is such a prevalent protein within the body, it’s decrease has impacts on overall health, too. “Internally, connective tissue is all over our body,” explains Tatiana Boncompagni, co-founder and CEO of Eat Sunny. “So, it’s not just the skin. It helps our joints, which is important as we age.”
Finding the Right Collagen Product
The beauty of collagen in skincare is that it is gentle enough to be added to any routine and works alongside other ingredients. “We even layer it with retinol, peptides, and other actives,” Yaiser says. “Adding a topical collagen treatment can help improve skin’s plumpness, resiliency, smoothness, elasticity, bounce, and more.” From serums to creams, the ingredient is often found in a vitamin-powered cocktail of actives.
In order to find a product that can deliver results, our experts have a few tips:
- Check the Label: “Clinical data is great, but, as a former beauty editor, I know that many companies simply pay research labs to provide the results they want,” Boncompagni explains. Her advice? “Look for online reviews. Do your homework. Read the label. Read reviews.” Yaiser adds that language can be murky. “We advise consumers to beware of ‘collagen promoters,’ which are not real collagen but rather partial collagen molecules marketed as ‘Pro-Collagen,’” she says.
- Seek Alternatives: Luckily for vegans, this is one ingredient that has a non-animal derived counterpart. “Although there are many types of collagen and sources, all forms and subsequent hydrolysates contain three characteristic amino acids – glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline,” Yaiser explains. “Vegan collagen is a plant-based source chemically equivalent to animal-derived sources of collagen.”
- Do Your Research: Yaiser notes that because vegan collagen is so popular and such a sought-after ingredient, impostors abound. “There are also many other ingredients that claim to be plant collagen, botanical collagen, marine collagen, or biomimetic collagen that are generally peptides or botanical extracts without collagen even in the INCI list,” she warns. Some common examples: Oryza Sativa (Rice) Extract, Glycine Max (Soybean) Seed Extract, Daucus Carota Sativa (Carrot) Root Extract, and Chenopodium Quinoa Seed Extract.
How To Add Collagen Into Your Routine
At this point, you’ve probably gleaned that there are a lot of ways to use collagen. To simplify the process, here are the basics:
- When: Most products “can be used daily in the morning and evening routine to unlock the benefits of collagen and help address visible signs of aging on the skin,” Yaiser says. Depending on your skincare regimen, you may be interested in a cream or serum (we like the Algenist Collagen Dreams Kit to tackle multiple areas at once). Know that it can be added in whatever form suits you best.
- How: “As far as topicals, it is always helpful to combine it with other vitamins, such as vitamin C, which boosts collagen production, or vitamin B3 complex, which increases skin tone, texture, and skin barrier,” Dr. Sheila adds. Her pick? The Olay Body Firming Body Wash With Vitamin B3 and Collagen.
- Who: Dr. Sheila believes this ingredient is one that women can wait to start using. “I believe implementing a good skincare regimen, which includes sunscreen, antioxidants, and retinoid, is key starting at the age of 20,” she says. “Collagen-boosting ingredients may be more beneficial starting in the thirties.”
- Not For: While it is gentle enough for most to use, those with chronic skin conditions should consult with their dermatologist first. Those with sensitive skin conditions “should be more concerned about fragranced products or certain preservatives and not the collagen itself,” Dr. Sheila notes.
Additional Collagen Sources
Collagen isn’t just for skincare. Because we can’t get enough, here’s how else you can add it to your overall health and wellness regimen.
Unlike other proteins in the body, collagen may be induced via a cosmetic procedure,” Dr. Sheila explains. Sculptra®, for example, is a bio-stimulatory filler that has been cited as a non-invasive treatment for growing collagen. “PDO threads are also a minimally invasive way to get a lift, and the actual thread is bio-stimulatory helping produce collagen,” she adds. Microneedling is another popular and effective way of signaling to the body to speed up collagen production.
“Collagen supplements contain collagen peptides or hydrolyzed collagen that is supposed to be easily absorbed by the gut because it is a smaller molecule,” Boncompagni explains. “The idea is that these peptides get absorbed by the gut into the bloodstream, which then delivers them to the fibroblasts in the skin, joints, or any connective tissue in the body.” The collagen peptides provide the fibroblasts with the amino acids they need to create collagen.
Dr. Sheila adds that these supplements can be added to a post-procedure recovery regimen. “After cosmetic procedures, including skin tightening devices such as the Morpheus8 or Sculptra® injections, I do recommend supplementing with collagen powder to boost collagen production and wound healing,” she says. Such supplements are particularly beneficial for older patients. “I usually don’t recommend collagen supplements unless my patient is over 40, as I think that is when it is more useful and noticeable,” she notes. “The collagen supplement has to have a USP seal, and I also usually recommend collagen supplements after cosmetic procedures.”
We’ve mentioned how collagen’s talents aren’t just for the skin, and hair can benefit greatly. When it comes to hair, “Collagen strengthens the protein bond of the hair,” explains Holly Dear, a Dallas-based hairstylist and founder of Dear Clark. “The goal is to increase the antigen-growing phase through scalp health with other ingredients such as aloe.” When looking for a collagen hair care product, Dear explains that follicle fitness is key. While animal-derived collagen is preferred, vegan alternatives are also adequate. Supplements can also play a role in hair health. “The best benefit of collagen is when it is ingested first then applied topically,” she says.
Collagen is a building block of healthy skin and keeps you looking youthful, plump, and hydrated. But, when adding it to your routine, quality is key. Since collagen production naturally decreases with age, it’s a good idea to start implementing it into your routine in your thirties through a topical product, supplement, or cosmetic treatment. Despite its many benefits, it’s important to remember that there is no silver bullet in skincare. “Skincare isn’t one-size-fits-all, so it’s best to check with a dermatologist if you have — especially sensitized skin,” Yaiser says.
All products featured are independently selected by our editors, however, AEDIT may receive a commission on items purchased through our links.
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