Collagen as an active ingredient - Does it work?.
Updated: Jun 2
In the cosmetic and cosmeceutical world companies use different active ingredients in skincare, usually to cause a cellular response in the skin. Although some active ingredients are just added to tell a better story about a product and use science words to trick you into parting with your money. This post is about one of those ingredients -COLLAGEN added to skincare products.
What is collagen?
We all know that collagen is an important part of the skin configuration. It is a naturally occurring connective tissue in the body. There are 29 different types of collagen in the body depending on what amino acids hook together.
Basically, collagen is a protein formed by amino acids linked together to form peptides, these peptides then form longer chains called polypeptides. 3 polypeptides will wrap around each other to form a bundle called procollagen and then turns in to tropocollagen a single collagen fibre. Then a bunch of these will turn in to fibrils and a bunch of fibrils will then form a microfiber. Here is some more science info
We are only going to focus on the types of collagen that are relevant to the skin and these are:
Collagen I: This is the most common form of collagen in the human body and it’s the end product of tissue repair. It’s a very strong and powerful version.
Collagen III: Is found in rapidly growing tissue especially in the early stages of wound repair. It’s typically replaced later by Type I. (These two are stimulated by dermal therapies like skin needling)
Collagen V and VI: Both are normally found alongside type I.
Collagen VII: acts as an anchor between the layers of the dermal-epidermal junction, stopping your face from falling off.
Collagen XII: Is found with types I and III. So we can see that collagen is a crucial part of the skin and it does degrade as we age. What I am calling bullshit on is collagen as an ingredient applied topically to the surface of the skin. Firstly most collagen can not penetrate into the dermis (deeper layers of the skin). The molecule is just too large and even when it is chopped up and made smaller like in the case of hydrolyzed collagen it can not bind with the existing collagen fibres.
It would be like throwing metal scrapings on to a cracked spring. The metal scrapings won't bind to the spring and fix it. So topical collagen fibres have been proven to have no effect on existing collagen bundles in the skin.
Collagen does have a film-forming and humectant (water-binding) quality to it so it can serve as a moisturizing agent in skincare. Although it is not overly effective and something like hyaluronic acid is more effective and cheaper to use.
Types of collagen used in skincare and how they fail: Soluble collagen Think of the process by which collagen is formed. If you extract collagen early in that process when it’s not fully constructed you get soluble collagen. This usually comes from younger animals. Soluble collagen is thought to penetrate into the dermis slightly better but has no mechanism of action once there. Native Then there’s native collagen. This is essentially the fully formed, mature version. It’s has a very high molecular weight and its a very large molecule. So it can help to hydrate the upper skin cells but has no other benefits and will never reach the level of the skin for any other effects. Hydrolyzed Finally, there’s hydrolyzed collagen which is the type most commonly used in cosmetics. It’s formed by taking mature collagen and chemically chopping it up into little bits. Essentially rendering it useless. Some of It can penetrate into the dermis but it has no effect on the natural collagen in your skin.
In other news, there is no way to synthetically form collagen or any plant-based origins so any collagen that you use in skincare comes from animals or fish. so that's bad news for anyone vegan or cruelty-free. So what can you do to boost collagen in the skin? This is exciting for me because it is the basis of all dermal therapy treatments. Remember how collagen 1 and 2 are stimulated to form in the wound healing process? Well, dermal therapies like chemical peels, microdermabrasion and skin-needling cause a controlled injury to the skin to stimulate the biological healing process of the dermis causing it to produce it's own new collagen naturally. The human body is amazing in the way it strives to protect itself. A scar is just tightly bound collagen fibres formed to prevent the injury from recurring.
There are also active ingredients that can be added into skincare to stimulate the production of collagen my favourite is...
Retinol (vitamin A). The age management powerhouse. It has been featured in numerous clinical studies over the last 10 years. Not only does it regulate the skin cells to behave like younger skin it speeds up the skin cell turn over that naturally slows down as we age and works as a free radical scavenger to prevent further damage to the skin. For oily skins, it regulates sebum production and reduces breakouts and it even helps with sun-damage. Everyone should add a Retinol product to their daily routine. You can get Retrieve Cream prescribed to you by your doctor if you want something REALLY strong to get fast results but this does come with a period where you have to build up your skin's tolerance and expect some sensitivity, peeling and tingling.
If you want a gentler approach I love Hydronated Retinol found in Skin 02 Multi-Vitamin Serum. It's more stable, less irritating and stimulates collagen and hyaluronic acid production in the dermis. This serum also has the added benefits of Vitamin B, C, E and co-enzyme Q10 to cover all of your skins daily dose of vitamins.
Like this post? Let me know, I'm planning to do a series of blog entries about the bullshit ingredients on the skincare market so keep your eyes peeled. Did I get something wrong? I'm always happy to learn something new, please email me any evidence that I have missed at firstname.lastname@example.org Bonus points if it is a peer-reviewed independent study.