Puzzled by collagen anti-ageing skincare? Here's all you need to know

Collagen is key to skin anti-ageing and you’ll see it mentioned on skincare products everywhere; but what actually is it? I sat down with scientist and skincare expert Cheryl Woodman from Honesty For Your Skin to talk all things collagen. She believes that everyone deserves the empowerment to choose great skincare consciously, so she was the perfect person to speak to.

What is collagen and what does it do for the skin?

Collagen is a type of structural protein that’s found naturally within skin. Alongside another structural protein named elastin, the two work like skin scaffolding. With healthy collagen and elastin, skin appears plump, voluminous and youthful. However, as time passes from your mid-twenties onwards, your skin’s natural levels of collagen decrease – everyone has a genetically in-built rate of decrease. This decline, however, can be quickened by the accumulation of external environmental aggressors such as UV light. As collagen production levels decline, it causes skin to appear looser, have less volume and appear wrinkly and saggy – a common cause of jowls.

collagen structure
[Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons]

Can you add more collagen to your skin and what are the different ways you can you do this?

In comparison to other active skincare ingredients, collagen is a very large molecule. That’s important to understand because size has a significant impact on how quickly skincare ingredients may be absorbed by skin. When ingredients are too large, they either form a film on top of the skin or are only absorbed superficially. The consensus among cosmetic chemists is that collagen is too large to be absorbed fully.

However, there are several other ways that your skin’s collagen levels can be boosted. Rather than focusing on supplying collagen through skincare, it’s best to focus on the ingredients your skin needs to make collagen e.g. vitamin C; the stimulation of the processes it uses to create it (via red light treatment/skin peels/microdermabrasion) or oral supplementation.

Do some of the skincare and supplements/beauty drinks on the market actually contain enough collagen to make any real difference to the skin?

High quality collagen supplements contain a form of collagen that’s been hydrolysed. This process breaks down the large collagen molecules into small peptides with low molecular weights that are bio-available i.e. the body may absorb them. Collagen supplementation is a relatively new idea, meaning there’s relatively few independently led studies showing its benefits. Those that are published have been trialled with fewer than 50 participants and show that collagen supplementation of 2.5 to 10g daily may help boost skin hydration and suppleness whilst also reducing wrinkle depth. These positive improvements noted up to a 30% change from baseline with a daily 10g supplementation. Most popular on-market collagen supplements contain an average dose of 5g, which these small, independent studies support as having a noticeable benefit.

Some collagen skincare products and supplements are obviously better than others. Do you have any you personally rate?

There are four things to consider when choosing a great collagen supplement. Firstly, does the brand widely promote their commitment to high standards? Secondly, what is the collagen dose in each tablet/drink? Is it within the 2.5-10g bracket? Thirdly, is the collagen in a form that is bio-available to the human body i.e. is it hydrolysed collagen? Finally, look at whether the supplement pairs collagen with other skin-healthy vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C and zinc. Supplements such as Pure Gold Collagen (£35.99 for a 10-day programme) and LQ Liquid Health Advanced Skin Care (£29.99 for a 10-day supply) tick each of these boxes.

What are some of the weirder clinical collagen treatments that clinics offer?

Light therapy for boosting collagen production has a fantastic back story. The benefits of red light were first discovered by NASA. With the dawn of space exploration came a huge problem – wounds just would not heal properly in space; meaning that something as small as a paper cut could become life threatening. Your body’s production of collagen plays a very important role in wound healing and NASA’s discovery that the application of red light could boost the production of healthy skin cells by over 150% was ground breaking. Since this discovery, the technology has been adapted into clinical collagen boosting treatments. By simply sitting with a red LED light source directed at your skin, collagen production levels can be boosted. The best part – it’s NASA tested.

Any other collagen tips?

UVA light is responsible for significant collagen degradation; making daily broad spectrum sun protection a relatively cheap, must-have defence. When looking for effective anti-ageing solutions, broad spectrum sun protection is the first place you should start.

collagen skin care products
collagen skin care products

As well as hearing Cheryl’s tips and advice, I thought it would also be worth sharing with you some of the collagen-boosting products that I have enjoyed using and have found beneficial. I still like to use topical collagen products as it can’t hurt. The BeautyPro Brightening Collagen Sheet Mask (£2.45) is infused both with marine collagen and with collagen production-stimulating Vitamin C anyway – albeit not at a high concentration.

A collagen supplement beauty drink that I have used myself is the Perfectil Platinum Collagen Skin Beauty Drink (£39.85 for 10-day supply) – which contains 5000mg hydrolysed marine collagen alongside skin-plumping Hyaluronic Acid and a host of other skin-loving vitamins including zinc and selenium. These come in shot size bottles, which is just as well, as they taste revolting (think fish).