Type of Ingredient: Hydrating, skin replenishing
Main Benefits: Helps skin retain moisture, reduces inflammation, and reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles
Who Should Use It: In general, anyone who wants their skin to be smooth, supple and youthful. Collagen can not be absorbed through the skin and therefore not useful in topical lotions. It is available as ingestibles. However, ingredients known to stimulate collagen synthesis are peptides such as palmitoyl tripeptide-1, palmitoyl tetrapeptide-7, and N-prolyl palmitoyl tripeptide-56 acetate.
Ideal For These Concerns: Repairs the skin from sun damage by reducing wrinkles and free radical damage
How Often Can You Use It: As frequently as desired.
What is Collagen?
Did you know that collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body? It makes up 25% to 35% of the whole-body protein content. The collagen protein is a very complex and massive molecule composed of a triple helix with three amino acids: glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline. You can think of the structure of collagen as a braid or rope. The individual amino acids link up to form long chains where each chain is over 1,400 amino acids long! These chains bundle together to form thicker strands, which then twist and coil around each other to form triple helices. The triple helices connect end to end and stack on top of each other to form clusters called fibrils.
Collagen is a major component of the connective tissues that make up several body parts, including tendons, ligaments, muscles, and skin. Collagen is responsible for keeping the skin strong and firm, and plays an important role in wound healing. It can be found in the skin’s extracellular matrix (ECM), along with other important proteins like elastin. Collagen together with elastin provides bounce and allows the skin to return to normal when moved.
The body produces less and less collagen with age. In fact, after the age of 20, a person produces about 1 percent less collagen in the skin each year. As we age, our bodies produce less collagen, causing our skin to lose elasticity. “Collagen is a protein in our body that makes up connective tissue, bones, and muscles and is a major contributor to skin’s elasticity," explains Maryann Walsh. MFN, RD, CDE, a registered dietitian, and owner of Walsh Nutrition Consulting in Palm Beach, FL. "As we age, collagen production slows down, making our bodies more likely to run into issues like aches and pains, brittle nails and hair, as well as the other dreaded signs of aging, like loss of firmness in skin." Moreover, environmental free radicals (from things like excessive sunlight exposure, smoking, pollution, etc.) can degrade collagen proteins. The result is skin that becomes thinner and more fragile with age.
The Benefits of Collagen
Increasing the levels of collagen in the skin results in numerous benefits, such as reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, firming skin to a more plump complexion, and help skin cells to keep renewing and repairing normally.
Collagen benefits also include reducing cellulite and stretch marks. You already know that when skin loses its strength as a result of decreased collagen, you start to notice lines, wrinkles, and sagging skin. But the loss of collagen may also result in visible cellulite because the skin is much thinner. Collagen benefits the skin by increasing strength, durability, and thickness, which may help to reduce visible cellulite. Similarly, stretch marks occur due to the thinning of the collagen and elastin fibers found within the dermis. Using products that increase collagen levels in the skin may help to prevent the formation of stretch marks.
A final collagen benefit is improved skin hydration. As we explained above, collagen is made up of many amino acids linked together. Amino acids are composed of many hydrophilic (water-loving) groups, such as hydroxyl groups (OH) and/or amine groups (NH2). The OH and NH groups hydrogen bond with water, essentially “grabbing” it and holding it on the skin. Due to this structure, collagen is considered to be a humectant. Humectants slow water from evaporating and therefore keep the skin hydrated.
Andrea Wong, senior vice president for scientific and regulatory affairs for the industry trade group the Council for Responsible Nutrition, says that as ingredients go, collagen has an excellent track record. “It has been around for ages, and there is a large body of evidence supporting its safe use,” she says. She notes that studies that see how well it works also look at side effects. In general, collagen is safe, Wong said.
She notes that supplement companies are required to comply with federal “good manufacturing practices,” which prohibit unsafe levels of contaminants like heavy metals.
In 2016, the FDA prohibited the use of some cow parts in dietary supplements to “address the potential risk” of the presence of BSE. (Human consumption of BSE-infected meat has been linked to neurological disorders.) The FDA exempted gelatin -- a key collagen source -- from the ban, “as long as it is manufactured using specified industry practices.”