February 25, 2024

DIYClearSkin

Define Beauty Yourself

Collagen in Skin Explained: Benefits and How to Restore It

  • Collagen is a naturally occurring protein in the body.
  • It acts as the scaffolding of your skin, making up 75 percent of the support base.
  • Your body’s collagen production naturally decreases over time, but there are things you can do to boost it.

Collagen is one of those words that’s thrown around a lot — not just in the beauty industry but in the health and wellness space, too — but many people don’t know exactly what it is. For starters, it’s not a skin-care ingredient, as some mistakenly believe; rather, it’s a naturally occurring protein in the body that serves an important purpose for the skin and has many benefits.

If you’re confused by that differentiation, it’s easy to see why. There is a surplus of products on the market with collagen listed on the label, claiming to boost the body’s natural production via creams, serums, and even supplements, but this can’t be done topically in the same way hydration levels can be increased by slathering on hyaluronic acid. Ahead, two board-certified dermatologists explain everything you need to know about collagen: what it is, how it works, its benefits for the skin, and if you can really get it from topical products.

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What Is Collagen?

Collagen is something you produce on your own. “It is one of the main building blocks of our skin and a naturally occurring protein in the body,” Aanand Geria, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in Verona, NJ, tells POPSUGAR. It makes up 30 percent of all protein in the body, and Dr. Geria says it comprises 75 percent of the skin’s support base, making it essential to the skin’s structure. But that’s not all.

“It is the most abundant protein in our body, working as the primary scaffolding for skin, bones, muscles, connective tissue, as well as the lining of our intestines and blood vessels,” says board-certified dermatologist Lian Mack, MD.

As we get older, our skin loses collagen, causing it to become drier, thinner, and less elastic. This is in part because our natural collagen production begins to slow down — it happens to everyone, but genetics and lifestyle play a role in how quickly it occurs. “The older we get, the lower the quality of collagen we produce,” Dr. Geria says. “‘Enemies’ include free radicals and environmental factors like pollution and the sun. Lifestyle choices such as a diet high in sugar, smoking, or excessive alcohol consumption increase free radical formation, which accelerates collagen loss.”

What Are the Skin-Care Benefits of Collagen?

It’s clear that collagen is important, but it also has a long list of benefits that are specific to skin care. Primarily, collagen is responsible for your skin’s youthful appearance. “There are different types of collagen throughout the body,” Dr. Mack says. “In the skin, collagen type I and type IV predominate. When there is an abundance of collagen, the skin appears supple and firmer with few lines or wrinkles.” Type I makes up 90 percent of the collagen found in the entire body, including your tendons, bones, and ligaments, while type IV is found specifically in the skin.

Collagen affects the skin in a few ways, contributing to everything from its hydration levels to elasticity. “Collagen fibers provide the structure for hyaluronic acid and elastin, which are essential for young-looking skin,” Dr. Geria says. “There are some studies that show that an increase in collagen can reduce the appearance of stretch marks and cellulite, although nothing can eliminate them.”

Collagen in Skin-Care Products

This is where things get a little tricky. Contrary to what you might assume, applying collagen-infused topical products won’t actually increase the collagen production in the skin. “Although when applied topically, it will moisturize the skin, that’s the sum total,” Dr. Geria says. “It won’t aid in growth or synthesis [of new collagen].” This is in part because “the molecular weights of collagens are too large to penetrate the skin’s top layer.”

That said, certain ingredients can help enhance the skin’s metabolism, triggering it to naturally produce more collagen on its own. For example, “topical vitamin C in the form of L-ascorbic acid with concentrations between five and 15 percent showed antiaging effects by inducing collagen production,” Dr. Geria says. Topical retinols and retinoids have proven to work similarly. This means you can’t directly get collagen from a face cream, but a face cream can help your body make more of its own.

How to Restore Collagen in Skin

There are some studies that show a few potential ways to increase collagen in the skin. Treatments such as microneedling and laser procedures have been shown to help stimulate collagen production. “Researchers looked at the benefits of red light combined with near-infrared light on skin cells in a lab,” Dr. Geria says. “They found it stimulated the production of elastin and collagen.”

Your diet can also play a part. “Foods high in protein contain essential amino acids that are precursors for collagen synthesis,” Dr. Mack says. Fruits and vegetables such as kale, broccoli, strawberries, oranges, and red peppers are great for this.

Oral collagen is becoming increasingly popular on the market, and while more research needs to be done to truly examine its impact on collagen levels in the skin, many experts say it won’t hurt. “Preliminary studies, [like the] January 2019 study in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, reveal that collagen supplementation results in increased hydration, elasticity, and density of collagen in the skin,” Dr. Mack says. “If you are unable to eat protein-rich foods, consider a supplement like Monat’s Collagen Key ($65) that contains a unique amino-acid blend used by the body to support existing collagen levels.”

Other examples of collagen supplements include the Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides Unflavored Powder ($25) or, if you follow a plant-based diet, the Rae Vegan Collagen Boost Capsules ($15). It just bears noting that supplements in the US, like collagen capsules and powders, are not regulated by the FDA, so you should always check with your doctor before trying.

As with anything skin-care related, if you have concerns regarding your collagen production, it’s best to consult your dermatologist.