If you’ve ever searched for an anti-aging skincare product, there’s no doubt you’ve heard of collagen. Many products claim to “replenish collagen” or “boost collagen production” in the skin. While collagen does have a very important role in skin care, some of these marketing claims can be misleading. In order to help you choose the best product or treatment to address concerns such as wrinkles, fine lines, or sagging skin, this article will provide a full explanation of the role of collagen in skin care.
Collagen: structural component of skin
Collagen is the main structural protein of the extracellular space in various connective tissues, including the dermis, the middle layer of skin that lies below the epidermis. The connective tissue of the dermis provides strength and elasticity to the skin through an extracellular matrix composed of collagen and elastin fibers, which are embedded in hyaluronan and proteoglycans.
In fact, collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body, making up from 25% to 35% of the whole-body protein content. To date, 29 types of collagen have been described, however, over 90% of collagen throughout the body is of types 1 through 5, with type 1 being the most abundant. Below are the tissues and organs where collagen types 1 through 5 can be found.
- Collagen type I: skin, tendon, vascular, ligature, organs, bone
- Collagen type II: cartilage
- Collagen type III: reticulate fibers
- Collagen type IV: forms basis of cell basement membrane
- Collagen type V: found in tissues containing type I
Of the five types of collagen, type I collagen is the most abundant. This makes sense since this type is found in the skin, the largest organ of the human body. In addition to providing strength and elasticity collagen also helps to replace dead skin cells.
Collagen production slows with age
Aging results in thinning of all three layers of the skin: the epidermis, the dermis, and the hypodermis. The top layer of the skin, the epidermis, provides a waterproof barrier and protects the body from external harm. This layer covers the dermis, which contains connective tissue, hair follicles, sweat glands, and collagen. Underneath the dermis is the hypodermis, a layer of subcutaneous tissue made up of adipose (fat) cells and connective tissue. Thinning of these layers is accompanied by a decrease in collagen. Collagen production decreases by approximately 1% with each year of age after maturity (about age 21), leading to a loss in firmness and elasticity of skin. (Cosmetic Dermatology)
Collagen in a topical product is worthless
Despite the important role of collagen in skin, adding collagen in a topical product is worthless in terms of anti-aging benefits. While topically applied collagen will moisturize the skin, that’s about the extent of what it can do. Applying collagen topically has never been shown to stimulate collagen synthesis or growth. This is because collagens have molecular weights making them too large to penetrate the top layer of skin. Typically only molecules of size 500 Daltons or less can effectively cross the skin barrier.
What can you do to rebuild collagen?
Since you now understand that using topical collagen products is not very effective in terms of anti-aging treatments, what can you do to rebuild collagen? Luckily, there are quite a few treatment options.
Topical vitamin C
Even though adding collagen to a topical skincare product may be ineffective, that doesn’t mean there aren’t topical products that can improve collagen production. For example, topical vitamin C in the form of L-ascorbic acid with concentrations between 5 and 15% was proven to have a skin anti-aging effect by inducing the production of collagen types I and III. (Dermatoendocrinol. 2012 )
The retinoid family comprises vitamin A (retinol) and its natural derivatives such as retinaldehyde, retinoic acid, and retinyl esters, as well as a large number of synthetic derivatives (Antille et al 2004). Tretinoin (brand name Retin-A) is the most studied and prescribed synthetic derivative of the retinoid family. Topical application of tretinoin can improve the appearance of photoaged skin by stimulating new collagen production in the dermal layer of skin. (Clin Interv Aging. 2006) While there are several over-the-counter products formulated with retinol, tretinoin and other prescription retinoids have proven to be more potent and effective when treating photoaged skin. Thus, it is best to consult with your dermatologist to determine which retinoid is best for you.
Chemical peeling is an accelerated form of facial exfoliation created by acids that produce a controlled injury to the skin. Chemical peels can reduce the appearance of wrinkles, fine lines, and many other skin concerns by stimulating collagen remodeling. The epidermis heals in a few days resulting in an improved appearance of the skin, smoother texture and decreased pigmentary irregularities.
Similar to chemical peels, laser treatments can stimulate collagen production by producing a controlled injury to the skin. One example of an effective laser treatment is the Clear + Brilliant laser, which has been clinically proven to help the skin look and feel younger by promoting collagen production to smooth away the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and uneven skin tone and texture. In addition to the Clear + Brilliant laser, Dr. Jessica Krant at Art of Dermatology in New York City offers a number of laser and IPL treatments to help you achieve the smooth, youthful look you want.
It’s clear that the role of collagen in skin care is important from both a functional and cosmetic standpoint. The normal aging process causes a decrease in the skin’s collagen production, giving rise to a number of common aesthetic skin concerns, including fine lines, wrinkles, and sagging skin. Despite marketing claims, topically applied collagen is not going to get you the results you desire in terms of anti-aging and improving the firmness and elasticity of your skin. To regain the supple, youthful appearance of your skin, schedule a consultation with Dr. Jessica Krant to discuss which treatment option would be best for you.
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