Benefits of Collagen for the Skin

Benefits of Collagen for the Skin

Many of us already know the name – collagen is a staple in the beauty industry. Products everywhere are bragging about its inclusion in their formulas and how it can benefit you. That's enough for many of us to start using creams and lotions fortified with collagen, but what are its exact benefits to the skin?

That’s what we’ll seek to answer in this article, cutting away the marketing hype and focusing on the scientific research and data. It can be hard to get a straight answer amongst all of the bold claims made by the hundreds of ‘anti-aging’ products out there – allow us to streamline the process. With all the talk of its seemingly-magical properties, we need to start from the beginning and explain…

What Exactly is Collagen?

You might not know it, but your body is already full of collagen. In fact, it’s one of the most abundant proteins in all mammals, with around 30% of all protein matter containing it in some form. And there are many forms of it; currently 28 types of it used everywhere, like organs, bones, joints, hair, tendons and skin, to name a handful of locations.

As a material, collagen has some interesting properties. It’s an extremely strong building block; collagen triple-helix structured fibrils (extremely small, thin strings) are stronger than the equivalent weight of steel. The strength and elasticity of collagen also makes it perfect for holding organs in place and protecting them.

Naturally, how collagen affects the skin is of importance to us. There’s a high concentration of the protein here, with its fibrous properties being perfect for building a strong but flexible material. It’s also key in healing and recovery from injury, with the skin constantly taking cosmetic damage with the occasional serious wound. In fact, collagen is so well suited to deal with healing the skin it’s used in dressings for serious injuries, one example being artificial skin grafts for burn sufferers.

Recovery plays a big role in collagen’s cosmetic uses, as you could define beauty as ‘healing’ the skin’s look and feel as it once was. There’s a few certain areas that are key:

Wrinkles and Elasticity

All the talk of collagen’s fibrous strength leads to the natural conclusion that it can help keep the skin taut into old age. This is what a lot of anti-aging products will have you believe, with claims of tighter skin superimposed next to models with flawless faces. It’s true that collagen levels drop as we get older, so can we replace that lost collagen via supplementation and regain the natural spring in our skin?

It’s a complex question. With a lot of these products focused on facial wrinkles, we need to remember one truth: internally-taken supplements can’t be ‘directed’ to specific parts of the body. What’s absorbed gets spread across everywhere that needs it, which means that your facial wrinkles will get as much attention as your hand or neck wrinkles. Collagen-imbued creams have a different problem: those triple-helix fibrils are simply too big to pass through the molecular structure of the skin to where it can be effective. They may moisturise the skin to ‘lessen’ wrinkles, but that’s without collagen’s help.

There seems to be some evidence to suggest that collagen to support skin elasticity. A 2018 study testing oral supplements found that it did increase the firmness of the skin. The results showed that the “visual assessment score and three parameters of skin wrinkling were significantly improved” over a placebo group. Another study used physical measurements of wrinkles and found that a formula containing collagen was “able to induce a clinically measurable improvement in the depth of facial wrinkles”.

Moisture Retention

One of the most common pieces of advice given to those looking for more youthful skin is to moisturise and drink plenty of water. There’s no need to remind you how healthy this is, but we can tell you how collagen can help.

The protein helps the skin retain water and lock in moisture for longer, staving off flaky skin and building its resistance against wrinkles. The theory is the more collagen there is in the skin, the more efficiently the skin can utilise the water supplied to it (either by drinking it or via creams). Fortunately, this theory has been tested.

The general consensus is that collagen can indeed enhance the water-absorbing qualities of the skin. One piece of research observed an increase in skin hydration of about 28% after eight weeks of oral collagen supplementation. Many of these tests are conducted ex vivo, meaning the effects were tested on external samples of skin, allowing for very precise measurements can be taken.

UV Protection

Do you wear sunscreen during summer? If not, you may be missing out on crucial skin protection. It’s more than avoiding getting sunburnt – UV radiation from sunlight accelerates aging in the skin. This process is known as photoaging, and causes dreaded wrinkles and loose skin. There’s a fine line between getting a nice tan and causing harm in the long term.

The reason for photoaging? You might’ve already guessed; UV radiation from sunlight slowly breaks down the bonds between collagen molecules in the skin. It’s easy to overlook, since it takes years of exposure for the damage to happen, but an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. As well as high-factor sunscreen, collagen supplements may be able to help.

We’ve previously mentioned how collagen can support the elasticity of the skin to prevent wrinkling, and this could be seen as an extension of this. It’s more about trying to repair the damage than, say, blocking the sun’s rays. The majority of research is focused on this, although one piece does look at how supplements can protect against UV-B damage, and found that it “suppressed UV-B-induced decreases in skin hydration… and decreases in soluble type I collagen.”

Skin Repair

As we briefly mentioned, collagen is used to boost the healing abilities of dressings for certain injuries. There’s a precedence for it assisting the body’s natural recovery processes, but is it something that can be utilised at home, for minor issues? There’s claims that supplementing with collagen can make rashes clear up quicker and reduce scar tissue – these sound too good to be true.

The reality is that research in this area needs more conclusive data before collagen can be recommended. There is one study – from July 2019 – that describes collagen powder being as good as non-absorbable sutures. Aside from this, evidence is light on the ground regarding smaller injuries and cosmetic healing.

Vitamin C and Collagen Synthesis

It might seem out of left-field, but there’s a supplement that may be of benefit to the collagen in your skin. It’s known for its effects on the immune system, but did you know that vitamin C is crucial to collagen synthesis? This link has been observed for hundreds of years; the breakdown of various connective tissues high in collagen (joints, skin and gum lesions, weakness in the muscles, etc) was seen in those whose diet lack citrus fruit. This condition has a name you may be familiar with: scurvy.

What we want to know, though, is if vitamin C supplementation can increase the collagen already in the skin, resulting in smoother skin or quicker healing. The amount of evidence is small but optimistic, especially for reducing wrinkle size. Multiple studies point to vitamin C increasing the number of fibroblasts in the skin (the cells that secrete proteins like collagen). There’s even been some success with topical creams high in vitamin C, although results were observed to differ between participants.

Best of all, adding vitamin C to your diet is easy, safe and has added benefits aside from skin health, like the aforementioned immunity support. Whether it’s an extra glass of freshly-squeezed orange juice or a simple tablet, there’s always room for it in your daily regime.

Conclusion

To say collagen is beneficial to the skin is an oversimplification – collagen is a crucial part of it. It keeps it taut, smooth and healthy. Science says that supplementing with collagen may enhance those ‘youthful’ looks for longer, as well as assisting its general health. It’s by no means a miracle cosmetic cure, however – time will always march on, and all we can do is learn to love ourselves.

As always, always check with a doctor before taking supplements if you’re on other medication or if you notice an adverse reaction.


Sources:

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/collagen-benefits#section1

https://askthescientists.com/collagen/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29949889

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/jocd.12174

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/51723983_UV_Damage_of_Collagen_Insights_from_Model_Collagen_Peptides

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1271/bbb.80649

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23949208

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/07/190708140044.htm

https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/health-disease/skin-health/vitamin-C