Physical signs of aging can often contribute to issues with image and self-esteem as we grow older. Concerns including wrinkles, sagging skin, and changes in skin texture are some of the most common issues that we experience, and even though these changes are natural, slowing down their progress is not only about outward appearance. Smooth and glowing skin is an indicator of our body’s inner health, too!
In the beauty world, one product has been steadily gaining in popularity for these physical changes: collagen. But what is collagen, and can it actually help improve the look and feel of your skin?
What is collagen?
Collagen is not a man-made product or a vitamin. It’s actually the most abundant protein in your body. Collagen is what helps create your connective tissues and provides support to your skin, muscles, ligaments, tendons, and bones. In fact, collagen makes up nearly 80 percent of your skin!
Your body continuously makes the collagen it needs to maintain healthy skin and tissues. However, as you age, your body’s ability to produce collagen declines, which makes it more difficult for it to replace the collagen that’s being broken down. This is one reason why changes in the skin, including reduced skin elasticity, are common as we age.
Other lifestyle factors including diet, stress, sleep, smoking, and sun exposure can also impact collagen loss. Additionally, collagen production may slow at a different rate for different people, which is why some individuals might have a more youthful appearance than others of the same age.
Collagen vs. collagen supplements
Unlike the collagen that is naturally produced by your body, collagen supplements are composed of shorter chains of amino acids called peptides. These peptides are absorbed into the bloodstream from the digestive tract, and used as the building blocks to produce collagen within the body. Additionally, these peptides stimulate your body’s own natural collagen production, kicking it into high gear to help restore the collagen that we’re no longer making as efficiently ourselves. Experts believe this stimulation also affects the production of elastin, another type of connective tissue fiber that improves skin elasticity and its suppleness, along with substances that maintain the skin’s ability to retain water.
Collagen supplements can come in powder, capsule, or even cream form. Some are applied topically; some are taken like any other capsule supplement; and others, such as powders, are mixed into drinks or sprinkled onto foods. Experts believe, however, that topical products may not be as effective as those taken orally, since collagen resides deep within the dermis of the skin. Unless they are specially prepared, topical products typically only penetrate the outermost surface of skin, and don’t reach the dermis.
It’s also important to check the source of your collagen to ensure that it is humanely and sustainably sourced, as many collagen supplements on the market are derived from byproducts of animal factory farming or unsustainable fishing practices.
Benefits of collagen supplements
There are many benefits that collagen supplements offer, and some of the most important include:
Combat fine lines and wrinkles - one of the biggest proposed benefits of collagen supplementation is its potential to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. As collagen breaks down and goes unrestored, the skin can begin to sag and collapse, causing wrinkles of varying depth. By stimulating collagen production, collagen supplements can help restore a smoother texture and improve the skin’s plumpness, minimizing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
Improve skin hydration - as collagen and other components in the skin break down, the skin loses its ability to retain water. This can lead to excessive dryness and your skin may also appear dull or “flat.” Collagen supplements may help remedy this by improving skin’s “plumpness” factor, making your skin look fresh or dewy.
Joint health - unrelated to its beauty benefits, collagen also plays a major role in maintaining healthy cartilage—the tissue that lines your joints and helps protect them when they move—as well as strong ligaments and tendons. Taking collagen may help to maintain the health of your joints, and combat wear-and-tear arthritis .
Does collagen work?
Some initial studies have demonstrated that collagen supplements can assist in reducing the appearance of skin changes such as reduced moisture-retention, elasticity, and wrinkles. More research is likely needed to provide conclusive results, but the initial research appears promising.
Additionally, some concerns have been raised about the quality and efficacy of different collagen supplements on the market including their source, as discussed earlier. Collagen supplements may also be more effective when the collagen is accompanied by ingredients that synergize its efficacy, including silica and vitamin C. For these reasons and more, company and product-level research is very important from a consumer perspective. It’s a good idea to learn about the supplement company you’re purchasing from and to read reviews so that you can make an informed decision.