What is Collagen and How to Rebuild It in the Face

What is Collagen and How to Rebuild It in the Face

What is the buzz with collagen?

Collagen gives your face a fresh and volumized look and is a key component of healthy skin. The skin comprises close to 80% of collagen. It is a protein that is woven together with the help of vitamin C to create a flexible, supple network. Over time, this network begins to thin, usually due to genetics, sun exposure, and less robust production of collagen by the skin. This results in a gradual but noticeable loss of volume and tightness. Read on as we discuss how to address this and rebuild collagen in your face.

Do collagen supplements work?

There are marketing claims that collagen offered in oral and topical supplements restore a youthful appearance.

Oral supplements

Most collagen supplements are animal-derived as they are proteins and often are found from cows, chickens, and fish. Although there are claims that collagen supplements strengthen and plump skin when ingested, this is controversial. When ingested, our stomachs break down most of the proteins. Therefore, our bodies use them in other places well before our skin would use them. To date, there aren’t studies definitively showing that ingested collagen turns up in the skin. While some studies have shown improvements in elasticity and moisture, these were not controlled for other variables. Further, getting the desired results requires a higher dose than what most supplements offer, whether or not they are reliable. Again, whether the collagen ingestion or other factors are at play remains an open question.

Topical supplements

As for topical collagen, the same question remains: does it actually penetrate the skin or simply sit on top and provide little moisture? With the jury out on collagen oral supplements, what else can you do to boost collagen? Another hot topic in this area is the use of peptides, which are small bits of protein that are found in the skin. Like the larger collagen molecule, the question of whether a peptide can effectively benefit the skin remains open. Mimicking collagen breakdown products, peptides trick the cells into making more collagen. Commonly found peptides include palmitoyl pentapeptide 3 and oligopeptide. Both stimulate collagen, but may also be repelled by the upper skin layers. As for taking peptide supplements, a 2018 study suggests that the ingestion of low molecular weight collagen peptide can help.  

So what’s the best way to rebuild collagen in your face?

Tretinoin, a prescription-grade retinoid, is an excellent treatment for rebuilding collagen. Almost 30 years ago, a small study showed that tretinoin application increases collagen by up to 80% in the skin after 1 year of treatment. Further studies have shown that even a few months of tretinoin treatment can improve collagen levels in the skin and result in clinically appreciable endpoints, such as improved tightness and texture. Interestingly, retinol also showed some benefit in collagen production, but it was also found to be very unstable and easily degraded.

Vitamin C also enhances collagen production. Collagen requires vitamin C to cross-link and lay down strong supports in your skin. Topical vitamin C use results in a plump, moist appearance. In addition, vitamin C fights off free radicals induced by sun damage and also helps to improve skin tone issues. The penetration of vitamin C into your skin can be challenging- the top layer of the skin often deters the medication from entering the skin. So it is important to utilize forms that are appropriately made and stabilized for maximum efficiency. Often, it is helpful to stabilize vitamin C with iron (Fe) or to add vitamin E in order to enhance its effects. As for eating more vitamin C, while it prevents the pirate’s scourge of scurvy and tastes great, it likely doesn’t make it to your skin.

The bottom line…

The best bang for your buck to rebuild collagen in your face, enhancing moisture and skin plumpness is the use of topical vitamin C and Tretinoin. The direct use of collagen, whether orally or topically, and its peptides is still an open discussion. A balanced diet of animal and plant-based proteins will likely do the best job for your skin and overall health, along with the informed use of topical products.