What's the deal with collagen and how does collagen skincare actually work?

Speaking to Newshub, Dr Worth explained there are many different kinds of molecules – most typically peptides – that penetrate the skin and stimulate the production of multiple different types of collagen. There are currently 28 known types of collagen; …

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Collagen has long been a behemoth of the skincare industry, with the protein becoming a mainstay of many a routine. From plumping creams to firming serums and supplements, collagen has a reputation as a cornerstone for cosmetic treatments and anti-ageing products.

But have you ever wondered how collagen-based skincare actually works? Sure, we slather it on and hope for the best – but how does the product penetrate our skin and work the magic touted on its aesthetically designed tub?

To get the lowdown, Newshub spoke to Dr Gillian Worth, the head chemist at Glow Lab. Established in 2017, Glow Lab’s natural skincare, haircare and body care are part of the New Zealand owned and operated Earthwise Group, a market leader in natural, cruelty-free household cleaning and personal care products. 

Before we get into the nitty-gritty, what actually is collagen – and why is it so important?

In a nutshell, collagen is the main structural protein found in skin and the body’s connective tissues. As the main component of connective tissue, it’s the most abundant protein in mammals, making up between 25 and 35 percent of the body’s protein content. A purified form is widely used in cosmetic and surgical treatments.

Unfortunately, the skin’s natural production of the protein begins to decline from – take a deep breath – the tender age of 25 (as if turning a quarter-of-a-century next month wasn’t terrifying enough), meaning many of us may need a little extra help with maintaining our collagen.

One way of topping up this essential protein is by using active skincare; products that stimulate the skin’s production of collagen to help prevent and reduce degeneration. Developed to hydrate, smooth and plump the skin, collagen-enriched formulations are typically boosted with scientifically effective ingredients that work to promote the skin’s natural production of the protein for a more youthful complexion.

Most brands at every price point now offer collagen-infused skincare, meaning there’s a product to suit every budget and skin concern. There are a multitude of affordable options currently on the market, such as the powerhouse products in Glow Lab’s new Pro-Collagen range – which retail from $3.50 to $25. If you’re looking for a little more luxury, the skin saviours at Dr LeWinn’s also offer a range of collagen-enriched products, including firming face masks, a plumping gel and the Reversaderm Collagen Accelerator Serum; a highly concentrated serum designed to target the signs of ageing, boost collagen production, and reduce the appearance of discolouration.

Glow Lab Pro-Collagen range

Photo credit: Supplied

So how does collagen skincare actually work?

Speaking to Newshub, Dr Worth explained there are many different kinds of molecules – most typically peptides – that penetrate the skin and stimulate the production of multiple different types of collagen. There are currently 28 known types of collagen; the types most commonly used in supplements are I, II, III, V and X. 

“Amino acids are a single unit; they are the basic building blocks that make up proteins. Peptides, a portion of a protein, are groups of three or more amino acids joined together,” Dr Worth said.

Then you have penta-peptides, which are five amino acids combined. A high-strength penta-peptide formula often used in anti-wrinkle cosmetics as an active ingredient is known by the trade name Matrixyl.

“Upregulations of collagens by scientists were first identified in the 1950s – and the first ingredient that came on the market with scientific data was Matrixyl. This was marketed and used first in Olay Regenerist and was made by a French company called Sederma,” Dr Worth said.

“Since then a number of ingredients have been developed that stimulate the production of collagen. Small molecules are better as they have greater penetration of the skin, such as the penta-peptides; e.g., those in the Matrixyl group, such as Matrixyl 3000 and Matrixyl Synthe’6.”

Matrixyl Synthe’6 is the peptide that can be found in a number of Glow Lab’s products, including their Pro-Collagen Plumping Night Cream and Firming Booster Treatment. The peptide has been scientifically shown to  boost collagen and increase moisture levels in the skin; independent clinical trials found it’s able to reduce wrinkles by at least 31 percent within eight weeks.

“Matrixyl Synthe’6 is a powerful peptide that has been clinically proven to increase the production of collagens I, III and IV by up to 42 percent in skin explant trials, when applied twice a day for five consecutive days,” Dr Worth explained. 

Dr Gillian Worth

Dr Gillian Worth gave us the lowdown.

Photo credit: Supplied

However, it should be noted that it’s also possible for larger molecules to penetrate the skin. In New Zealand, specific research with wool keratin proteins and peptides (completed by WRONZ, Keraplast) found these molecules can also upregulate collagen IV and VII, which are critical to the resilience of the dermal-epidermal junction.

“It is common for consumers to think collagen skincare actually contains collagen in its formula. However, including collagen in your skincare formula would not physically stimulate the production of collagen in the skin. It is specific molecules, such as peptides, that make it firmer and more plump,” Dr Worth said. 

For example, Glow Lab’s new Pro-Collagen formulas are enriched with peptides, hyaluronic and amino acids to maintain optimal skin health, encouraging the skin’s natural collagen production and making them ideal for those who are wanting skincare with preventative anti-ageing benefits. The formulas have been boosted with active ingredients such as Collalift 18, an extract of the bark of African Mahogany tree that has been found to stimulate the synthesis of collagen XVIII by 54 percent. This collagen-boosting ingredient has been found to improve the skin’s elasticity for a firmer, smoother complexion; after eight weeks, Collalift 18 has been clinically proven to decrease wrinkle surface by up to 84 percent and improve smoothness by up to 38 percent.

Transparent blue bottle liquid dropper on pink pastel background. Hyaluronic acid and collagen. Anti-aging facial skin care and bodies for summer sun. Seamless pattern

Collagen skincare is everywhere – but what’s the science behind it?

Photo credit: Getty Images

How can I make my collagen work harder for me?

If you’re looking to supercharge the supposed benefits and optimise your products, Jane McClurg – a medical herbalist and the in-house naturopath at Good Health – strongly recommends hydrolysed marine collagen. Absorbed up to 1.5 times more efficiently by the body, it offers superior bioavailability compared to bovine collagen.

Speaking to Newshub earlier this year, McClurg explained that hydrolysed collagen – a process in which a molecule of water is added to a substance, or the substance is split into two parts – contains smaller particles, allowing for better absorption.

Research has also indicated that collagen is more beneficial when used alongside plant antioxidants, McClurg noted. Formulations that include plant antioxidants help to support the body’s own collagen production and assist with absorption. Look for products that contain the likes of zinc or vitamin C; the latter is a necessary component of collagen synthesis and is a well-known complement to the protein that maximises its absorption.

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