Break It Down: Collagen

Beauty buzzwords are thrown around all the time; it can be hard to keep up and know what's worth exploring further. We're here to tackle the industry's latest obsession by getting to grips with the science, talking to skincare and makeup pros, and getting real about what works and what doesn’t.

Collagen: previously the reserve of plastic surgeons, but now the most hyped element of skincare. Does it live up to expectations? Let's break it down.


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You may know collagen as the fillers used to plump lips and brows in Harley Street clinics, the thing that stops celebrities ageing. While botox freezes muscle activity – responsible for those rigid foreheads and the inability to smile – collagen is something already produced in the skin, and seen as less dramatic and invasive.

Angela Degville, Brand Ambassador at Skin Republic, says, “Collagen is a protein that provides strength and structure found in our bones, skin, muscle and tendons”. “The word collagen is derived from the Greek ‘kolla’, meaning glue”, Dr Murad, dermatologist and founder of Murad skincare, explains. “To provide some perspective, protein makes up around 20% of the body's mass, and collagen makes up around 30% of the protein in the human body”.

So, if it’s already a building block in our bodies, what can we expect from it in skincare?
“We lose roughly one percent of our collagen every year starting at age twenty”, Dr Murad tells us. “The more collagen we lose, the more fine lines and wrinkles appear”. What else causes loss of collagen? “Smoking, high sugar foods and sunlight can all cause the level of collagen our bodies produce to deplete, speeding up the signs of ageing”, Degville says.

So while all the bad stuff reduces elasticity in skin, using products with collagen can help build it back up. “By using these, you stimulate the synthesis of new collagen production and as a result minimise the appearance of deep wrinkles and fine lines. Collagen encourages the renewal of cells and minimises facial muscle contraction, which is responsible for the development of wrinkles. The result is firmer, plumper, more youthful looking skin”.

Sounds good to us. But does applying it topically really work, or are injections the most successful methods of keeping skin pillowy?
Shabir Daya, pharmacist and co-founder of Victoria Health, is sceptical. “Though there are many collagen creams, scientists believe that these are ineffectual since the collagen molecule is too large to penetrate skin, especially trying to get to four or five layers deep in the dermis”. So what is the best way to get our collagen fix? “It is better to supplement or apply creams that contain ingredients that help with collagen stimulation such as green tea, functional keratin, astaxanthin and perhaps pycnogenol.”

Dr Murad suggests a diet that encourages collagen production, too. “Use ingredients that stimulate your skin’s own collagen synthesis and have a diet rich in natural anti-ageing ingredients such as mango, a source of Vitamin C, and Beta carotene which builds collagen; also carrots which contain beta-carotene a powerful antioxidant to help cell damage.”

So, it seems for best results, you should cut out the nasty stuff, wear SPF every day, and eat your superfoods. While some experts aren’t convinced by the topical application of collagen, there are products that use specific technology to penetrate the skin and work wonders for skin’s youthful appearance. Click through to see the pick of the bunch.
Dr Murad discovered a way to break an intact collagen protein down into components of amino acids, which are small enough to penetrate the skin and plump the surface. The result is this impressive formula.

Murad Rapid Collagen Infusion, £65, available at Murad.
Angela tells us that most collagen can be put into two camps: "bovine collagen and marine collagen. Skin Republic uses marine collagen, obtained from fish scales. Marine collagen has a superior bioavailability over bovine, meaning that it is absorbed into the human body up to 1.5 times more efficiently". Not great for vegetarians, but pretty affective if you want results.

Skin Republic Collagen Infusion Face Mask, £4.99, available at Look Fantastic.
Skin Republic Collagen Infusion Sheet Mask 25ml, $4.99 Buy
This is a classic for a reason. It smells heavenly, isn't heavy on the skin, and is proven to reduce fine lines.

Elemis Pro-Collagen Cleansing Balm, £44, available at Elemis
Elemis Pro-Collagen Cleansing Balm, $44.00 Buy
"This is one of my most intensive firming products", Sarah Chapman told Refinery29. "It uses plant-derived stem cells cultured in laboratories to harness their amazing properties, such as resilience in harsh environments. Two of the stem cells used, Gardenia and Argan tree, revitalise cells in the dermis which are responsible for the products of collagen and elastic production, for firmer, more dense skin."

Sarah Chapman Skinesis Stem Cell Collagen Activator, £269, available at Space.NK.
Skinade 30 Day Supply - Ready to Drink Bottles, $104.99 Buy
Like all good vitamins, minerals and organic products, they say you should ingest collagen orally, and this supplement aims to have your skin looking plumper, smoothers and more youthful in one month.

Skinade Collagen Drink, 30 Day Supply, £104.99, available at Skinade.
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