Medically reviewed by Minimalist Health Specialist -  Written by Viddhi Patel (Journalist)  on 10th Nov 2020

Why collagen, a godsend protein, is worth the rage

Why collagen, a godsend protein

The latest buzzword in the health industry is collagen, a naturally produced protein in your body. This popular protein has been all over stores in forms of powders, creams, or serums claiming to gift you an evergreen beauty by boosting your collagen.

It is also a very useful ingredient in skincare products, especially for its anti-aging properties. The desire to regain smooth and supple skin enchants buyers towards these products.

In fact, not creams alone, there are collagen supplements that have gained momentum in the industry.  

But is it worth all the talk and hot goss that's happening around it?  

Skin aging and collagen depletion go hand in hand. Healthy skin always boils down to the content of collagen in the skin. The more the collagen, the more firm, plump, and juicy the skin. But aging combined with smoking, drinking, and getting UV exposure, breaks down the collagen we possess.  

The result?  

Wrinkles and the disappearance of plump or full skin. Moisturizers and oral supplements are slew in the market with collagen-richness. The fresh and volumized look you are after can be achieved with collagen.  

What exactly is this collagen protein?  

The most abundant protein in your body(human body), collagen, accounts for about one-third of its protein composition. Collagen is a primary building block of bones, skin, and muscles, which holds things together.

The three amino acids that form collagen are glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline. The collagen molecule is triple hex-shaped and joins with other collagen molecules in the skin (human skin) to form a mesh-like network in the dermis. Collagens usually have molecules packed together to form long, thin fibrils.

The hard, insoluble, and fibrous protein collagen, acts as a supporting structure and anchors cells to each other, giving your skin strength and elasticity.

The 16 different collagen types and 80% to 90% of collagen in the body belong to types 1, 2, and 3. All other types consist of varying structures and functions.

Human body collagens are strong, fibril, and have a sturdy structure. Type 1 collagen fibrils are stretchable. It is also said that they are stronger than steel, gram-for-gram.

Furthermore, the protein is woven together to create a flexible and supple network.

With age, the network thins down due to genetics, UV exposure, and collagen's less robust production by the skin. Resulting in a gradual decrease in volume and tightness that is noticeable. 

The variance in occurrence.  

The natural, body-synthesized collagen is endogenous. Breakdown and depletions of endogenous collagen are linked to numerous health problems as this collagen type has a lot of vital functions to perform in the body.

In contrast, synthetically formed collagen-like supplements are exogenous collagen. The repair of body tissues, medical and cosmetic grounds is related to this type of collagen.  

Medical and cosmetic grounds of collagen for the skin.  

Collagen can be broken down, converted, & absorbed back into the body, meaning it is resorbable. It can be formed into compacted solids or gels.

Collagen's natural occurrence makes it clinically versatile for numerous medical purposes. It can be sourced from humans, cows, pigs, or sheep.

Collagen protects skin structure by evading the absorption and spread of pathogens, environmental toxins, micro-organisms, and cancerous cells.

But does applying collagen topically penetrate the skin or remains unabsorbed on the skin, providing minute moisture? Apart from the oral supplements, is there a way to boost this protein? 

Collagen supplements

Collagen peptide powders, capsules, or liquid is slew in the market! But do they function?

Some claim that they can improve skin health, relieve joint pain, prevent bone loss, boost muscle mass, promote heart health, increase hair and nail strength, improve brain and gut health, and aid weight loss.

According to Dr. Dray, although there is a good research base for the supplements, the research is not robust and randomized for physicians and dermatologists, including her to recommend any supplement. The area is dicey.

You have to be skeptical about certain supplemental collagen. Collagen in various supplements is derived from animal sources like cow bones and fish skin, and they are highly processed.  

Studies in harmony with supplements?

Hydrolyzed collagen and gelatin have gained momentum in the industry. Collagen, when cooked, form gelatin. The larger protein is already broken down into smaller peptides, making it more absorbable. A study conducted in 2019 stated that collagen supplements significantly improved skin hydration, elasticity, roughness, and density.

In a 2011 study, hydrolysate increased skin collagen expression while authors suggested that oral collagen hydrolysate administration may reduce skin aging in other mammals.

Another study found that drinking collagen supplements daily for 12 weeks reduces wrinkle depth significantly and hydrated skin.

Apart from the cosmetic industry, it is also used in pharmaceuticals and the beverage, food, & health care sectors driving the growth of collagen's usage worldwide.  

General side effects of collagen supplements are mild 

  • Diarrhea 
  • Heaviness in the stomach 
  • Rashes  

Gelatin supplements have potential side effects, including a lingering unpleasant taste, heaviness, and heartburn. Apart from it, sources of the supplement may cause an allergic reaction. There are no inherent risks that come with collagen. Choose a collagen supplement after thorough research if you have to. High-quality supplements from a trusted brand are advised.

Moreover, most adults do not pose any significant health risks.

An overall collagen-induced diet with bone broth, fish, dairy, etc., or the world of supplements, whatever you choose. It may not be a magical cure for wrinkles, but you may give it a try.

It is generally safe but talks to your doctor before starting any new supplement, or increasing the dosage of any supplement is advisable.  

Do topical treatments help replenish collagen production or enjoy the limelight?  

Collagen is used in topical treatments to improve skin appearance by minimizing lines and wrinkles. The cosmetic industry's entire focus on enhancing collagen is known to improve facial and neck skin appearance.

Retinoic acid and retinol in anti-aging creams and serums stimulate collagen synthesis in the skin according to the research of March 2016 by the journal of cosmetic dermatology. Products infused with alpha-hydroxy acids like glycolic acid and peptides can also trigger collagen formation.

Retinoid helps boost collagen skin levels, increase collagen's lifespan, and block certain enzymes that destroy collagen, making it an optimal addition to many skincare kits.

Granactive Retinoid 2% retinoid by Beminimalist boosts cell turnover & stimulates collagen production to erase fine lines and wrinkles, revealing radiant glowy skin. 

Granactive Retinoid 2% (Emulsion)
Granactive Retinoid 2% (Emulsion)

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Turn back the clock on aging and give your skin a youthful vibrancy with this gentle, safe & effective 2% Retinoid serum.
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Limitations in topical treatments 

The size of collagen is the major issue in collagen penetrations through creams and moisturizers. The collagen molecules are of bigger sizes that cannot penetrate the skin. Creams and powders infused with collagen claim to revitalize skin by increasing collagen levels within the body. The claim is unlikely to be fulfilled. The only possible benefit is the moisturizing effect, and further benefits linked to moisturization and do not increase collagen levels.

Beyond that, pro-collagen creams in the market claim to reduce signs of aging and smoothen wrinkles. These are infused with synthetic collagen that locks moisture into the skin and gives the skin a plumping effect. Lack of research limits us from the incorporation of collagen into topical treatments.  

Just a theory  

Most lotions, potions, and creams touting collagen as the main ingredient these days, in reality, contain hydrolyzed collagen or collagen peptides. These peptides can traverse the outer skin barrier and reach the dermis, providing the building blocks for fibroblasts to make new collagen.

Consequently, there is a possibility that a cream chock-full of collagen precursors may help boost collagen production down the line, given the peptides reach the dermis. The theory holds no ground and has no scientific research to back it.  

Word of Caution:

Since these products are not classified as drugs, they do not need to be scientifically proven efficient. You should always practice caution when using these products.

The myth has been long in the talks that collagen's direct application will affect the skin's collagen levels. Body creams, lotions, medicated ointments, and moisturizers claimed to do just that for many years.  

Let's come to serums

Lifts sagging skin by promoting natural collagen production.

Minimizes elasticity loss and keeps skin supple and smooth.

Ordinarily, collagen-boosting peptides and antioxidants, if added in a formula, targets biochemical processes involved in collagen production and degradation. And to affect immediate physical improvements in wrinkle appearance, a study added peptides and hyaluronic acid to the formula.

Moreover, the line treatment demonstrated continued improvement in both fine and coarse wrinkles throughout the study. It also significantly improved facial wrinkles and provided a well-tolerated, no-downtime alternative to invasive procedures.

Hyaluronic acid topically boosts collagen, ginseng, antioxidants, retinol, red light therapy are other options that can topically or orally help with collagen levels. 

Hyaluronic Acid 2% + Vitamin B5
Hyaluronic Acid 2% + Vitamin B5

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A hydrating booster with a punch of Vitamin B5 that pulls moisture deep into the skin & lock-in there, leaving instant plump, baby-soft skin.
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The collagen broth  

The rage on Instagram around collagen drinks, mostly bone broth, has not yet been proven to have anti-aging effects on your skin. According to Harvard Women's Health Watch, the association with collagen's dietary sources doesn't make it beneficial for your collagen levels.  

Did you know?

If your collagen bone broth has an "off" taste and salty flavor, it means it is of "off" quality. In general, collagen is tasteless and odorless. 

Other popular sources of collagen 

Peptides and your skin!  

Peptides, to come into the picture at this moment. Can this small bit of protein benefit the skin? The mimicking of collagen breakdown products, peptides trick the cells into making more collagen.

Palmitoyl pentapeptide three and oligopeptide are standard peptides believed to stimulate collagen, but there exists a possibility of them being repelled by upper layers of skin. A 2018 study suggests that the ingestion of low molecular weight collagen peptide can help effectively.  

Tretinoin  

Tretinoin is excellent for rebuilding collagen. A small study suggested an increase of collagen up to 80% in the skin after one year of tretinoin treatment. Few months of application alone improve tightness and texture. But its instability and easily degradable properties make it doubtful.  

Vitamin C  

Vitamin C enhances collagen production. It is required to cross-link and lay down a strong support system in your skin. Topical vitamin C plumps and moistens the appearance.

It also fights free radicals induced by UV damage and improves skin tone.

In-office procedures  

There are other in-office treatments performed by dermatologists that can increase collagen production, improving skin appearance. Lasers, radiofrequency, ultrasound, micro-needling, and fillers are some of them.  

Healthy diet  

A healthy protein-rich diet helps supply amino acids in your body to produce collagen with other nutrients like vitamin C, zinc, and copper. Whole foods like fruits, vegetables/veggies, whole grains, beans, lean meats, seafood, and nuts make a healthy diet for maximum collagen production.

Broad-spectrum SPF

Another insurance you can take out for healthy collagen is a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or more. Incidental sunlight exposure adds up to over a lifetime. Please protect what you have, rather than looking forward to making it up in the future.

Your existing levels of collagen deplete due to certain factors  

Sugary diet, Smoking, UV exposure, Autoimmune disorders.

Aging depletes collagen over time, and it is inevitable.

Minimalist's Outlook 

  • Avoid tobacco and sun exposure.
  • Follow the healthful diet  
  • Exercise  

Practicing the above activities will help reduce aging and protect collagen, keeping you healthy for longer.

Damaged skin by environmental factors reduces collagen levels. You should keep the skin clean. Cleansing and exfoliating help the collagen that your skin already possesses. Collagen around the eyes should be protected with sunglasses on very bright days.