THE TRUTH ABOUT...

It’s the make-or­break mol­e­cule for healthy skin, but how much do you re­ally know about col­la­gen?

ELLE (UK) - - Contents - Words by JOELY WALKER

Col­la­gen

WHAT EX­ACTLY IS IT?

It’s the mol­e­cule equiv­a­lent of a Tom Ford lip­stick – you can never have enough. ‘Col­la­gen is the most abun­dant struc­tural pro­tein found in skin and other con­nec­tive tis­sues, and forms the foun­da­tions of strength and struc­ture in the body,’ ex­plains aes­thetic doc­tor Dr Maryam Za­mani. Think of it as the glue that holds ev­ery­thing to­gether.

It’s ba­si­cally your body’s scaf­fold­ing: ‘There are 16 types and 29 sub-types of col­la­gen, and they sup­port ev­ery­thing from the skin, lig­a­ments, car­ti­lage and bones be­cause of their im­pres­sively flex­i­ble strength.’

COL­LA­GEN + YOUR SKIN

Your skin’s elas­tic­ity, strength and abil­ity to re­place dead skin cells (which make your skin look dull) come down to col­la­gen. It is the main com­po­nent of our skin, mak­ing it the most im­por­tant fac­tor for vis­i­ble skin health. But this sturdy sup­port sys­tem nat­u­rally de­clines with age, leav­ing skin vul­ner­a­ble to fine lines, wrin­kles and loss of den­sity.

YOUR COL­LA­GEN TIME­LINE

When we’re young, our skin is crammed with strong, hard­work­ing col­la­gen mol­e­cules. But our body’s nat­u­ral col­la­gen starts to de­cline (al­beit slowly and steadily) as early as our late twen­ties un­til we hit menopause – aka the col­la­gen tip­ping point. ‘The peri-menopausal and post-menopausal pe­riod sees the most rapid de­cline in col­la­gen, at 30%, due to the swift drop in oe­stro­gen,’ ex­plains con­sul­tant der­ma­tol­o­gist Dr Jus­tine Hex­tall. At this point, the struc­ture be­comes in­creas­ingly dis­or­derly – like sin­gle bricks be­ing knocked out of a wall, or that frus­trat­ingly pre­car­i­ous Jenga tower.

THE ANTI-COL­LA­GEN OF­FEND­ERS

De­ple­tion of col­la­gen is in­evitable, but, like any form of skin age­ing, sev­eral fac­tors are known to speed it up. But what are the most no­table col­la­gen ag­gra­va­tors?

SMOK­ING… is one of the big­gest anti-col­la­gen con­trib­u­tors, as it riles up en­zymes that break down both col­la­gen and elastin. EX­CES­SIVE SUN EX­PO­SURE… does this, too, as well as caus­ing DNA dam­age to cells and af­fect­ing the skin’s abil­ity to pro­tect it­self.

POL­LU­TION… con­tains harm­ful free rad­i­cals that can dam­age skin’s strength and in­tegrity, in turn de­grad­ing col­la­gen lev­els. AL­CO­HOL… is a so-called ‘anti-nu­tri­ent’, be­cause it en­cour­ages de­ple­tion of es­sen­tial vi­ta­mins and min­er­als from the body while en­cour­ag­ing ox­ida­tive stress to cells that can cause cel­lu­lar dam­age.

EX­CESS SUGAR… can ac­tu­ally crys­tallise in the skin (a process known as gly­ca­tion) and dam­age col­la­gen. Over long pe­ri­ods of time, this can stiffen the skin and may ac­cel­er­ate vis­i­ble age­ing. BURNT AND PRO­CESSED MEAT... con­tains free rad­i­cals that can slow col­la­gen-build­ing pro­cesses, con­trib­ute to col­la­gen break­down and en­cour­age in­flam­ma­tion, which can dam­age del­i­cate col­la­gen struc­tures.

DO SUP­PLE­MENTS RE­ALLY WORK?

There’s been much de­bate over the ef­fi­cacy of in­gestible col­la­gen sup­ple­ments, with some swear­ing they don’t make it past our gut in high enough vol­umes to make a difference. But with the global col­la­gen market set to reach $6.63bn by 2025, for­mu­las are ad­vanc­ing. ‘Some col­la­gen com­pounds may be de­stroyed dur­ing the di­ges­tive pro­cesses, [but] chances of ab­sorp­tion de­pend on the size of the com­pounds (known as pep­tides),’ ex­plains nu­tri­tional food ther­a­pist Alice Mackintosh. ‘Use prod­ucts that have been hy­drol­ysed [struc­turally changed us­ing wa­ter] into low-molec­u­lar-weight pep­tides that can pass through the gut wall and are more re­sis­tant to di­ges­tion. Noth­ing can re­place a good diet, beauty regime and con­sis­tent sleep, but re­search shows they can help sup­port skin’s elas­tic­ity and hy­dra­tion.’

THE PROS

Skin aside, re­search sug­gests that col­la­gen sup­ple­ments can help bones, joints and even gut health, and with grow­ing re­search show­ing that a health­ier gut can re­duce ev­ery­thing from anxiety to bloat­ing, it shouldn’t be over­looked. ‘Sup­ple­men­ta­tion has been shown to nour­ish, re­pair and build new col­la­gen on the gut mem­brane, which can re­duce skin symp­toms such as red­ness, dry­ness, ir­ri­ta­tion and con­di­tions such as acne and eczema,’ ex­plains Mackintosh. But not all sup­ple­ments are made equal: col­la­gen gummy bears or waters are def­i­nitely not go­ing to cut it.

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