THE TRUTH ABOUT...
It’s the make-orbreak molecule for healthy skin, but how much do you really know about 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.’
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.