Melanie Morris investigates skin’s natural support mechanism in fighting the appearance of ageing.
Collagen is a beauty buzzword and with good reason. The basis of youthful skin, collagen is formed as long strings of proteins that fill the lower layers of our skin, and connective tissue, working as a support matrix to keep skin supple and plump. Collagen is vital to repairing skin after it has been damaged; it’s constantly working away, and prevents – and can even reverse – lines and wrinkles.
In youth, collagen is plentiful – the body makes it with ease, and as we age (really, from about 26) and subject ourselves to the ravages of unhealthy living, pollution and the sun, collagen production starts to slow down. By the time women hit their forties, the body is making just 50 percent of the collagen its used to. This is why skin starts to wrinkle and lose elasticity.
With menopause and the depletion of oestrogen required for synthesis, collagen production grinds to a crawl. At all stages in life, and to fight the effects of ageing, the individual is left with one of two options; either crank up the body’s collagen-producing system or find a good source of collagen the body will respond to positively.
In the late 20th century, and before byaluronic acid took centre stage, bovine collagen was used as facial fillers; however, a high incidence of allergic reactions meant the process wasn’t a slam-dunk winner. A switch to pig collagen gave more promising results, but modern dermal fillers had arrived at that stage and were more universally and easily accepted.
There was another procedure available around the same time, where an individual’s skin was harvested and fibroblasts from the collagen were isolated, grown and injected back into the donor’s face, but this was a (very expensive) failure, showing very little change to the skin’s texture and composition.
The most effective way to reignite one’s natural collagen engine is, basically, to cause trauma to the skin. By inflicting damage, the body has to respond by creating collagen to initiate repair. And so, one of the mot effective collagen-boosters is to use lasers to traumatise the skin and thus jump-start natural collagen synthesis. The gold-standard for this is fraxelated (or Fraxel) laser, a wand that sweeps over skin issuing tiny pin-prick sizes of heat that strike beneath the epidermis, to approximately a quarter of the skin’s surface area. This is enough to rally collagen synthesis, with minimal (but still some) swelling and redness (remember, this is necessary to initiate cellular response). In addition to the face, Fraxel offers great results on other parts of the body, particularly the back of the hands and the chest, resulting in a smoother, more youthful, more uniform complexion.
A similar result can be obtained by micro-needling, which uses a device containing multiple (usually nine) tiny needles in the head. Again, the device sweeps over the skin, pricking the surface in a method similar to its laser relation, In both cases, there’s downtime of three to five days to factor in while the skin returns to its normal appearance, with results showing gradually over 60 days. Often more than one session is advised, particularly where the treatment is being used to reduce sun damage or acne scarring.
Less invasive, but now proving to be an effective way to increase collagen in the body is through ingesting collagen rich foods and supplements. Naturally great sources of collagen can be found in seaweed, soy, nori and chlorella, while vitamin C and foods rich in omega-3 (oily fish, walnuts and pumpkin seeds) support the body in producing collagen.
Some supplements also work, in capsule or liquid form. Studies* have shown that certain forms of collagen, namely collagen hydrolysate (CH) and bioactive collagen peptide (BCP), such as in Verisol, have proven to significantly increase collagen and its fellow skin-supporter, elastin, and reduce wrinkles around the eyes, so look for these ingredients in the list of any collagen supplement.
Collagen can’t be added to the body instantly, but like anything, consistency pays off. Adapting a collagen-boosting regime by eating to support collagen production, supplementing with quality products, plus opting for treatments and/or using skincare designed to help the body with synthesis should show real benefits in three to four weeks.
*Proksch E, Segger D, Degwert J, Schunk M, Zague V, Oesser S. (2014). Oral supplementation of specific collagen peptides has beneficial effects on human skin physiology. A double-blind, placebo controlled study. Skin pharmacology and physiology. 27: 47-55. Proksch E, Schunk M, Zague V, Segger D, Degwert J, Oesser S. (2014). Oral intake of specific bioactive collagen peptides reduces wrinkles and increases dermal matrix synthesis. Skin pharmacology and physiology. X (27), 113-119.
This article originally appeared in the November issue of IMAGE magazine, on shelves nationwide now.