Collagen has infiltrated water-cooler conversations far and wide, with recommendations for bone broth, skincare brands and high-tech beauty getting the gossip treatment. After all, collagen is the most abundant protein in the body, and ensures our skin – as well as our tendons, ligaments, joints, bones and muscles – functions at optimal levels.
The word “collagen” comes from the Greek kolla, meaning “glue”, and it does – quite literally – hold us together. When we are born, our bodies are full of this wonder stuff, giving us plump, soft, elastic skin, as well as the ligament, muscle and joint health we take for granted in youth.
And then we age.
“The bad news first,” announces Dr Wally Chen, medical director at Wyndham Medical Aesthetics. “After the age of about 25, collagen decreases gradually by about one percent per year. Lifestyle habits add to that natural depletion, like sun exposure, stress, alcohol, smoking, extremes of weather and late nights.”
Fine lines and wrinkles, less elasticity and poorer texture appear on the outside of our bodies, while our ligaments, tendons, joints and muscles get progressively creakier on the inside. So should we eat collagen, apply collagen or have collagen applied? The answers are interesting, confusing and controversial.
Wan Yu Uranda Lin, traditional Chinese medicine doctor and director of R&D for Advance Nutraceuticals International, believes that upping your antioxidants, vitamin C and omega-3 fatty acids via food canonly go so far, so she created collagen supplements to be taken from the age of 30 onwards. Aesthetician Justine Grier at Optimal Family Health, meanwhile, makes bone broth regularly, but acknowledges that supplements make ingesting collagen easy. The key, she says, is to find reliable, high-quality, safe products and take them for a minimum of three months to see results.
Lin’s Collagen H+ formulation includes 5mg of hydrolysed fish collagen (which she believes is safer than animal collagens) broken down into easy-to-absorb amino acids and peptides (a compound of two or more amino acids). The H+ refers to hyaluronic acid, a powerful moisture retainer.
But when it comes to collagen-laden skincare, Chen is sceptical. “The skin is waterproof to a certain degree,” he explains. “If you soak yourself Cleopatra-like in a bath of nutrients for long enough, some will be absorbed, but our skin is largely impervious to large molecules such as collagen.”
Skincare products therefore need to go high-tech and hydrolysed, breaking collagen into its peptides. This can help promote the synthesis of collagen and prevent collagen deterioration, according to BCG Baden Baden Cosmetics’ Director of Cosmetic Analysis Dr Marianne Schwarberg. The company’s Biodroga MD products, for example, include the well-reviewed Collagen Boost family of Day Care, Night Care and Eye Care.
Director of Spa Karen Aleksich at Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong says her therapists use vitamin C in the form of ascorbic acid to boost the production of collagen topically. She recommends the application of vitamins E and C to repair and rebuild collagen via collagen-boosting Optimal Facial treatments, taken weekly or even twice weekly in a series.
For faster and longer-lasting results, most skincare professionals agree that high-tech beauty must come to the rescue. Grier maps out tried-and-tested options such as IPL (intense pulsed light), lasers, RF (radio frequency) and HIFU (high-intensity focused ultrasound). Very simply put, micro-traumas boost collagen growth as the body rushes in automatic-healing processes. She uses CIT (collagen induction therapy) in the form of micro-needling and Dermapen, creating a physical passage of microscopic holes in the skin, allowing strategic products to effectively penetrate.
“Cutting-edge studies suggest altering the permeability of the skin is possible,” says Chen. “This is the Holy Grail. No need for breaking the skin: passing a mild current of energy through it alters the permeability temporarily to allow skincare products to penetrate. Switch off the current and the skin goes back to normal. Quite cool.”
In theory, there’s a level of collagen for everyone, but do your homework on the quality, source and company. “Unfortunately, there’s no miracle here,” says Aleksich. “You need to take the time and focus on how you are treating your body both internally and externally. It’s about supporting the overall support structure of the skin to help build a strong foundation.”
Grier agrees. “Half the time, we are driven by fear, searching for peace of mind,” she says. “If you’re searching for better skin, include a combination of machines and hands-on treatments, plus diet, supplementation and home care.”