What is collagen?
What if we told you that it’s the one ingredient that could minimize wrinkles while keeping your skin firm, soft and smooth?
Likely, you’d probably want evidence. Research.
Rightfully so, because we’re all searching for the fountain of youth. And not a day goes by where you hear about those who claim to have found the ultimate remedy.
Collagen isn’t the same as the many ‘natural’ beauty ingredients that are promoted as anti-aging solutions. Collagen is a protein, the most abundant protein in the human body, that’s vital for connective tissue, representing 30 percent of our total protein content.
Unfortunately, our collagen production starts to slow down as soon as we hit the age of 20, leaving us with more wrinkles, fine lines, and crow’s feet while minimizing our chances of having healthy skin. And that’s just scratching the surface.
So, if you’re looking for all the ins and outs about collagen for skin, nails, hair and beauty, we’re here to provide research-based answers to all of your collagen for beauty questions.
What is Collagen, Anyway?
Collagen is a long-chain amino acid and the most abundant protein in the body, making up 25 to 35 percent of all our protein content. The word collagen has Greek origins — it’s derived from the word ‘Kolla,’ meaning ‘glue,’ as in the ‘glue’ in our body that holds everything together.
Without this tough elastic protein, we’d be reduced to a clump of cells interconnected by a few neurons.
Don’t take it from us, though. Here’s how New York City dermatologist Michelle Henry describes the importance of collagen for our skin…
“Collagen is the main structural protein in the skin [and]…Collagen makes up one-third of the protein in the human body, and it gives the skin its elasticity and strength, contributing to a youthful appearance.”
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What Types of Collagen Exist?
According to research, so far, 28 types of collagen have been identified to exist throughout our body, but only 3 types are said to make up around 80-90% of all collagen production — call them type I, II and III.
Type I is the most abundant in the human body, and you can find this collagen protein in your eyes, skin, tendons, bones, and teeth. Both Type I and type III support skin, muscles, bone health, hair and nail growth, and maintenance. Collagen type III makes up the fluids and function of cartilage and joints in our bone marrow and reticular tissues.
You may have come across the type I or III listed on a supplement label after checking its contents, but in reality, while different types of collagen do exist, they’re all still the same protein.
When you ingest collagen, you’re rebuilding all of your own collagen in the body, not just type I, II or III, but every type. Be careful of marketing ploys that are claiming to say that a product has been created to rebuild a specific collagen type. For a more in-depth breakdown of collagen types, supplements, and the different sources, check out our guide.
What Does Collagen Do For Skin, Nails, and Hair? In More Detail
Given that collagen is a protein that plays a vital role in our skin, nails, hair, and many others — just how does it do it? Here’s a deeper dive into what collagen does for our beauty needs.
Stimulates Skin Cell Growth: The dermis, the middle layer of our skin, is mostly made out of collagen. Collagen creates a fibrous network forming fibroblasts that help new cells grow. This network helps replace and restore dead skin cells.
Makes Skin Durable and Flexible: Collagen also provides strength, resilience, and flexibility to your skin. Stretch marks, for example, are caused by a broken fibrous network from excessive stretching of the skin.
Provides Strength to Hair, Nails, and Teeth: Collagen has many responsibilities throughout the body, as we’ve mentioned. It gives strength to our hair and connective tissues, providing them with the ability to hold everything together. Plus, it’s the building block for nails and teeth.
Less Collagen Equals Signs of Aging: As we age, collagen production slows down, and that’s why, particularly on our skin, we start to see signs of wrinkles or fine lines.
From the fact of being on the planet longer, our skin is exposed to ultraviolet rays, pollution, stress, and other factors which over time, wreak havoc by producing free radicals in our skin. We’re also partly to blame for quickening the aging process with bad habits like smoking, a bad diet, or not wearing sunscreen.
How to Increase Collagen to Fight Wrinkles
Now that we understand the invaluable role collagen plays in our skin, you’re probably wondering how to increase collagen! We’ve provided a simple overview of 5 ways here but for more, check out our guide.
Here are the various collagen consumption methods that pose way, way better alternatives.
1. Making Foods With Gelatin
If you’ve ever thought about using collagen for skin by applying cosmetics, the key ingredient is actually gelatin. In cosmetics, gelatin is used as a thickening agent.
Gelatin is collagen, but it has undergone partial hydrolysis making it gel. This process simply involves boiling down gelatinous meat by-products (from cows, chicken, and fish) into a thick liquid.
Gelatin’s partially hydrolyzed chains hold on to a lot of water causing gelling and a thick texture. This thick texture has made gelatin popular in the food industry when it comes to making gummies and deserts.
2. Drinking Collagen Peptides/Supplements
When it comes to the loose powder sold on the market, this is known as collagen peptides. Collagen peptides (also known as full hydrolyzed collagen) contain high concentrations of the amino acids used to build collagen. Collagen peptides are made when collagen is broken down through a process called hydrolysis (the breakdown of a compound due to reaction with water) and then sold as powder supplements.
Collagen supplements dissolve easily into hot and cold water and don’t have a smell or distinct taste, making them pretty popular. Once absorbed as a supplement, collagen peptides travel throughout the body, repairing, rebuilding and boosting energy.
Collagen peptides and gelatin do consist of the same amino acids as collagen. But the difference is that collagen peptides are more bioavailable (more easily consumed).
3. Eating Collagen-Rich Foods
One of the most effective ways of tackling aging skin is with a healthy diet filled with collagen-rich foods. We’ve summarized the gist here, but for a more in-depth break down check out this article.
Dark leafy greens like spinach and kale offer antioxidants that protect skin against free radicals. Free radicals breakdown collagen and are created via common air pollutants, smog and UV rays the sun.
Orange and yellow fruits and veggies are rich in vitamin C and carotenoids, like beta-carotene, which converts to vitamin A within the body. Vitamin A plays a significant role in cellular renewal and smooth skin.
Red veggies and fruits like beets, tomatoes, and red peppers are full of lycopene, which boosts collagen and protects against sun damage.
Orange and yellow veggies and fruits are also high in carotenoids, which is good for collagen. Look out for carrots, oranges, grapefruits, apricots, yams, sweet potatoes, papaya, watermelon, cantaloupe, mangoes, tomatoes, squash and bell peppers.
Avocados are high in healthy fats and contain vitamin E and C. They’re a great addition to any diet that’s oriented around having foods with collagen. They’re also a delicious substitute for butter!
Eat fish for Omega-3 Fatty Acids – these are essential for increasing collagen synthesis and production to improve the barrier function of our skin.
4. Using Collagen Stimulating Products
As this research paper summarizes, the best strategies for preserving and stimulating collagen include:
- sun avoidance
- using sunscreens to block or reduce skin exposure to UV radiation
- using retinoids
- antioxidants (like Vitamin C) to reduce and neutralize free radicals
This is why in skin care, you see so many Vitamin C and Vitamin A ingredients on the shelves. It’s confusing, but Vitamin A for topical skin care goes by many different names. There’s Retinol, Retinoids, Retin A and Tretinoin. In concentrations of 0.25 percent or higher, Retinol can help plump skin and boost collagen.
You may also have heard about chemical exfoliation trending in the skincare world, and for a good reason. Give your skin a glow using an exfoliating product containing glycolic acid. It’s a hero ingredient worth trying out!
5. Lifestyle Choices That Preserve Collagen
We all should start caring for the collagen we already have. And it’s possible if we eat a healthy diet, quit habits like smoking, drink water regularly and sleeping 8-9 hours per night. In terms of nutrition, you can get collagen from animal and vegetable sources and marine organisms such as fish scale and fish skin.
Also, prevention is the best method. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen/SPF as it’s not only helpful for your skin’s appearance but protects you from skin cancer. There are sunscreens available with minimal white casts that also sit well under your makeup if this is something of concern.
The only side-effects from collagen may come when using it as a supplement, although it’s uncommon. Potentially, adding too much too quickly may cause digestive issues like bloating, loss of appetite or stomach aches.
This study suggests that there are “minimal adverse effects” with collagen supplements. But potential effects may include “mainly gastrointestinal, characterized by fullness or unpleasant taste.”
Eating foods that are already rich in collagen, like broths, beans, or meat, might be a better alternative to supplements. Collagen-rich foods give other nutrients, without the additional cost and uncertainty of a powder.
Collagen for Skin
It’s clear that collagen not only gives strength to our connective tissue – it also gives our skin its elasticity and suppleness! There isn’t a lot of evidence for drinking collagen powder, however.
But as for things that will help – eating collagen-rich foods, using Retinol (Vitamin A) and Vitamin C products, plus looking after your health and applying SPF are proven ways to rewind the clock.
Feature image from Shutterstock