How to Increase Collagen

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Explainer | Collagen helps keep your skin looking young, but what exactly is it? How to increase your collagen and how it benefits your skin.

  • We have all heard of collagen and seen beauty products promising younger skin, but what is it and how does it work?
  • We look at products that contain collagen and those that promote its production to show how they work differently

There’s a chance you’ve run into the word “collagen” many times in your life, especially when the subject is skin aging.

Firm, plump, and young skin are goals we all aim for, and collagen – or a lack of it – plays a big role if we want to achieve them, as the more of this protein we have in our skin, the closer we are to fulfill our complexion goals.

But aging, environmental stressors, dietary habits, and UV exposure take a toll on our body’s natural ability to produce this protein, so the collagen we already own starts breaking down. The consequences? Wrinkles, dullness, and elasticity loss.

So what’s the solution? Should you lather your face with collagen products to increase its levels on your skin or is there a better way to do it?

As we age, our collagen and elastin levels decrease. Illustration: Shutterstock

As we age, our collagen and elastin levels decrease. Illustration: Shutterstock

The role of collagen in your skin

The composition of our skin involves lots of proteins, and collagen is one of the most abundant, making up a third of the body’s protein structure.

Collagen – the hottest beauty secret to youthful skin10 Jan 2020

collagen keeps us moving and in shape; from building bones, muscles, skin and blood vessels, to clotting blood when needed and keeping skin healthy and elastic. collagen is the glue that holds our bones and organs together. Inevitably, as we get older, we start losing more collagen than we generate, and as a result, our skin gets dull, saggy, and wrinkly.

Is topical collagen worth it?

Most of our skin’s collagen lies and is produced in the dermis, the layer of skin right under the epidermis and above the subcutaneous tissue, and the skin cells living there make the collagen molecules that later build up our skin’s fundamental anatomy.

Inkey List collagen booster.

Inkey List collagen booster.

collagen fibres are usually very large, as they’re made of thousands of small collagen molecules attached to each other: that’s one of the main reasons why applying collagen over your skin may not be as beneficial as you think: its molecules are way too big to penetrate the epidermis, so it’s almost impossible for them to reach the dermis, where the work takes place.

This doesn’t mean you need to throw away all your collagen creams and serums. If you enjoy their texture and they help your skin feel and look better, there’s no problem with keeping them as part of your routine, but bear in mind the main advantage you’ll get is hydration.

That’s why, if you’re looking to increase collagen levels, experts recommend you go for ingredients that will trigger collagen production instead of using collagen itself. “Ingredients that stimulate collagen production or inhibit collagen breakdown include retinol, peptides and antioxidants (like vitamins C and E),” says Dr Zenovia Gabriel.

Dr Zenovia advanced retinol night repair treatment.

Dr Zenovia advanced retinol night repair treatment.

In the past few years, brands have helped educate the public by explaining exactly how their collagen or collagen-boosting products work on skin. First Aid beauty launched an ultra repair firming collagen cream, disclosing that the formula features collagen-enhancing ingredients such as peptides and niacinamide, while the collagen in the formulation is there to help soften and smooth skin texture.EVERY SATURDAYSCMP Global Impact NewsletterBy submitting, you consent to receiving marketing emails from SCMP. If you don’t want these, tick hereBy registering, you agree to our T&C and Privacy Policy

Other brands, including Paula’s Choice, The Inkey List and Boscia, are taking the straightforward route by launching products meant to boost your skin’s natural collagen production levels without even adding collagen to the formula.

“There are several misconceptions the general public has in regard to collagen in skincare. Some believe the body’s supply of collagen cannot be restored,” says Dimitra Davidson from skincare brand Indeed Labs; but that’s not what she, nor the brand believe, and that’s why they developed a collagen booster formulated to maintain normal levels of collagen and strengthen skin. “The Indeed Labs collagen Booster is formulated with Matrixyl™ Synthe’6™ to stimulate the synthesis of collagen I, collagen III, and collagen IV. […] Our booster is an innovative approach to the topical delivery of collagen. Formulated with a collagen peptide, it boosts the natural production of collagen, visibly improving the skin’s volume, firmness, and elasticity.”

Indeed Labs collagen booster.

Indeed Labs collagen booster.

How to avoid collagen loss

There are many ways to help your skin lose less collagen or boost its production. One is collagen supplements, either powders or capsules. Experts recommend hydrolysed collagen supplements, which are easier for your body to take in.

Adding some high antioxidant superfoods to your diet can also help. “These foods are free oxygen radical absorbers, such as lycopenes (tomatoes), vitamin C (citrus products), green tea (matcha), blueberries and walnuts,” says Zenovia, who also recommends adding omega 3 fatty acids to your diet for their anti-inflammatory benefits. “Inflammation is damaging to all cellular processes, including collagen breakdown. Therefore, the powerful anti-inflammatory effects of omegas help the body recover from this damage,” she says.

Foods that help collagen production or reduce breakdown include citrus fruits, oily fish, blueberries, cherries, carrots and broccoli. Photo: Shutterstock

Foods that help collagen production or reduce breakdown include citrus fruits, oily fish, blueberries, cherries, carrots and broccoli. Photo: Shutterstock

Other things help avoid collagen loss, like wearing sunscreen regularly. As time goes by, UV rays tear down collagen and elastin, causing loss of elasticity and reducing the skin’s ability to contract after stretching, which translates into loose skin and wrinkles.

Topical actives that boost collagen production

While adding collagen to your skincare routine won’t make a big change, other ingredients can stimulate production when used topically.

Vital Proteins collagen peptide powder.

Vital Proteins collagen peptide powder.

Retinoids, for example, can penetrate the epidermis to reach the dermis, where they induce and increase cell turnover and neutralise free radicals, boosting collagen and elastin production and thickening the skin’s deeper layer.

On the other hand, chemical exfoliants like AHAs and BHAs help dissolve debris that may be clogging your pores and causing breakouts, and trigger a healing response that drives your body to produce more skin cells and more collagen.

Vitamin C, although mostly known for its brightening powers, is also a favorite to boost collagen production. It can support the body’s natural potential to generate collagen and protect the skin from getting damaged by environmental threats that could speed up collagen breakdown.

Carolina Malis

Carolina Malis+ FOLLOW

Born and raised in Chile, and based in New York City, Carolina Malis is an entertainment and pop culture writer and on-camera host with a focus on all things beauty, lifestyle, and Korean entertainment. Her written and on-camera work has been featured on diverse outlets in Asia, the USA, and Latin America such as Cosmopolitan, i-D, Nylon, Nylon LATAM, Harper’s Bazaar Chile, Soompi, KpopMatch, and Canal13.


By Carolina Malis