Collagen in Your Skincare: The Fix for Slacking Skin?

As I mentioned in the intro to our blog (which is long, I know! I tried to pare it down, and, well, here we are...), I value education and being informed. So when it comes to my business--holistic skincare & wellbeing--I'm always reading, researching, reviewing... It's how I stay current. It's how I can answer our clients' questions and how I can be confident that our menu is as comprehensive and well-rounded as possible.

I read an article yesterday on Healing Lifestyles that really got me thinking. (This article.) It's always interesting (entertaining?) to read about current trends, yes, but this article caught my attention for a couple other reasons.

First, two of their chosen products are all-time favorites of mine, Farmaesthetics' Fine Herbal Cleanser & their Sweet Milk & Chamomile Facial Exfoliate; and, well, their mention makes me happy. Second, which is what we'll delve into here, the idea that collagen is currently a coveted ingredient in skincare. Sounds like a good idea, right? If your skin is slacking, just add collagen? I'm not so sure.

But, before we get into the big collagen questions, a couple other thoughts from the read...

🍃 Anti-inflammatory - a buzzword perhaps, but for good reason. I fully agree that products containing anti-inflammatory ingredients should be on your radar this year & all years. Skincare should be preventative, not just corrective. Inflammation in the body can lead to premature aging (among other things, of course); therefore, using products that contain anti-inflammatory ingredients will offer protection for your skin. We should also carry our awareness of anti-inflammatory ingredients into our dietary choices as our internal health absolutely shows up on our skin. One anti-inflammatory- & antioxidant-rich product I'm loving right now is Bedford's Mature & Aging Serum

🍃 Another apparent trend this year recognizes the awesome-ness of multi-purpose products (think Vapour Organic Beauty's Multi Use sticks for cheeks, lips & eyes--another fav here). Personally, I'm a longtime fan of multi-purpose products for several reasons, not the least of which being economic, but mostly because product versatility is an integral part of herbal skincare...and my approach to skincare is very much influenced by herbal traditions. (Why/how is traditional herbal skincare more than just natural ingredients? Blog post coming soon, stay tuned!)

Collagen as a skincare ingredient though? My two cents: beware & manage your expectations.

Let's quickly review what collagen is. Collagen is a protein made up of building blocks, or amino acids, and constitutes a large part of the dermis (the layer of the skin beneath the epidermis). We all begin life with a healthy padding of collagen, which becomes thinner with age due to a reduced production of the substance, as well as a number of other factors, including un-skin-friendly activities like smoking and over exposure to the sun. Thus, as years pass, our nice healthy padding of collagen inevitably thins, allowing for the skin to begin sagging, creating fine lines & wrinkles. Plus, for us women, how about this biological bummer: we naturally have thinner skin that is less collagen-dense than men. Gah.

Now, collagen in skincare--serums, ampules, moisturizers & masks... Is it really as easy as finding the word "collagen" on a label and using that product religiously at home to fix your lines & wrinkles? The short answer: no, it's almost never that easy and it's certainly not when it comes to selecting a product for the symptoms that are associated with the breakdown of collagen.

Here's the complicating factor: the molecular size of collagen is quite large and would have to be teeny tiny in a product to actually penetrate to the dermis where it is needed. So, the idea of using a serum to "add" collagen to your skin is a little more complex than most product labels imply.

Sure, products containing collagen have been shown to positively affect the overall look of the skin, even temporarily lessening the appearance of fine lines & wrinkles. But, that plumper, more "filled" effect is due to the skin being well moisturized, which is a result of applying collagen topically to the skin, not of an increased collagen content.

Why is that significant? The filling & lifting effect is the goal, isn't it? Not exactly. I say, if you're going to invest your time and money into product or treatment, you should target the cause (collagen loss), not just the symptoms (slacking skin). Your results will be better and longer-lasting for it. 

To truly address the collagen content of your skin, you need to ramp up your body's own collagen production, not just add to it (again, treating the cause of the skin slacking). This can be done a couple of ways. My preferred method is via a Photofacial--a noninvasive procedure utilizing Intense Pulsed Light.

Another option would be to find a product that contains micronized collagen in conjunction with other, supportive ingredients that encourage the production of collagen. Now, these products do exist, so a product-only approach (as opposed to treatment + product) could be an option. However, if you're looking to keep your skincare 100% clean (free of potential toxins, chemicals, etc.), finding the right product will likely be tricky.

My recommendation? Pair a collagen-boosting Photofacial with diligent skin-protecting practices, such as regular sunscreen use, good sleep habits & keeping stress levels (i.e., cortisol) down. And, while you're at it, find one of those anti-inflammatory + antioxidant serums and protect your skin. You'll be glad you did.