We often hear skin creams and treatments making claims about collagen and claims are made about dietary collagen supplements. But what exactly is it?
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body and is the substance that holds the whole body together. It is found in the bones, teeth, muscles, skin and tendons, and even our hair where it forms a scaffold to provide strength and structure. This is why when collagen production is disrupted in some way as it is in those with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome or Osteogenesis Imperfecta (more commonly known as brittle bone disease) it causes such wide ranging and disabling symptoms.
There are at least sixteen different types of collagen but types I-V make up the majority of the body. In the majority of collagen types, the molecules are packed together to form very similar long thin fibrils (very fine fibres). Type I collagen is particularly strong is found in the bones and teeth, this is the form affected in Osteogenesis Imperfecta.
Collagen in Skincare
In the middle layer of the skin – the dermis – collagen helps form a fibrous network, upon which new cells can grow. This collagen network naturally declines with age and is also thought to change shape, which reduces the structural integrity of the skin leading to sagging and the formation of lines and wrinkles.
Many brands have jumped on the collagen bandwagon and produced products containing collagen. Everything from gels to creams and powders, claim to rejuvenate skin and fill wrinkles. However, despite the glossy marketing of these products collagen molecules themselves are simply too big to be absorbed through the skin.If any benefits are derived from these lotions and potions it is most likely to be from the moisturising components of the formulation or perhaps something like hyaluronic acid.
You can look after your skin and protect it’s collagen by not smoking, consuming too much sugar, and being sure to wear your SPF when out in the sun.
Collagen is however used successfully in more invasive cosmetic procedures such as dermal fillers. These are injections of collagen which can improve the contours of the skin and fill out any depressions. Light therapy at certain wavelengths is also thought to help stimulate collagen production and is used to treat scarring and stretch marks.
Collagen is also used in the medical field as a healing aid for burns and in reconstructive surgeries.
Can’t You Just Take Collagen Supplements?
This is something that gets asked a lot but there is a very simple reason why it won’t work. Collagen as a molecule is too large to be absorbed whole through the gut as well as through the skin, so in order for a supplement to be worthwhile taking the collagen must be broken down into smaller chunks at which point you are in fact supplementing the amino acids required for building collagen, not collagen its self. Since the bodies of those of us with collagen related syndromes can only make the collagens they have the ‘recipe’ for, this is what they will make from these amino acids. They are selling you extremely over-priced gelatin.
Trials have found no benefit to arthritis sufferers when taking these supplements and of course they don’t even have the problem of their body producing faulty collagen.
I hope you’ve found this topic as interesting as I did, it was nice for me that there was some crossover between the beauty/skin care aspects here as well as the EDS related parts plus I got to do a bit of myth de-bunking. My favourite!
If you have any questions of additions do pop them in the comments, I’d love to read them.