Demystifying collagen in anti-aging creams

Collagen has long been a beauty trend for a while now and it seems to be in any anti-aging skincare conversation. What is collagen and why is it so important?

Collagen is the main structural protein of human connective tissues, especially skin. It is found in all animals and covers 25% of the total protein mass in mammals. The vast majority of collagen in our skin is found in the dermis (the second layer of skin under the epidermis), where it is also produced. The skin cells in the dermis (fibroblasts) synthesize the collagen that holds the rest of the dermis together, giving our skin its underlying structure.

Collagen holds together the different structures of an organism, taking charge of joining the connective tissues (muscles, tendons, ligaments, skin, bones, cartilage, haematological and adipose tissue and organs). It is also responsible for the level of firmness and elasticity of these structures. As time goes by, the production of collagen is reduced, the collagen we produce from the age of thirty onwards is half of the collagen we produce as teenagers.  Tobacco, alcohol and low-protein diets also reduce the production of collagen and elastin.

Now that we know what collagen is, it is time to find out what collagen looks like. The structure of collagen is like a kind of braid or rope: individual amino acids are linked together to form long chains, which join together to form thicker filaments. Those braids then twist and wind around each other to form triple helixes. Finally, those helixes are connected end to end and stacked on top of each other to form groups called fibrils. In other words, collagen is a fairly complex and massive molecule.

This is why skincare creams formulated with collagen won’t work: these huge braided molecules are too big to penetrate the epidermis, and definitely too big to go down into the dermis where the real magic happens. In case you see any effect, it is a pure superficial illusion given by a better hydration.

Avoid buying creams or other beauty products promising to rejuvenate your skin by using collagen as a marketing claim. We must understand that we are not in a situation of “more is better”. Foods with collagen will not produce the results you are looking for either because collagen ends up breaking down into basic proteins/amino acids. It is more advisable to eat foods that contain the nutrients your body uses to produce collagen. These are foods that contain high amounts of vitamin C, vitamin E or zinc. Avoiding stress, getting enough sleep and filling our diet with foods rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, such as oily fish, fruit, nuts and olive oil will also help our skin look better.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is necessary for the synthesis of collagen, rejuvenating the immune system, facilitating healing and for the absorption of iron. This active ingredient is present in citrus fruits, currants, guavas, peppers, brussels sprouts, cauliflower and broccoli. In the case of smokers, they will need a higher intake.

Vitamin E

Like vitamin C, vitamin E is an antioxidant. Its main function in skin care is to protect us from sun damage. Vitamin E absorbs harmful UV light from the sun when applied to the skin. Most adults need about 15 mg of vitamin E per day. Eating nuts, seeds, almonds, hazelnuts, and sunflower seeds will improve our vitamin E levels.

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Zinc

Zinc, along with other vitamins and minerals, works to help treat skin lesions and, when taken orally, can decrease the severity of acne and the first signs of skin maturation (lines, wrinkles, blemishes, etc.). Because zinc acts as an enzymatic cofactor, it aids in collagen synthesis and DNA repair, which can help keep skin looking younger and healthier.