Everything you need to know about collagen in skin care

Chrissy Teigen collagen

Including the best ways to boost collagen production

Beauty buzzwords are thrown around all the time. And while many are worth the hype they elicit, others unfortunately, are just marketing fluff. Perhaps the top buzzword to take the beauty world by storm in the past several years is collagen. Previously the reserve of plastic surgeons, collagen has become part and parcel of our skin care routines. But what exactly is it? Is collagen really all that important? And is having more of it a good thing? To find out all that and more we spoke to founder of Paula’s Choice Skin Care, Paula Begoun, and Global Education Ambassador for Ultraceuticals, Tracey Beeby. 

What is collagen?

“Collagen is an essential structural protein found throughout the body including the skin, muscles and bones,” explains Beeby. “In the skin, it is our main support protein and provides [our body] with strength and vital support. [Collagen] can be likened to the way in which scaffolding or steel frameworks hold up a building – collagen provides this type or support and structure to the skin,” she adds. 

Why having more collagen is a good thing

According to Begoun, the key to having healthy, smooth and youthful-looking skin is having more collagen. “[Collagen] is largely responsible for why young skin has a smooth pliable texture, support and firmness. Having a good amount of healthy, undamaged collagen allows skin to have durability, resilience and protection.” She adds, “it works in tandem with the elastin in skin, which provides bounce and allows skin to return back to normal when moved”. Without ample levels of collagen, the skin weakens, resulting in sagging and the formation of wrinkles.

What happens to collagen as we age

Unfortunately, our collagen production “slows down from our mid 20s and then deteriorates approximately one to two per cent per year after the age of 30,” explains Beeby. However, while collagen production slows down naturally, “what really causes more than 75 per cent of the damage (which begins from birth) is unprotected exposure to daylight,” says Begoun. “This accumulated exposure literally destroys existing collagen and the skin’s ability to make healthy new collagen. This causes all kinds of problems with how skin looks and feels as it ages,” she adds. Consider that another reason to slip, slop slap!

What causes collagen to decrease

The number one cause of collagen reduction is unprotected, cumulative sun exposure. Lifestyle choices like smoking and a poor diet also play a part. Another sneaky threat, according to Begoun, is air pollution. “Ongoing exposure to airborne pollutants trigger destructive enzymes in skin that literally eat away at collagen, causing further breakdown.”

Ways to slow down collagen reduction

As you may have guessed, the best way to defend against premature collagen reduction is to apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen rated SPF 30 or higher every day – rain, hail or shine. “Next up is a [further] commitment to being sun smart: no tanning, wear protective clothing, avoid direct sun exposure during peak hours and reapply sunscreen often when you’re outdoors,” advises Begoun.

If you’re on the hunt for a quality facial sunscreen, try Ultraceuticals Ultra UV Protective Daily Moisturiser SPF 50+, Paula’s Choice RESIST Super-Light Wrinkle Defence SPF 30 or Rationale B3-T Superfluid Sunscreen SPF 50+.

Ultraceuticals Ultra UV Protective Daily Moisturiser SPF 50+

Paula’s Choice RESIST Super-Light Wrinkle Defence SPF 30

Rationale B3-T Superfluid Sunscreen SPF 50+

Another tip is to ensure all of your leave-on skin care products, including your sunscreen, are loaded with collagen-defending antioxidants. Antioxidants “intercept damaging molecules before they can reach your collagen and break it down,” says Begoun – you can read more on the importance of antioxidants and which ones to choose here. Last but not least, she explains, “using treatment products that contain proven anti-ageing ingredients like retinol, peptides, niacinamide and ceramides can replenish and restore what skin needs to begin making healthy, young collagen again”. 

How to speed up collagen production

While your number one aim should always be to protect your skin and prevent accelerated collagen reduction, there are several skin care ingredients you can turn to that help reverse existing damage. Replenishing ingredients like ceramides and niacinamide will go a long way in repairing the skin’s barrier. Maintaining a strong barrier is important, too, as doing so will protect collagen in skin’s lower levels. Additionally, Begoun explains, “cell-communicating ingredients like retinol and peptides are able to ‘talk’ to misbehaving cells, telling them to produce better, healthier collagen. Along with this, many topically applied antioxidants, including all forms of vitamin C and green tea, can trigger some amount of repair in sun-damaged skin, helping to shore up and strengthen damaged collagen fibres, leaving skin feeling firmer and more resilient.” 

One of our favourite products formulated with retinol is Ultra MD’s Ultimate A Refining Serum and two top vitamin C moisturisers are Mesoestetic Energy C Intensive Cream and Sukin Rosehip Hydrating Day Cream.

Ultra MD’s Ultimate A Refining Serum

Mesoestetic Energy C Intensive Cream

Sukin Rosehip Hydrating Day Cream

Do supplements help boost collagen levels?

One particular product category that has exploded in recent years is collagen supplements. And while supplements can help boost collagen levels on a small scale, both Begoun and Beeby warn that most of the benefits are broken down in your digestive system before they can reach your skin. Furthermore, Beeby notes, “it has been reported that topical application of vitamin C is greater than oral ingestion by more than 40 per cent”. 

Are injectibles the best way to increase collagen levels?

While there’s no doubt that injectible fillers will produce an instant plumping effect on the skin, “filler can quickly degrade if there is no dermal support there to begin with,” explains Beeby. Meaning, it’s important to have a good skin care routine in place before getting fillers, as quality products “allow all-over greater structural support, providing a solid foundation for the injectible product,” adds Beeby.

Looking for more skin care tips and tricks? Then discover the easy ways to get a handle on enlarged pores and find out how to determine your skin type, once and for all

What’s your favourite collagen-boosting product? Let us know in the comments below.

Main image credit: Getty

Kate has worked for BEAUTYcrew since early 2016, first as a contributor, before being named Beauty Writer in 2017. She loves picking the brains of the industry's top experts to get to the bottom of beauty's toughest questions. Bronze eyeshadow palettes are her weakness and she's forever on the hunt for the perfect nude nail polish to suit her fair skin. Her words can also be found in Men's Health magazine.