Collagen-infused skincare products are … controversial (to say the least). Some say that the topical application of the protein helps promote collagen and elastin production for a more plump, lifted, and youthful-looking complexion – but others argue that Collagen simply sits on the skin. Who is right? Let's explore.
What is Collagen?
Collagen is one of the most abundant proteins in the human body (1). It’s responsible for providing structural support for all your body’s connective tissue, including the bones, ligaments, tendons, eyes, blood vessels … and, of course, the skin. If it makes things easier, you can simply think of collagen as a “scaffolding structure”.
With that out of the way, it isn't difficult to see why pretty much every desirable characteristic of youthful-looking skin – plump, bouncy, and all-around "juicy" – comes down to collagen content.
Of course, everything's fine when you're young. As you age, though, your body naturally reduces collagen production. And by how much, exactly? Research estimates you begin losing about 1% of your collagen each year starting in your 20s (2). In turn, contributing to everything from sagging to wrinkling to a lack of elasticity.
To that end, turning to Collagen-infused skincare products – to help your skin replenish what it's lost – only seems logical. But what does science say? Will applying Collagen to your skin help reveal smoother, plumper, and healthier skin?
Can Collagen Be Absorbed Through the Skin?
At this point, you may be wondering: “What’s up with the skepticism?”
Well, it’s really because of collagen's structure: you can visualize it as akin to a braid or a rope (3). First, individual amino acids (i.e., the building blocks of protein) link up to form long chains, which bundle together to form thicker strands.
These thicker strands then twist and coil around each other to form triple helices. But that's not all; those helices then connect end to end – and stack on top of each other to form clusters called fibrils. Finally (whew), multiple collagen fibrils form into collagen fibers.
In short: we can all agree that collagen is a complex and massive molecule. Meaning? Collagen molecules are just too large to be absorbed into the dermis, which is the thickest layer of skin made up of fibrous and elastic tissue (i.e., where the “magic” happens). So, that settles it – Collagen as an active skincare ingredient simply can't live up to its lofty claims … right?
Not so fast. There is a way to get around Collagen's massive size issue. And that is: hydrolyzed Collagen or Collagen peptides. Hydrolyzed Collagen simply refers to Collagen that’s been broken down into smaller chains of amino acids known as peptides.
Thanks to their “downsizing”, researchers and dermatologists alike believe that Collagen peptides are now able to penetrate the skin cells in the epidermis – and make their way into the dermis (4).
Benefits of Collagen for Skin
And that brings us to the benefits you can expect to see from adding Collagen into your skin care.
#1: Hydrates the skin
Before getting into how topical Collagen can stimulate increased natural collagen production in the skin, though … let’s first talk about an often-forgotten property of the structural protein: it’s a humectant (5)!
Just so you know: a humectant refers to an ingredient that helps draw moisture to the skin’s surface and retains water so that the skin stays well-hydrated. Meaning? When applied topically, Collagen attracts and binds to water in the skin – and in doing so, it can both hydrate and plump the skin, making it feel moisturized and “smoothening out” the look of fine lines, wrinkles, and sagging (6). Powerful stuff.
Perhaps more impressively, Collagen does more for the skin than simply hydrating it, too. By keeping the outer layer of your skin (i.e., stratum corneum) moisturized, topical Collagen can help bolster the skin layer's natural function. This protects your skin from irritants, including pollution (e.g., microscopic specks of smoke and soot prevalent in city life).
But wait. So what? To understand the significance, you first need to know what happens when pollution meets your skin. It doesn't just sit on your skin's surface.
Instead, all the particles – thanks to their tiny size – can infiltrate deeper layers of the epidermis, causing inflammation (7). This could break down existing Collagen and impede new Collagen synthesis (8). Bottom line? Applying Collagen can not only hydrate your skin but also prevent further Collagen breakdown.
#2: Stimulates new Collagen production
As mentioned earlier, the availability of hydrolyzed Collagen peptides has now made the concern of topical Collagen unable to plunge below the skin's surface – and stimulate Collagen synthesis – a non-issue. Now that your Collagen peptides are making their way to the dermis, you’re essentially providing your skin’s fibroblasts (i.e., a type of cell responsible for making the extracellular matrix and Collagen) with all the “raw ingredients” they need to make new Collagen.
Excitingly enough, research shows support for this line of reasoning. According to a 2009 study published in The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, Collagen cream helped reduce fine lines and deeper wrinkles around the mouth and eyes when applied twice a day topically for 3 months (9).
Side Effects of Collagen
Although rare, side effects of topical Collagen on the skin can lead to skin breakouts and rashes. But it's worth noting that this adverse reaction isn't typically caused by Collagen – but by the additives, preservatives, heavy metals, or poorly-sourced animal by-products found within the skin care product's formulation.
Still, it's always possible to be allergic to any molecule (or chemical) in any new product you add to your routine, so if you have a reaction to it, stop using it.
How to Use Collagen for Skin
Collagen is an incredibly versatile skincare ingredient that you can use at any time of the day – morning or night. Regardless of the type of Collagen-infused skincare product (e.g., toner, serum, or moisturizer) you use, though, stay mindful that Collagen is a humectant.
That means you should apply your Collagen products on damp skin; if you apply it on dry skin, Collagen will pull water from the deep layers of your skin instead of the surrounding air, which can leave it even more dehydrated than before. Naturally, you don't want that.
Oh, and of course, if you were wondering, Collagen pairs perfectly with pretty much all skincare active ingredients out there (including Hyaluronic Acid, another potent humectant).
By the way, you can further boost Collagen’s collagen-stimulating effects by combining it with ingredients like Peptides, Vitamin C, and Niacinamide. Note: these are precisely the ingredients you’d see in Terrakai’s Collagen-laced products.
Here’s how your skincare routine could look like (all products mentioned below contain Collagen, except for our eye cream):
¨ Cleanser: Remove your makeup and wash your face with a non-stripping cleanser, like our Hyaluronic Acid + Quandong Cleansing Gel.
¨ Toner: Spritz on your toner of choice after cleansing. For a refreshing, hydrating skin boost, give our Kakadu Plum + Collagen Toning Mist a go.
¨ Serum: Massage a few drops of serum (e.g., our Hyaluronic Acid + Collagen Serum) into your face.
¨ Eye cream: Apply a nourishing eye cream like our Age Defying Lemon Aspen Botanical Eye Cream before you slather on your choice of creams and oils.
¨ Moisturizer: Use Hyaluronic Acid + Native Snowflower Moisturizer during the daytime, then pamper your skin with Deep Moisture Hyaluronic Acid + Kangaroo Paw Night Cream as you catch your beauty sleep.
¨ Sunscreen (daytime): Sunscreen acts as a shield against the outside world (so you don’t end up applying all those products on your face for nothing).
Collagen for Skin FAQ’s
What does collagen do for the skin?
As a humectant, collagen is known to have excellent moisturizing benefits when applied topically on the skin. And while the entire collagen molecule is too large to penetrate the skin's epidermis, hydrolyzed collagen (i.e., collagen that's broken down into fragments) can potentially go so far as to the dermis layer to stimulate collagen production in the skin.
Can collagen be vegan?
In the past, collagen featured in beauty products has been derived from fish. But thanks to technological advancements, newer collagen sources can now be from plant sources or even bio-engineered – making them vegan (10). And, of course, in line with Terrakai’s 100% vegan stance, all our products are manufactured with vegan collagen (sourced from seaweed).
What skin type is topical collagen good for?
As collagen is a naturally occurring protein in the body, it’s typically suitable for all skin types.
Can collagen be combined with other ingredients?
Yes, it’s safe to use collagen with other ingredients (i.e., no known interactions).
Terrakai Skin Products that Include Collagen