Collagen is considered by many to be the elixir of youth. It is, in essence, the building block of youthful skin.

Collagen makes up approximately 30 percent of the structure of your skin. Absent this important protein, your complexion starts sagging, literally.

Every desirable characteristic of healthy, radiant skin is directly related to the collagen content of your skin. The more of this protein you have, the firmer, plumper, and healthier your skin looks.

“Collagen is what keeps our skin from sagging, giving us that plump, youthful look,” says dermatologist Doctor Ohara Aivaz.

The Role of Collagen in the Body

Collagen is a protein that is naturally produced in the body. It serves as one of the main building blocks for your bones, skin, hair, muscles, tendons, and ligaments.

The majority of collagen in our skin is in the dermis – the second layer of skin that is located beneath the epidermis – where it is also produced. Skin cells in the dermis (fibroblasts) form the collagen that holds the rest of the dermis together, providing your skin with its underlying structure.

Think of collagen as similar to a braid or rope. Individual amino acids connect to form long chains, and they fuse together to develop thicker strands. These strands twist and coil around each other to create triple helices. Those helices link end to end and stack on top of each other to form clusters called fibrils. In short, collagen is a complex and large molecule.

While our body produces collagen, it does decrease as we get older. About 75 percent to

80 percent of our skin is made up of collagen and, from the age of 20, we lose approximately 1 percent of collagen every year. This means our skin loses its elasticity as we age.

Can Collagen Cream Effectively Make Skin Appear Younger?

While collagen is heralded for its ability to heal wounds, it also plays an important role in how skin ages. When collagen levels are abundant, our skin looks young and fresh. When collagen levels decrease, we lose that support and wrinkles begin to form.

So, the question naturally arises of whether collagen creams can give us our youth back.

Collagen cream has been found to combat signs of premature aging, keep the skin hydrated, and lessen the appearance of wrinkles.

“I think you’ll get some activity with the creams, but not anywhere near what happens during wound healing,” says Sumayah Jamal, an assistant professor of dermatology at the NYU School of Medicine in New York City.

However, there is medical science that indicates that topical treatments such as retinol and tretinoin are proven to promote collagen formation. What’s more, antioxidants like vitamin C can even reverse the inflammation that causes damage to the collagen in your skin.

“From what we know now, people are likely to get more benefit from retinol or vitamin C skin care products than from a collagen-containing cream,” says Dermatologist Doctor Ohara Aivaz.

Collagen is a buzzword in skin care, but there appears to be mixed opinions from medical experts as to how effective collagen creams are. Some would even describe it as a controversy surrounding what collagen cream can and cannot do in topical products.

Some dermatologists argue that because creams formulated with pure collagen cannot produce the ambitious results that many consumers might expect because the huge-braided molecules are simply too big to penetrate the epidermis. As a result, these doctors contend, these molecules are much too big to penetrate into the dermis, the hub for collagen production in the skin.

“Your skin might feel softer and smoother or your wrinkles might look less prominent, but that is all an illusion – that is just what is happening on the surface,” Suzan Obagi, M.D., UPMC dermatologist and American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery president, told SELF Magazine.

In order to finesse the sizing dilemma, many lotions, potions, and pills extolling collagen as a main ingredient now-a-days actually contain hydrolyzed collagen, or collagen peptides.

Other prominent dermatologists believe, however, that some collagen creams containing the right ingredients do get the results people are looking for when it comes to a more youthful appearance.

“Topical preparations containing collagen help the skin look smoother because they help it retain water,” explains Lian Mack, M.D., assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital Center in New York City.

Mack is one of a number of medical experts who believe that collagen creams can in fact restore a more youthful appearance in some people.

“When skin cells are plump and fully hydrated, skin appears more supple and radiant,” Doctor Mack says. Plus, she adds that “collagen rebuilding products help the skin look more youthful because the more collagen we have in our skin, the less sagging we see, along with fewer lines and wrinkles.”

Doctor Mack, agreeing with some of her colleagues who are skeptical about the effectiveness of collagen creams, goes on to say that since collagen is a very large molecule, it has difficulty penetrating the skin’s surface when applied topically. “While applying collagen to the skin may not boost the amount of collagen within skin because it is unable to penetrate, there are ingredients that increase or prevent the break down of collagen,” she says. They include: 

Ø  Retinol (vitamin A) “prevents the breakdown of collagen by blocking the activity of certain enzymes in skin and it stimulates collagen production,” Doctor Mack explains.

Ø  Vitamin C protects the skin from free radicals, which prevents the breakdown of collagen from environmental stressors, she adds.

Ø  Safflower oil is rich in omega-6 fatty acids and “helps lift and preserve skin by preventing collagen degradation” Doctor Mack explains.

Other doctors, such as Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, recommend using “products that help stimulate new collagen production, like retinol, vitamin C, and hydroxy acids.”

When it comes to collagen topicals, we should opt for skincare products formulated with ingredients “that are proven to rev up collagen production,” rather than actual collagen, Doctor Zeichner says.

Consider other ingredients that will similarly bolster the health of your skin. For example, search for creams that contain hyaluronic acid and glycerin, which work to retain the water content in your skin, and will also help give skin a plump appearance.

Doctor Hadley King, a New York City-based dermatologist, suggests looking for ingredients like “squalene, fatty acids, and ceramides to smooth the skin and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.”

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