Collagen Supplements: Do They Really Work?
Many patients take collagen supplements lured by false advertisements, media, and promises of it being the fountain of youth. Usually available in drink form and costing up to $100 US per bottle, the supplements are not cheap, but they come with a lot of promises for prolonged beauty and general health. Our experienced family physicians have set out to dispel the myths surrounding these supplements.
Collagen is a natural protein found in the dermis that serves as a scaffold and the main building block for cells, tissue, and organs. Collagen, in conjunction with elastin, gives skin its strength, elasticity, and structure.
As one ages the body’s ability to produce collagen starts to diminish, and at the time of menopause or around the age of 50 most remaining collagen depletes at the rate of 1-2% a year. This process can occur much faster if there is chronic exposure to the sun. Smoking, stress, alcohol, recreational drugs and other environmental factors also break down the collagen.
Some of the false claims made by the manufacturers of collagen supplements are as follows:
- Reduction of wrinkles
- Increased hydration of the skin
- Lifting and tightening of the skin
- Improved skin elasticity
The fact is there is little evidence that collagen supplements do what they claim. Collagen is a protein that when ingested is broken down by the digestive acids in the stomach into amino acids to be recombined by the cells according to the body’s needs. There is no scientific proof that collagen supplements have any effect on skin health or appearance.
What about collagen in skin care products?
The collagen molecule in skin cream or lotion is too large to be absorbed by the skin—they simply lay on the surface of the skin and eventually get washed or rubbed off. The same is true for micronized collagen, which is meant to be small enough to be absorbed into the skin, but the fact is the collagen cannot really penetrate through the skin cells well enough to be of any benefit.
So how can we maintain the collagen we already have and find ways to stimulate our own collagen?
- Utilize a proper sun care regimen. Studies have shown that the best way to minimize collagen loss from the body is to protect the skin from the harmful rays of the sun
- Stop smoking cigarettes
- Reduce stress, get enough sleep, use proper hygiene, and avoid alcohol
- A healthy, well-balanced diet with plenty of antioxidants from fruits and vegetables can be very important for collagen production. Fruits containing Vitamin C, such as oranges, strawberries, and red peppers, potentially act as powerful ingredients for collagen production.
- Topical Vitamin A, also called retinol and retinoid acid, is considered to be the most powerful antioxidant, and often the vitamin can help slow down the degradation of collagen as well as boost new collagen production.
- Dermal fillers composed of hyaluronic acid and semi-permanent fillers such as Radiesse® have been shown in clinical studies to stimulate collagen production by surrounding the fibroblasts—the skin cells that produce collagen. The effects of these dermal fillers can last up to 12 months or more, though individual results will vary. We also have the advantage of smoothing out lines and folds and hydrating the skin by its ability to bind with the water in the skin.
- microneedling and radiofrequency technology is a safe and very effective treatment used to boost collagen production in the skin. The laser works by producing a control injury to the skin, and the collagen production is increased as part of the skin’s healing process.
- Other technology, such as Ultherapy®, all work by subjecting the skin to controlled thermal damage so that collagen renewal can be stimulated. Gradually, over a period of time, the skin tightens and results typically can be maintained up to 18 months.