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Collagen supplements, collagen drinks, collagen powders, collagen creams… it seems we’ll get it any way we can. Collagen is billed by the cosmetic industry as the paragon of vitality, and a direct line to bouncy cheeks, a defined jawline, and a megawatt glowing complexion. It’s little wonder we’re so greedy for it, but can we absorb any more of it than we already have? Or are we simply falling for an elaborate collagen con?
Collagen is the sexiest word in health and beauty and the hype isn’t showing any signs of plateauing. The global collagen market is currently estimated to be worth $4.1 billion with projections to reach $5.3 billion by 2026. Claims of what collagen can do for us are superlative; plumper skin, pain-free joints, improved bone density, increased muscle mass, better heart health, even a more balanced gut.
“Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body. So many parts of our bodies rely on a good supply of collagen,” says Dr. Ahmed El Muntasar, widely known as The Aesthetics Doctor. “Collagen has become the Holy Grail of beauty and we are always looking for more of it.”
And yet, we’re watching it slip away from us. We’re born with plenty of collagen, babies are brimming with it, (oy, those bouncing shiny cheeks and squidgy skin) and we remain well stocked up to a certain age. But with time, our collagen production becomes much less efficient. “From our 20’s onwards, we start losing our collagen and by the age of 50, you've lost about 50% of your natural collagen reserves. Then by the age of 75, you’ve lost that same percentage of collagen,” warns Dr Ahmed.
The brazen culprit is collagenase; an enzyme our bodies continually produce that although part of a normal immune response, inadvertently eats away at our natural collagen reserves. Combine that with external aggressors such as prolonged stress, cigarette smoking, UV radiation and air pollution and collagen is steadily zapped from the body, its presence most noticeably diminishing from the face.
Collagen is a protein consisting of amino acids, synthesised in fibroblast cells throughout the body. It’s found in our skin tissue, bones, ligaments, vital organs, even present in blood vessels. "There are 28 different types of collagen, but we’re predominantly concerned with the five main types. Type four is the hard scar, rough collagen; type five collagen is found in the hair; but type one is what we want for vibrant skin and a youthful appearance," explains Dr Ahmed. "It's that soft collagen that's in healthy, supple skin."
Much like keratin, collagen gives skin its structure, elasticity, resilience and waterproof quality but whereas keratin is more solid, forming nails and hair, collagen is the adhesive element of connective tissue.
Crucially, and somewhat shockingly, peer-reviewed collagen trials are funded by the brands that make them. “This is certainly a grey area of medicine where there isn’t sufficient research to support whether these collagen products improve things or not. Many of these collagen drinks and powders contain other ingredients such as zinc and vitamin C that support your natural collagen so you don’t lose it as much," confirms Dr Ahmed, who says the science behind the supplements - and whether they help produce more collagen - is "somewhat shady. There is new research emerging that explores the concept of at the right formulation and the right molecular weight, there could be a way to get the body producing more collagen but I don’t think it will be anywhere close to the life-changing amounts that people might expect."
Moreover, even if you did somehow manage to concoct the perfect synthetic collagen, you still couldn’t control where it goes. The body is highly adept at directing nutrients to where they’re most needed and vital organs are at the front of the queue. Ergo, you could end up with a tip-top, shiny pancreas but still be troubled with a sagging jawline.
“If collagen supplementation did anything, LYMA would contain collagen,” says founder Lucy Goff. Goff has spent years campaigning for full transparency in the nutraceuticals market and raising awareness of only using evidence-based supplements. All ingredients formulated into The LYMA Supplement contains patented, independently proven and rigorously peer-reviewed ingredients and dosage by independent scientists around the world. “Until the science proves collagen supplements work, we won’t bother. Instead, we include Cynatine® HNS, a form of natural keratin peptide that the body can actually use, and peer-reviewed studies have shown it improves skin smoothness by 80% after 90 days. It doesn’t just boost your skin either – studies have shown huge improvements in hair shine, nail strength and wrinkles after taking Cynatine® HNS too.”
1. Living a collagen-positive life
Having a healthy diet is very important and there are foods high in collagen, proteins and good fats which can contribute - chicken, fish, egg whites, legumes, garlic, nuts, avocados and green veggies. Also vitally wearing SPF to prevent UVA sun damage which triggers premature ageing on the face and the accelerated breakdown of collagen.
2. Lasers that restore collagen reserves
Lasers are often touted as the best way to stimulate collagen in the face but courses of medical grade clinic laser treatment take months, cost thousands, entail significant downtime and come with a hefty ouch factor. The LYMA Laser is the antithesis of the traditional ‘no pain, no gain’ laser approach and demands no such compromises. Two internal diffused lenses disperse the 500mw central beam of light 25,000 times across a 3cm lens. Because the light is dispersed so many times, it removes all the heat from the laser without altering the structure of the light. What you’re left with coming out the other end, are still coherent fragments of light, able to penetrate through the fat and muscle tissue beneath and have a physiological effect without damaging any cells whatsoever. “Our LYMA Laser works to produce collagen in a much more effective way than a collagen supplement would - by reviving the battery cells in the skin using photobiomodulation. The Laser causes every layer of skin to produce what it needs to look fresher and younger for longer. By bringing decades of scientific research into lasers into the hands of our customers, we give them the chance to give their skin an advantage that collagen never could,” Goff explains. Light energy able to travel deep into the skin to switch the control centres of ageing collagen cells back on? This is surely the future of collagen coercing?
3. Collagen face creams
Much like collagen supplements, collagen face creams aren’t a proven route to restoring bounce to your skin either. Collagen molecules are too large to penetrate the skin barrier but other ingredients are worth using to enhance your own collagen production and protect your reserves: Vitamin C (L ascorbic acid), zinc and Retinol can help to protect your existent collagen.
4. Collagen injections
What about injecting collagen directly into your face to keep skin plump? Bypassing the gut and short-cutting it directly into your bloodstream? It’s a viable alternative to dermal fillers and Dr Ahmad certainly believes it can work. Treating his clients with a targeted, injectable collagen stimulating treatment called Ellanse, developed by Sinclaire Pharma, he places a cannula under the skin for a more even distribution.
“It’s a synthetic bio-stimulator of collagen; skin engulfs the formula and makes balls of collagen around it. It’s not a new technology, in fact it’s been used in rehabilitation joint treatment for years but now it’s been adapted for cosmetic reasons for the face. It can only be performed by a doctor or a prescribing nurse because for a profound lifting effect, you need to inject deep into the skin, almost to the bone, to reach the collagen producing cells. Patients tell me their cheekbones are more pronounced, their skin feels thicker and has more bounce.”
Results take three months to kick in and can last for up to four years. (Ellanse treatment with Dr Adhmed costs £450 per ml and 2-3 ml is an average treatment dose).
When you’re looking into obtaining additional collagen stock, bovine or marine collagen are alternative sources. Cowhides have been shown to possess type one collagen but - understandably - many people don’t love the idea of consuming it. Marine collagen from discarded fish skins is more sustainable and therefore has become increasingly popular. Both forms - whether in pills, liquids or powders - have to pass through the gut and are often broken down before being of any marked use, so are commonly hydrolyzed to get closer to a form that’s more bioavailable to the human body.
Until the bright scientific minds develop a proven, patented, peer-reviewed and synthetic form of collagen that is fully bio-compatible with the human body and guaranteed to traverse directly to the face, it’s probably not worth ingesting any collagen products. Rather than being wooed by the newest collagen breakthrough, you’re wiser to direct your efforts into preventing the breakage of your natural collagen in the first place. Slowing down the rate at which our inbuilt collagen reserves decline through positive lifestyle choices is a more assured route to keeping collagen than anything you can buy off the shelf.