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Health & Fitness: #SkinSchool: How to stimulate collagen production

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If elastin gives skin spring, collagen provides the plumpness. Or lack thereof – since as we age our bodies make less of this protein that gives skin structure.

a close up of Kirsty Hume: From the limitations of collagen skincare and supplements, to the products and professional treatments that do work: here's how to stimulate collagen production © Agata Pospieszynska for Harper's Bazaar From the limitations of collagen skincare and supplements, to the products and professional treatments that do work: here's how to stimulate collagen production

“We all have a finite bank of collagen which begins to deplete from the age of 25 onwards,” explains Dr Sophie Shotter, skin and aesthetics expert, and founder of Illuminate Skin Clinic. “The more we top up this account, the better our skin will age.”

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The market for products that promise to increase our collagen is huge, with the new cohort of ‘collagen creams’ seemingly a good place to start. But regrettably, it’s not that simple, explains Dr Sonia Khorana, a GP with special interest in dermatology.

Do collagen skincare and supplements work?

“Skincare products with collagen are huge at the moment but it is important to note that collagen is a big molecule. It is unlikely to be absorbed through your epidermis and is unable to make its way down to the dermis where you actually need it.” Dr Khorana adds that skincare with collagen can help your skin feel moisturised – but it’s not going to build new collagen in your body.

So, if the benefits of topical collagen are misleading, what about ingestible collagen – another category causing a buzz in the beauty world right now. Holland & Barrett’s Sophie Rose reveals, “Collagen supplements have been one of our strongest areas of growth, with sales up by 63 per cent in the last 12 months.” From capsules and gummies to creamers for coffee, there’s innumerable options temping us into trying them.

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“The ideas is, when you take them, the building blocks of collagen flood the system and trick the body into thinking it has to repair and regenerate," explains aesthetic doctor Dr Vicky Dondos in her new book, The Positive Ageing Plan. "Whether the collagen you take leads to more collagen in the skin, I’m not 100 per cent convinced.”

Registered nutritionist Clarissa Lenherr is more optimistic, telling Bazaar: “One randomised, double-blind placebo study showed that after eight weeks of taking collagen, participants experienced increased skin moisture, and after 12 weeks saw decreased collagen disintegration.” But as she points out, supplements come with many factors that affect the outcome of taking them, including “bioavailability of the nutrient, delivery method, absorption and utilisation of the individual".

a close up of a piece of paper: Marine Liquid Collagen Drink © absolutecollagen.com Marine Liquid Collagen Drink

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If you do want to try supplementing, Lenherr recommends choosing a product containing hydrolysed collagen (such as Absolute Collagen), a form easier to digest and absorb into the bloodstream.

What Dr Dondos feels is more important, however, is what not to consume. “Avoid sugar and high GI foods,” she advises. “The process of glycation makes collagen fibres rigid, and also extremely difficult for your body to repair or replace.” To avert this ‘sugar sag’, know that “significantly lowering sugar in your diet for just four months has been shown to reduce glycated collaged formation by 25 per cent”.

Besides being virtuous with one’s diet, there are other methods proven to ramp up your collagen production: specific skincare ingredients which will act on the upper layers of the skin, and professional treatments which work at a deeper level by stimulating healing responses.

“In my opinion the best results always come from a multimodal approach, using a combination of products and treatments,” says Dr Shotter. She likens a good skincare system to an exercise regime – “it’s great and you’re keeping your skin fit. But if you also have in-clinic treatments, the equivalent of a personal trainer, you will be able to supercharge those results and achieve more”. Equally, there’s no point in just having the personal trainer without exercising in between. “Home skincare is essential,” she confirms.

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Here, the skin specialists explain the products and professional treatments that they recommend for collagen stimulation.

The best skincare ingredients for collagen stimulation

When selecting your home skincare, Dr Khorana confirms that these three ingredients can aid collagen production:

Vitamin A derivatives / retinoids

“There is abundant evidence that retinoids upregulate genes and cells involved in collagen and elastin fibre production and inhibit collagenase synthesis (the enzyme that breaks down collagen).

“Tretinoin is the most studied and prescribed synthetic derivative of the retinoid family and its topical application is proven to improve the appearance of photoaged skin by stimulating new collagen production in the dermal layer of skin.”

Vitamin C

“Topical vitamin C in the form of L-ascorbic acid with concentrations between five and 15 per cent is proven to have an anti-aging effect by inducing enzymes important for the production of collagen.”

Niacinamide

Niacinamide (vitamin B3) is frequently used in five per cent concentration as an anti-aging agent. In vitro studies [those occurring in a controlled environment] suggest that niacinamide increases dermal collagen production and slows the bonding of glucose and proteins in the skin that lead to cross-linked molecules such as cross-linked collagen. Whilst collagen itself gives the skin elasticity, cross-linked collagen molecules are stiff and rigid and therefore reduce the skin’s elasticity.”

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If you want a simplified way to include these ingredients in your regime, look for a product that combines vitamin C with niacinamide for the daytime, such as the Murad Rapid Age Spot Correcting Serum (worn under SPF); and a retinoid with niacinamide for the evening, such as the Dr Sam’s Flawless Nightly Serum.

Alternatively find the best retinoid, vitamin C and niacinamide products in our respective features dedicated to each ingredient linked here.

The best professional treatments for collagen stimulation

Dr Shotter adds that there are a number of non-invasive treatments used in clinics for collagen stimulation. These are her preferred methods:

LED

LED uses red and near-infrared light to stimulate the fibroblast cells within the skin. It is completely non-invasive and is a very relaxing treatment to have.”

Microneedling and radiofrequency

“Profound RF is a powerful collagen-stimulating treatment, combining microneedling and radiofrequency. It fires small needles into the skin which transmit radiofrequency, this momentarily heats the tissues, stimulating optimal denaturing of the skin’s proteins. The result is a doubling of collagen levels, a five-fold increase in elastin and boosted hyaluronic acid levels.”

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Laser

Lasers can also be used for collagen stimulation. Generally speaking, the best results will come from resurfacing lasers when looking to promote collagen production for treating acne scarring, for example.”

Profhilo

Profhilo is a hyaluronic acid treatment which we inject within the skin. We administer it at set points, from which it spreads through the skin like runny honey and stimulates collagen and elastin production. We do two or more treatments, each spaced between four to six weeks apart.”

Dermal fillers

“We also know that hyaluronic acid dermal fillers stimulate collagen production, although they do so to a lesser degree than fillers designed to stimulate collagen as well as to volumise. Products like this include Radiesse and Elanse, which contain ingredients like calcium hydroxyapatite or polycapronolactone which stimulate collagen production over a period of months.”

As with all professional treatments, only visit qualified, reputable and experienced practitioners. For injectable treatments, look to regulatory bodies BAAPS and BAPRAS for guidance, and below, see Bazaar's guide to some of the best in the business.

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