Collagen doesn't have to be a mystery

Many people have heard of collagen, but few actually know exactly what it is and its importance for our skin

I started pondering collagen recently when a friend on social media posted about her new favorite moisturizer — L’Oreal Collagen Moisture Filler (Target, $8.99). More on that later — for now, let’s think about the collagen.

Do you know what collagen is? I mean — do you REALLY know what collagen is? I realized I had ideas about collagen, but I did not actually know what it is.

The term collagen is tossed around in beauty blogs, marketing pitches for lotions and potions and has found its way into the world of supplements. But what is it?

Collagen is a protein that binds tissues together. According to WebMD, it is often called the body’s scaffolding. I found a number of dermatologists who referred to it online as the “glue” that holds our bodies together. Collagen is found throughout the skin, deep in the dermis. It is especially concentrated in connective tissues such as cartilage, bones, tendons and ligaments.

When thinking of collagen as it relates to beauty, girlfriends I informally surveyed thought that collagen provided plumpness and lessened wrinkles in facial skin. Collagen makes up from 75 percent to 80 percent of our skin, according to New York City-based dermatologist Dr. Debra Jaliman. She says that we begin losing collagen starting around age 18, and by the time we are 25 we lose more collagen than we produce.

Gulp. That means I am nearly 30 years past my collagen prime.

So what can be done about collagen depletion? Collagen levels rely heavily on Mother Nature, but there are some things we can do to delay the inevitable.

PREVENTING COLLAGEN LOSS

Healthy lifestyles help promote collagen retention – or at least slow down the natural depletion of collagen. Many of these tenets are good practice for all aspects of our lives:

• No smoking

• No secondhand smoke

• Using broad-spectrum sunscreen (and reapplying!)

• Being conscious about sun exposure

• Keeping stress levels down

COLLAGEN IN BEAUTY PRODUCTS

Collagen fillers were thought to be the Fountain of Youth at one time. Their effects, however, were not long lasting and sometimes caused allergic reactions. Though some collagen fillers are available, they have mostly fallen out of favor in lieu of hyaluronic acid fillers like Restalyne and Juvaderm.

Topical collagen treatments abound, though. Google collagen serums and you will find a zillion options.

When researching the effects of topical collagen, though, the jury is most definitely in: collagen molecules are too large to penetrate the dermis.

Good moisturizers that include collagen in their name or ingredient list still may help your skin look better, but not because of the collagen. Collagen guru Kat Burki, creator of Form Control Marine Collagen Gel says, “Collagen used topically is primarily for benefits such as improving the texture of the skin and temporarily filling in fine lines and wrinkles.”

CONSUMABLES

Consuming collagen is nothing new; in fact, you have most likely been ingesting collagen in one form or another most of your life. Gelatin is a form of collagen and is present in marshmallows, ice cream, bone broths and coatings for capsules.

The topic of collagen consumables was where I found the most professional debate — are there possible benefits? Is consumable collage for beauty — or other health benefits — pie in the sky? Doctors, supplement gurus and consumers were all over the board. There are safety concerns about collagen as a supplements – whether ground up animal parts absorb high levels of metals or whether hooves, hides and nerve tissues from cows carry bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE – also known as mad cow disease).

WebMD recommends looking for companies that get their bones and tissues from cage-free, free-range and antibiotic-free sources and to shy away from mixtures that pack in too much —like collagen plus probiotics, for example.

TWO COLLAGEN PRODUCTS I TRIED

As I mentioned, a friend posted about L’Oreal Collagen Moisture Filler on social media and I of course decided to give it a whirl. The product has great reviews overall, and I have to agree that it leaves my skin feeling moist and supple for an extended period of time without feeling greasy. I have had a number of friends make positive comments on my skin lately, which helps, too! Plus, the price point is fantastic!

I also tried several collagen masks — the sheet kind that is readily available in the beauty section of TJ Maxx and along the north wall of Ulta. These masks are ready to be applied to clean skin and make you look just like a Storm Trooper (bonus). Based on my collagen research, I don’t think they did anything more than provide extra moisture, but it was nice to have a reason to lie back and let the collagen solution marinate on my face!

Finally, I have just started taking the NeoCell Super Collagen + C (Amazon, $12) supplement, recommended by Dr. Jaliman, and will report my findings to you in my next column.