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Collagen : Inside and Out

Collagen Helix 3D Image

All you need to know about the Collagen craze.

written by Dr Kesiree Naidoo

3D Collagen Strand/Helix
3D Collagen Strand/Helix

Before we begin, what is collagen?

Why is it important and why is there a sudden surge of interest in collagen?

Collagen is a protein composed of three chains of amino acids, wound together in a tight triple helix. Each of these chains are over 1400 amino acids long and form ‘ropes’ that strengthen the tendons and sheets that support our skin and internal organs. Collagen provides structure to our bodies, protects and supports the softer tissues and connects those tissues to the skeleton.

There are many different types of collagen in the human body and at least 25% of the body consists of collagen. Each type of collagen has a particular function in the body. Collagen type 1, 2 and 3 make up 80-90% of the collagen in the body.

Type 1 Collagen is considered to be the strongest and the most abundant type of collagen that is found in tendons, ligaments, organs and the dermis of the skin. It is very important for wound healing and gives skin its strength and firmness. 

Type 2 Collagen primarily helps build cartilage and connective tissue. The health and function of our joints depends on type 2 collagen.

Type 3 Collagen is usually found with type 1 and is a major component of the extracellular matrix that makes up our organs and skin. It also helps give skin its firmness, forms part of the walls of blood vessels and is an important component of the heart tissue. 

Type 4 Collagen has the important job of forming the basement membrane of the skin and the epithelial tissue that surrounds organs, muscles, fat, nerves and blood vessels. In the skin the basement membrane lies between the epidermis and dermis and forms a protective barrier to the outside environment. 

So why the big fuss?

As we age the collagen in our body, including the skin, degrades and deteriorates by at least 1% annually. This is due to various intrinsic factors like genetics, cellular and metabolic processes and hormones, as well as extrinsic factors like excessive light exposure, radiation, chemicals, toxins and pollution.

Collagen supplementation is relatively new, and was initially met with scepticism as collagen is a protein and it is still not clear how an oral collagen can bypass the digestive system to be available where it is needed. But slowly the critics including myself are being convinced that while it is still not clear how it works, collagen supplementation may be possible. Certainly, the evidence is growing and the results are visible in my practice.

It is becoming apparent that starting collagen supplements from as early as age 30 will help slow down this degeneration.

What is the difference between a protein and peptide?

Peptides are short chains of amino acids which are the building blocks of proteins.

A chain of less than 100 amino acids is called a peptide while a longer chain is called a protein eg. collagen.

Does topical collagen benefit the skin ?

The skin being external is in a unique position to benefit from both topical applications as well as oral supplements.

The tricky thing is that collagen molecules are too large to penetrate the skin topically and reach the dermis. The skincare industry has instead focused on Ingredients that can ‘boost’ collagen production in the dermis. Topical anti-oxidants, retinoids , signaling peptides and carrier peptides have been shown to enhance the skin’s own production of collagen by acting as messengers that stimulate collagen production pathways. 

Additionally, hyaluronic acid which is a component of the dermal matrix in which collagen fibres lie can be applied topically with some demonstrable benefit. 

Hyaluronic Acid acts as a sponge which draws water to it and plumps up the epidermis to make the skin look plumper, hydrated and less wrinkled. Hyaluronic Acid also promotes healthy collagen by keeping the dermal collagen hydrated and nourished. 

Signal peptides also known as matricins or collagen stimulators are important for wound healing. But some are also antioxidants, anti-inflammatory and pigment regulating.

Signal peptides slow the ageing process by stimulating the proliferation of fibroblasts leading to increased production of collagen and elastin in the skin. They also inhibit the breakdown of collagen and elastin.

Carrier Peptides in the skin transport trace elements like copper and manganese which are important for wound healing and collagen synthesis.

Copper Tripeptide is the most well-known and best studied carrier peptide which also functions as a signal peptide. Copper Tripeptide is a versatile ingredient in skincare as it has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. It aids in regeneration of new skin and improvement in wrinkles and skin moisture.

Some of our favourite topical collagen boosting products are: 

Should you take oral collagen supplements?

Oral collagen supplementation is usually in the form of hydrolyzed (broken down) collagen. Most collagen supplements are derived from high protein foods like beef, pork and fish, respectively called bovine, porcine or marine collagen.

To aid oral collagen supplementation, collagen proteins undergo a process called enzymatic hydrolysis breaking down the large collagen protein into water soluble, easily digestible and easily absorbable peptides and amino acids. 

Peptides may be oligopeptides, tripeptides or dipetides depending on how the collagen is broken down. Further these peptides are made of predominantly amino acids proline, glycine and hydroxyproline. 

Some argue that you could supplement your collagen by simply increasing your protein intake or making a nutrient rich bone broth to add to your meals. Oral collagen supplementation seems to be a hassle free, quick and effective way to increase your collagen. In addition to this other vitamins and minerals like vitamin C, copper and manganese which are essential for collagen production may also be supplemented. 

Oral collagen has various emerging benefits for the body. It has been reported to improve hair growth, strengthen nails and assist with joint problems, whilst plumping up the skin. When oral collagen is used in conjunction with topical collagen boosting products this enhances the skin’s natural production of collagen.

Oral collagen supplements come in various forms ie. liquid, powder or capsules.

Absortion varies according to the formulation. The jury is still out regarding which form has the best absorption and bioavailability. Choose a product that you prefer to ensure that you take it regularly and are able to reap the benefits. 

Dr Kesiree Naidoo recommends:

Proactive Liquid Collagen. It comes in two flavours, strawberry and lemon and contains Vitamin C, amino acids like Proline, Glycine and Arginine and Hyaluronic Acid. All the things that you need to enhance, optimise and activate collagen production. 

This month we have also launched the Beauty Network Collagen powder which can be added to a smoothie or coffee.

As dermatologists we would like a vast amount of scientific evidence to validate our recommendations to our patients. This is not always possible as evidence takes time to accumulate and emerges with more use of the supplement.

There are numerous studies that demonstrate that oral collagen supplements do reach the skin with measurable benefit. The problem is that there are so many products, not all of them are of the same quality and the studies reporting efficacy are not always of the product that is available . So we do need more evidence and we need some measure of the quality of the products that are available.

My advice is, that if the supplement is safe, you can certainly try it and hopefully become part of the growing evidence that collagen supplementation is possible and beneficial.

For further information or if you have any queries pop us an email at [email protected]

  • Resources : Oral Collagen Supplementation : A Systematic Review of Dermatological Applications
  • Franchesca D. Choi BS R Ph, Calvin T. Sung BS, Margit L.W. Juhasz MD, Natasha Atanaskova Mesinkovska MD PhD.
  • University of California, Irvine, Kaohsiung Medical University Taiwan, University of California Riverside School of Medicine.
  • Nikita Jhawar BS1 / Jordan V. Wang MD, MBE, MBA2 / Nazanin Saedi MD2
  • J Cosmet Dermatol. 2019;001-3
  • J Drugs Dermatol. 2019;18(1):9-16.

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