If you’ve ever searched for a cream or serum to help fight the signs of aging, chances are you came across information on collagen and collagen supplements.
Collagen plays a huge role in aging, and research in recent years has sprung up around how we can repair it and boost it to turn back the clock.
If you’ve ever wondered exactly what collagen is and how it works to slow aging, read on. Here we dive into the science behind collagen and the best topical ingredients to look for in order to boost your levels.
What is Collagen and Why is it Important?
Collagen is the most abundant protein in our body, where its fibers make up a large percentage of your ligaments, tendons, bones, muscles, organs, skin, and more. It provides structural support to tissues by creating a matrix-like link of fibers that, in essence, “hold everything in.”
This is one of the reasons collagen has been all the rage in the anti-aging beauty world. As we age, collagen begins to break down due to stress, lifestyle, and environmental factors, which weakens this supportive matrix, causing sagging and wrinkles. When we boost our collagen, we often notice more supple and taut skin like we had when we were younger.
Major research has emerged in recent years supporting the idea that rebuilding collagen could be a literal fountain of youth for our skin, with studies showing women who take collagen supplements for as little as eight weeks can experience less skin dryness and a significant increase in skin elasticity. One even found that women who drank a beverage mixed with collagen daily for 12 weeks experienced increased skin hydration and a significant reduction in wrinkle depth compared to those who didn’t take collagen. [*][*]
Topical Ingredients Can Also Boost Collagen
Collagen supplements aren’t the only way to stimulate collagen production, however. It turns out topical ingredients can also pack a powerful punch while helping to repair the top layers of skin (And bonus: if you pick a product with these ingredients, you can seamlessly add collagen-boosting into your daily skincare regime. A time-saving win).
We’re breaking down the top ingredients you should look for in any anti-aging serum, cream, or body lotion, and how they work.
Best Topical Ingredients to Boost Collagen
1. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is a powerhouse when it comes to giving collagen a boost. It is found in high levels in the top layers of skin, the dermis, and epidermis. When we age or are exposed to high amounts of sun or chemicals and environmental pollution, these levels begin to drop, reducing our built-in protection.
Applying vitamin C topically can not only help add this protection back and fight DNA damage from the environment but has also shown in studies to directly boost the synthesis of collagen. It is an essential cofactor of the two enzymes required for this synthesis: prolyl hydroxylase to stabilize the collagen molecules, and lysyl hydroxylase to give strength to the cross-linked structure of fibers. [*] This leads to stronger collagen fibers, which can translate into more tone and tautness in the skin.
DMAE, or dimethylethanolamine, is an organic compound that has shown a lot of promise in the field of anti-aging. Researchers have found that DMAE increases dermal (skin) thickness and collagen fiber thickness, as well as increasing hydration in the skin. Increasing the thickness of fibers and skin can help repair and protect against thinning skin and breakdown since the fibers will be stronger (think of the difference between thick, strong hair and thin, brittle hair than breaks easily). [*]
Studies also show that DMAE in a concentration of 1% to 5% can produce an increase in tone in as little as 20 to 30 minutes when applied to facial skin. [*]
Methylsulfonylmethane, or commonly known as MSM, is a compound containing sulfur that is naturally found in plants and humans. MSM’s potent collagen-boosting benefits are thought to come from its sulfur content since sulfur is a key component of collagen. As such, giving the skin proper amounts can aid in the building and strengthening of its fibers. Additionally, sulfur is also a building block of keratin, which is another compound that makes up our hair and nails.
Studies show MSM can improve crow’s feet, firmness, tone, and texture in the skin. However, some of these studies have patients orally supplementing with MSM as well, which may be a more effective option than just using a topical alone. A one-two collagen boost from the inside out, if you will.
4. Vitamin E
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble antioxidant that has been widely used in anti-aging products for decades, and for good reason. Research shows it helps protect skin from sun damage at a cellular level and also helps heal sun damage by fighting oxidative stress, which creates breaks in our DNA. [*]
In terms of collagen, vitamin E can help preserve fibers by preventing damage from free radicals generated by oxidative stress. Studies show that free radicals can significantly damage collagen and lead to rapid aging while reducing them can help preserve it, which could preserve youthful skin. [*]
5. Hyaluronic Acid
Hyaluronic acid (HA) is a molecule responsible for maintaining moisture in your skin and keeping your joints and tissues lubricated. When it is abundant in your body, your skin appears hydrated, plump, and supple; however, like collagen, hyaluronic acid levels also drop due to free radical damage and aging.
When our skin lacks HA, it can become dry and less “springy,” which can lead to more damage. Again to use an analogy, think of a wet noodle versus a dry one: which one breaks easier when bent?
Studies show that boosting hyaluronic acid not only helps prevent this damage and reduces the appearance of wrinkles and crow’s feet but can also help promote collagen production. [*] This leads to another anti-aging one-two-punch for HA: increased skin strength and elasticity from collagen, and increased elasticity and suppleness from HA itself.
How to Use Collagen Boosting Ingredients
The easiest way to add these collagen-boosting ingredients to your regime is to look for a serum or cream that has at least one, but preferably a combination of several, of each ingredient.
Before choosing, however, be sure to look for a brand that is also chemical and fragrance-free, and made with only natural ingredients. This can help reduce damage to your skin further, helping to nourish it with only the purest oils and butter.
Don’t Forget Diet
What you eat is just as important as what you put on your skin when it comes to building collagen, so try to add several of these foods to your daily or weekly menu. Each is rich in vitamin C, sulfur, and vitamin E, which works with topicals to give collagen a boosting from the inside out.
- Sweet potatoes
- Leafy greens
- Sunflower seeds and almonds
- Cruciferous veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage)
- Pasture-raised eggs and wild fish (if not vegan)
Have you tried a serum with one of the topical ingredients we mentioned? How did you like it? Share with us below!