Beauty may be only skin deep, but so is collagen. And without this structural protein’s contribution to our dermal matrix, much of what we consider beautiful about skin—its tautness, its smoothness, its elasticity—would slip away.
So it makes sense that collagen may be one of the most important ingredients to include in beauty formulations, topical or ingested.
But getting U.S. consumers to see the beauty, so to speak, in collagen won’t happen overnight, as the perception persists that collagen is mainly a joint- and bone-boosting ingredient. Only with a focus on science, efficacy, and innovative delivery—and perhaps with a reputational lift from Asia’s trending nutricosmetic scene—can we effectively push collagen more firmly into our own beauty mainstream.
Under the Skin
There are plenty of reasons to be bullish on collagen. As Frank Engel, global market development manager for Peptan, Rousselot (Mukwonago, WI), puts it, “Collagen is the leading driver for innovative beauty products due to its long, established reputation on the global nutricosmetics market”—a market, he adds, that’s set to rake in an estimated $7.5 billion by 2024.1
And collagen’s nutricosmetic reputation is hardly a matter of hype, for not only is it one of the most ubiquitous proteins in the body; it’s a fundamental component of skin’s very architecture.
Fully 70% of skin’s dry mass is collagen, which—along with the glycosaminoglycan hyaluronic acid (HA) and the protein elastin—form a network that keeps skin elastic and hydrated. As Susan M. Piergeorge, MS, RDN, LDN, a nutritionist for NeoCell (Irvine, CA), says, “You can think of collagen as a type of internal mesh of strands sewn together within your tissues and organs that provide structural support.”
Of collagen’s more than two dozen “types”—categorized by their size, function, and amino acid makeup—type I, and to a lesser extent type III, appear to participate most in maintaining skin’s health and appearance. Indeed, Engel notes, type I collagen accounts for three-quarters of our bodies’ dermal structure.
But beginning in one’s twenties, Engel continues, “The skin cells known as fibroblasts that are responsible for collagen production become less active.” Further, crosslinking of collagen fibers, often in response to oxidative assault or exposure to compounds known as advanced glycation end products (AGEs), renders the fibers stiff and less functional. The upshot, says Engel, is that the collagen matrix “progressively disintegrates, leaving the skin dehydrated, thinner, and prone to wrinkles.”
Short and Sweet
While some degree of collagen deterioration is inevitable, it by no means need be unstoppable, as the track record for collagen supplementation bears out—or, more accurately, as the track record for supplementation with collagen peptides—the short, highly digestible, bioactive byproducts of collagen hydrolysis—bears out.
Collagen peptides send specific signaling messages to connective tissue cells, Engel explains, and “one of those messaging functions sends a false signal to the body that collagen degradation has occurred, activating the synthesis and reorganization of new collagen fibers.” Production of HA and elastin also upregulate in response to these signals. A clinical study awaiting publication found that daily consumption of Rousselot’s branded Peptan collagen peptides increased dermal collagen density, reduced perioral and periocular wrinkling, strengthened hair, and made pores less visible.2
From the Inside Out
It’s no accident that the study obtained its results via oral supplementation, for despite the prevalence of topically applied collagen products, “recent scientific evidence confirms that the highest efficacy comes when collagen is ingested orally,” says Heather Arment, marketing coordinator, North America, Gelita (Sergeant Bluff, IA).
Not currently the Western norm, oral supplementation with nutricosmetic collagen is de rigueur in Asia, and one could argue that supplementation’s effectiveness has made collagen a trusted ingredient in that part of the world.
“In Japan and China, collagen is widely popular and has long been praised for its rejuvenating and antiaging properties,” Engel notes. And though collagen’s standing in the U.S. still rests on its sports nutrition benefits, “that perception is starting to shift and consumers are becoming more aware of collagen’s beauty-from-within properties,” he says.
- Global Industry Analysts Inc. “Increasing Emphasis on Oral Supplements for Maintaining and Enhancing Physical Appearance to Drive Growth in the Nutricosmetics Market.” Published March 2018.
- Campos MP et al. “Oral intake of collagen peptides for the improvement of skin and hair aging: a clinical study using non-invasive imaging techniques and evaluation of mechanical properties.” Submitted for publication (2019).