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Do collagen creams work?

Here’s the truth about collagen: slathering it on your skin won’t do anything to boost collagen levels. Surprised? It may seem shocking, given how many collagen creams exist out there, but science says it’s pretty much impossible. Collagen is a big molecule – much too big to get through your epidermis, let alone way down to the dermis where you actually need it. 

That’s not to say collagen creams won’t make your skin feel any better – many of these creams contain useful moisturising ingredients like glycerine and hyaluronic acid, which temporarily plump up your skin (a wonderful thing of course, but it ain’t gonna rebuild your crumbling collagen levels).

This is what you need to do instead

While the evidence is clear that collagen cannot penetrate the skin, there is another dermatologist-recommended way to boost collagen levels in your complexion: using high-grade cosmeceutical ingredients that are scientifically proven to stimulate your body to produce its own collagen. Your body is clever like that.

What actives, specifically?

There is abundant evidence that skincare actives, such as ascorbic acid (vitamin c) and niacinamide (vitamin B3), can help stimulate collagen production. You’ll need whizz bang amounts though, so we highly recommend using skincare with ingredients like native Australian Kakadu Plum, which is an absolute antioxidant powerhouse (it has about 100 times more vitamin C than oranges). Your skin needs a good dose of this daily because vitamin C isn’t stored for long periods.

Why is collagen such a big deal for skin anyway?

Collagen is essentially the building block of youthful skin. In fact, it accounts for around 30 per cent of the structure of your skin. Without this vital protein, your complexion literally starts sagging.

So I don’t need to worry about collagen loss until I start seeing lines, right?

Whoa! Don’t wait that long. Collagen loss actually starts pretty early. Research suggests that we lose around 1 per cent of our dermal collagen every year from the age of 20. Then it’s a steep downhill slope once we hit menopause – about 30 per cent of the skin’s collagen is lost in the first five years of menopause. You can’t avoid losing collagen later in life, but if it’s strong and healthy, you’re ahead of the curve. 

Should I eat collagen-rich foods?

Meat is a good source of collagen, though some research suggests that marine collagen is easier for your body to absorb than the collagen from red meat. It’s the same deal as with skin – collagen molecules are big, so your gut can’t just absorb them straight up, they need to be broken down to make it bio-available. The amount of collagen you absorb will also depend on other individual factors, such as how efficient your digestive system is at breaking down the collagen you consume.

What if I’m vegan?

The good news is that your body is pretty excellent at making its own collagen if you’re eating a healthy protein-rich diet and getting the right balance of vitamins and minerals. Research suggests that vitamin C can help improve collagen synthesis, so vegan-approved foods such as kiwi, oranges, strawberries, broccoli and red capsicum should be high on your list. Combine this with topical vitamin C (which doesn’t need to get past your digestive system first) and you’ll know your skin isn’t missing out on this vital antioxidant.

What about a collagen supplement?

It’s an easy way to boost your collagen intake (green smoothie anyone?!), but make sure it’s a brand that contains protein from a sustainable source, preferably marine collagen. We’re big fans of Optima Nutricosmetics because they use MSC certified marine collagen that is ethically sourced from North Atlantic waters, and has a low molecular weight to help make it bio-available. As well as supporting your skin to build more collagen and elastin, it also protects against free radical damage (it packs an antioxidant punch) and contains prebiotics, probiotics and soothing aloe vera to improve gut and skin health

Love the skin you’re in

Collagen isn’t just in your skin, it’s also a vital part of bones, joints, muscle and ligaments. Your body is incredibly clever, so it will send any collagen you absorb to wherever it is needed most. In reality, that might not always be your complexion (you might, at that particular moment, need it more in your joints or for wound healing, for example). One thing we are certain of though: give your body the support it needs, inside and out, and you’ll see the difference in your skin (hello glow!).


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