Collagen Skin Care Credibility

Today, skin care has become increasingly more popular in the beauty market. Places like Sephora and Ulta carry many brands and trends that follow what is popular while also carrying items that have affordable prices, high end prices, and/or attractive packaging. For example, Korean Beauty, better known as K Beauty, has become overwhelmingly popular in the United States. That being said, an ongoing trend of skin care claiming to contain collagen to promote skin quality and “bounce” has been in the market, driving sales for both men and women. Considering that collagen is naturally made in our bodies, how does putting skin care products with collagen on the surface of our skin help (if they even help at all)? Moreover, what is the difference between our own self made collagen compared to the ones in beauty products?

What is collagen exactly? Collagen is one of the most important proteins that our body produces in order to help it stay intact (Cobb, 2017). It is our biological “glue”. This form of collagen is best known as endogenous collagen which is best defined as collagen that is naturally made by one’s body (Cobb, 2017). It can be found in all parts of the body and is most observed in the bones, skin, and muscles (Goddard, 2018). Aside from “gluing” the body together, collagen also promotes new skin formation and recovery when the organism sustains an injury  (Cobb, 2017). There are about sixteen forms of collagen and they all have unique functions that helps the organism function best (Cobb, 2017).

Structures of proteins tend to look messy and this applies to collagen as well. Collagen proteins are typically packed into long fibrils (Cobb, 2017). This means that many little proteins come together and condense to form a long strand. This long strand will then further condense with other collagen strands by wrapping to form a fibril. While to the naked eye this protein fibril is extremely small and is unable to be detected unless with special equipment, it is essentially large to our body in terms of the cellular world.   

Considering that collagen is so important to us, why is collagen in skin care under skepticism? The collagen that is seen in skin care is typically synthetic collagen. This form of collagen is called exogenous collagen (Cobb, 2017). Typically, such skin care products can be purchased in drugstores and beauty stores without any prescription. Because these products are so widely sold, do they really work?

To better understand how they would work, the natural characteristic of skin and cells should be elaborated. Skin is made up of tissue which are made up with very tiny cells. Cells are the base to all living organisms. This includes bacteria, plants, fungi, animals, and humans. Human cells are actually categorized under animal cells. Animal cells do not have a cell wall. A cell wall is usually a steady outer covering that protects the whole cell. Cells with cell walls also have a cell membrane which is a delicate but protective layer found surrounding organelles (mini parts of the cell) and holding the cell together. All cells without a cell wall still have a cell membrane. Bacteria and plant cells have cell walls. Fungi may or may not have cell walls as it depends on the type of fungus. Animal cells however, do not have cell walls and therefore only have cell membranes as their most outer coverings. Cell membranes are semipermeable which means they allow certain molecules into the cell and others are blocked off. Examples of molecules that often enter and leave your cells are water and salt. This acts as protection so that no pathogens or large molecules can randomly enter the cell without proper selection first.

As a refresher, exogenous collagen is synthetic or obtained from other organisms (most popular one  are pigs). Collagen in general are large fibril molecules and therefore cannot enter nor leave the cell due to the cell’s semipermeable membrane. Due to this, applying collagen onto the face does no favor to the individual as the collagen molecules are too large to even be absorbed into the skin. To further look into this, several MDs and PhDs conducted extensive research on collagen used in beauty products where they utilized rats to tests collagen skin care (Aust et al., 2008). After, they observed for changes in the epidermis, melanocytes (proteins that create melanin in skin), and pigmentation markers (Aust et al., 2008). In short, only the pigmentation markers were seen to increase but everything else stayed about the same. The research team concluded, then, that collagen therapy is not very successful (Aust et al., 2008).

References:

Aust, M., Reimers, K., Repenning, C., Stahl, F., Jahn, S., & Guggenheim, M. et al. (2008). Percutaneous Collagen Induction: Minimally Invasive Skin Rejuvenation without Risk of Hyperpigmentation—Fact or Fiction? Plastic And Reconstructive Surgery, 122(5), 1553-1563. doi: 10.1097/prs.0b013e318188245e

Cynthia Cobb, A. (2017). Collagen: What is it and what are its uses?. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/262881.php

Goddard, S. (2018). Will taking collagen supplements *really* make you look younger?. Retrieved from https://www.netdoctor.co.uk/beauty/skincare/a29497/do-collagen-supplements-work/

Swatschek, D., Schatton, W., Kellermann, J., Müller, W. E., & Kreuter, J. (2002). Marine sponge collagen: isolation, characterization and effects on the skin parameters surface-pH, moisture and sebum. European Journal of Pharmaceutics and Biopharmaceutics, 53(1), 107-113.

Michelle Yip