Collagen Creams: Do they work?

No anti-ageing cream is complete without mention of collagen whether that’s collagen inside of a cream or the benefits of included ingredients on existing collagen levels. There’s no dispute – a person’s collagen health is of extreme importance to the structure and integrity of youthful looking skin. But what is collagen? Can collagen creams help stop skin from ageing? How do collagen creams work? Are collagen creams worth buying? How do collagen creams perform versus other anti-ageing skincare actives?

During the course of this collagen creams review, we’ll be revealing the answers to all 3 questions.

What is collagen?

Collagen is one of the most important structural proteins inside of the skin. In fact collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body1. Collagen is a type of polymer – hyaluronic acid is another example of a polymer, polymeric ingredients are ingredients which have a significant amount of repeating/identical units bonded together. This is important to remember when discussed in the benefits of collagen creams – a point we’ll speak about very soon.

Of the 28 genetically different forms of collagen, skin contains predominantly collagen type I and III. 85 to 95% of skin’s collagen content is type I and 10 to 15% is type III.

Collagen alongside elastin form a scaffolding frame for skin. Collagen acts as the primary support and elastin acts to provide rebound. This interaction can be thought of similarly to a trampoline with collagen being the metallic supporting structure and elastin being the elastic cord which allows the trampoline to bounce without wrinkling or creasing.

It is known that collagen levels decrease with age and exposure to UV light. Aged skin shows evidence of collagen fragmentation, a reduction in total collagen count and a decreased cell-collagen interaction. Damaged skin i.e. photoaged skin, exhibits the most extreme reduction in collagen level. However, notably, even in individuals who regularly use sun protection, at age 80+, collagen production decreases by an average of 75% as compared to 18 to 29 year olds2.

When skin’s collagen levels fall or are damaged, skin’s supportive structure is not integral and skin, therefore, is easily susceptible to the development of fine lines and wrinkles, skin laxing and skin sagging.

Different types of collagen used in collagen creams

If skin’s collagen levels naturally fall with age, can they be replaced with collagen creams? Can collagen creams help reverse age-related changes within the skin? There are 3 distinct types of collagen used in collagen creams and it’s important to distinguish between them because each has different benefits for skin;

· Soluble collagen

· Hydrolysed collagen

· Collagen amino acids

The difference between the above 3 forms of collagen is predominantly their molecular weight or size. Soluble collagen is the largest kind of collagen and can be thought of as the most similar to that found inside of the skin.

Soluble collagen as used in collagen creams and has an average molecular weight of around 300, 000. Hydrolysed collagen is a mixture of collagen fragments which have had many of their bonds cleaved to form a mixture of collagen peptides and amino acids with an average molecular weight of around 12, 000. Collagen amino acids are a form of collagen which has been almost completely cleaved. Collagen polymers are made up from amino acids units and therefore collagen amino acids have the smallest molecular weight circa 1503.

Note: Collagen amino acids will have very different benefits for skin than soluble collagen because both ingredients contain very different molecules.

Can collagen be absorbed through the skin?

Skincare ingredients with a small molecular weight are most likely to penetrate the skin. Skincare ingredients with a high molecular weight i.e. soluble collagen and hydrolysed collagen are most likely to work by sitting on top of the skin or by residing in the very top few layers of skin.

Take for example soluble collagen with a molecular weight of 300, 000, when such large molecules are applied to the skin, they’re unable to be absorbed deeply i.e. they’re not able to reach layers of skin where native collagen molecules reside. Collagen creams containing soluble collagen are therefore mostly acting as occlusive moisturisers/film forming moisturisers.

Occlusive skincare ingredients work by forming a second barrier on top of the skin. By doing this they can reduce trans-epidermal water loss and therefore increase skin hydration.

Collagen creams containing collagen amino acids, however, may be absorbed more deeply by the skin. The depth to which they may be absorbed is dependent not only on the molecular weight of collagen amino acids but also on the overall collagen cream formula.

Overall learning: Collagen creams containing soluble collagen and hydrolysed collagen are not deeply absorbed by skin instead being active by forming a second skin barrier. Collagen amino acids, however, may absorb more deeply.

What does collagen cream do to your skin?

Although collagen is an integral and well-known skin protein, collagen hasn’t been used to treat skin topically or investigated for topical skincare benefits until very recently. There is, therefore, a lack of published study data on the benefits of collagen creams for the skin.

The 3 most well-studied benefits of collagen creams for skin include;

· Hydration/ reduction of trans-epidermal water loss (TEWL)

· Antioxidant and therefore anti-ageing benefit

· Accelerated wound healing

One of the most vital functions of the skin is to prevent water from escaping. Many of the biological mechanisms skin requires to remain healthy are healthily active only when in an optimally hydrated environment. Not only does proper hydration allow full functioning of skin it also acts to cushion skin helping skin to resist fine lines and wrinkles. Studies show when soluble collagen is applied to the skin it can form an invisible to the eye film i.e. a second skin barrier. In doing so soluble collagen creams help to prevent and reduce TEWL. There is also mention that soluble collagen creams may help to prevent skin being damaged by surfactants – ingredients commonly found in face wash and cleansers e.g. SLS4.

Collagen creams containing soluble collagen can therefore by methods of hydration and protection help increase skin’s smoothness, moisture content and overall condition.

Note: collagen creams may also provide a temporary soft and smooth feeling of skin due to the formation of a continuous colloidal film on top of the skin. This feeling is temporary and will be removed with washing5.

Collagen creams may also have antioxidant benefits and could, therefore, help protect skin against ageing and environmental stress. Studies show that during the use of collagen creams, when skin is exposed to UV light the usual decline in skin activity is reduced and significantly prevented. It is proposed that the protective effect of collagen creams is due to their amino acid content which may have strong antioxidant activity6.

Hydrolysed collagen which can absorb more deeply than soluble collagen may also help to accelerate wound healing. Published studies show collagen gel can not only promote a rapid closing of wounds, but it can also help decrease the initial inflammatory phase – this could be helpful for people prone to acne scarring or post inflammatory hyperpigmentation. It is known that wound healing is delayed by the presence of free radicals and therefore the wound healing benefits of collagen creams may be attributable to collagens antioxidant and a protective film forming qualities.

Collagen amino acids may also be able to help replenish skins natural moisturising factor (NMF)7. Amino acids are a component of the skin’s NMF which acts to condition, protect and hydrate skin. Therefore using collagen creams containing amino acids – which may penetrate the skin more deeply may have a more sustained and long-lasting effect on skin hydration.

Does collagen cream tighten skin?

Collagen creams may produce a temporary skin tightening effect due to an increased skin hydration. When skin is hydrated it becomes smoothed and plumped therefore well-hydrated skin can help resolve the first signs of ageing such as superficial fine lines.

Collagen cream can however not tighten skin by increasing or replacing the collagen content of skin. Due to the high molecular weight of collagen polymers, they are unable to reach the deep layers of skin which contain collagen. Tightening benefits experienced as a result of using collagen cream is a result of hydration benefits. This, therefore, means the skin tightening effects of using a collagen cream may only continue with sustained and regular use.

Is collagen good for your face?

As a skincare ingredient collagen is close to being skin-identical, it is therefore well tolerated even by people with sensitive skin. Application of collagen cream also does not interfere with skin pH8 and therefore collagen cream is protective of skin’s overall health.

While the benefits of topically applying collagen cream to a person’s face are not well established. The known about collagen cream benefits i.e. skin hydration, antioxidant capacity and accelerated wound healing should not be underestimated. The most important function of any moisturiser or serum is to hydrate the skin. A person’s face, in particular, may be prone to dehydration due to environmental factors such as UV light exposure, wind, low humidity, and frequent washing. When skin is well-hydrated skin can function optimally, this means skin behaves youthfully, becomes more elastic, can resist fine lines and wrinkles and exfoliate/desquamate at a healthy rate, therefore, preventing uneven skin tone and texture.

Note: Both oily and dry skin types can suffer from dehydration, therefore collagen creams are suitable for all skin types, even the most sensitive (when collagen is the primary active ingredient).

Learning: Collagen creams can help correct dehydrated facial skin while also helping protect facial areas against environmental stress and premature ageing.

Can you replace lost collagen?

Collagen creams which use soluble collagen or hydrolysed collagen as the main active ingredient are not known to able to replace lost collagen. Collagen creams may, however, protect existing collagen against degradation from environmental factors due to collagens antioxidant benefits.

Collagen levels within the skin can, however, be increased by topical application of other skin care actives for example;

· Retinol or derivatives of vitamin A

· Vitamin C

Note: Both vitamin C and retinol are active skincare ingredients with low molecular weight. This means they may penetrate to layers of skin where collagen is present.

Studies show for instance that UVA induced skin ageing and collagen damage can be repaired with application of a retinaldehyde cream (a form of vitamin A) at even low concentrations of 0.05%9.

Retinol is the most well studied anti-ageing skincare active and is most likely to be found in skincare as; retinol, retinaldehyde, hydroxypinacolone retinoate.

Natural sources of retinol include; rosehip oil and bakuchiol.

Vitamin C is also known to help stimulate skin’s collagen levels. Vitamin C is a vital ingredient for collagen health. This is known because vitamin C deficiency causes scurvy. Vitamin C creams can help protect existing collagen levels while also helping to increase skin’s overall collagen level10. Rosehip oil is found in our products so has a powerful dose of Vitamin C, which will make you look radiant.

Vitamin C may be found in skincare as; ascorbic acid, magnesium ascorbyl phosphate, ascorbyl glucoside, ascorbyl tetraisopalmitate, ethylated ascorbic acid.

Natural sources of vitamin C include; berry extracts, bilberry leaf extract, pomegranate extract, algae.

Learning: While collagen creams can help improve the appearance of skin, collagen creams do not do this by boosting or replacing collagen levels. Collagen can be helpful for protecting skin against premature signs of ageing however effective anti-ageing skincare should contain additional collagen boosting actives such as vitamin C.


Sources and references

  1. Sionkowska, A., Skrzyński, S., Śmiechowski, K., and Kołodziejczak, A. (2017) The review of versatile application of collagen. Polym. Adv. Technol., 28: 4–9. doi: 10.1002/pat.3842.

  2. Varani J, Dame MK, Rittie L, et al. Decreased Collagen Production in Chronologically Aged Skin : Roles of Age-Dependent Alteration in Fibroblast Function and Defective Mechanical Stimulation. The American Journal of Pathology. 2006;168(6):1861-1868. doi:10.2353/ajpath.2006.051302.

  3. Croda Collasol M PE Darasheet, www.crodapersonalcare.com

  4. Sionkowska, A., Skrzyński, S., Śmiechowski, K., and Kołodziejczak, A. (2017) The review of versatile application of collagen. Polym. Adv. Technol., 28: 4–9. doi: 10.1002/pat.3842.

  5. Role of protein in cosmetics. Gianfranco Secchi, Clin Dermatol. 2008 Jul–Aug; 26(4): 321–325. doi: 10.1016/j.clindermatol.2008.04.004

  6. Effects of collagen and collagen hydrolysate from jellyfish (Rhopilema esculentum) on mice skin photoaging induced by UV irradiation. Yongliang Zhuang, Hu Hou, Xue Zhao, Zhaohui Zhang, Bafang Li, J Food Sci. 2009 Aug; 74(6): H183–H188. doi: 10.1111/j.1750-3841.2009.01236.x

  7. Natural moisturizing factors (NMF) in the stratum corneum (SC). I. Effects of lipid extraction and soaking. Marisa Robinson, Marty Visscher, Angela Laruffa, Randy Wickett, J Cosmet Sci. 2010 Jan–Feb; 61(1): 13–22.

  8. Marine sponge collagen: isolation, characterization and effects on the skin parameters surface-pH, moisture and sebum. Dieter Swatschek, Wolfgang Schatton, Josef Kellermann, Werner E. G. Müller, Jörg Kreuter, Eur J Pharm Biopharm. 2002 Jan; 53(1): 107–113.

  9. Repair of UVA-induced elastic fiber and collagen damage by 0.05% retinaldehyde cream in an ex vivo human skin model. S. Boisnic, M. C. Branchet-Gumila, Y. Le Charpentier, C. Segard, Dermatology. 1999; 199 (Suppl 1): 43–48. doi: 51378

  10. Topical vitamin C: a useful agent for treating photoaging and other dermatologic conditions. Patricia K. Farris. Dermatol Surg. 2005 Jul; 31(7 Pt 2): 814–818.