[By Debbie Lim]

Collagen is a long, fibrous protein which together with Elastin and Keratin forms the connective tissue of the skin. This tissue layer literally “connects” the skin components together and is responsible for skin elasticity and strength. The appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, skin thinning, and age spots, all occur as a result of the collagen breaking down in the skin.

“As we age, our body’s natural production of collagen declines, usually starting in our early 20’s” according to Dr Kenneth Lee of The Sloane Clinic. “As much as possible, we should protect existing collagen by avoiding sun exposure and not smoking, in addition to taking some proactive measures to increase its presence in the skin.”

Here are the ways we can do this:

Skincare Products

It would seem fairly logical that applying collagen directly to the skin would increase its collagen levels. However this is not the case. In order for a skincare product to be effective, it has to makes its way through the outermost layer of skin, and collagen is just too large a molecule to do this. “Applying collagen topically may make your skin feel smoother, but it’s not going to do much more than that” says Dr Lee. “Instead use products that contain collagen stimulating ingredients, such as peptides, growth factors and Retin-A, which signal the skin to make more collagen and is far more beneficial”.

Anti-agers found in cosmeceuticals that can boost skin collagen include:

  • Vitamin C- Triggers the skin to generate more collagen
  • Amino acids- Helps to strengthen and improve collagen quality
  • Copper peptides- Known to stimulate collagen production and incite proper wound healing
  • Growth factors- Encourages fibroblasts (collagen producing cells) to make new collagen
  • Sirtuins- a new skincare ingredient that’s being tested for collagen stimulation


Injectable fillers like Restylane and Juvederm cause the body to form new collagen around them due to its physical effects on the surrounding fibroblasts” says Dr Lee. “These days, multitasking fillers are used to plump up wrinkles, give skin support as well as encourage new collagen formation in the lower levels of the skin. That’s why even after the filler has completely broken down, there is still some residual improvement because of the presence of collagen around the product”


When the skin is wounded, whatever the cause, a healing response is spurred that results in new collagen being created. Dr Lee: “When the skin is cut for example, and the body’s natural mechanisms are used in healing, new collagen is created to plug the gap. So borrowing from this principle, cosmetic treatments including no-downtime procedures like Intense Pulsed Light and Thermage all result in a net increase in skin collagen.  Generally it takes around 3 to 6 months before you notice a significant improvement. The skin will feel smoother, tighter and firmer as a result, signaling that collagen has been created. But like anything, you have to maintain the results since the skin continues to age”.


The inside-to-outside approach is always a good bet for health and beauty. Cold water fish, such as salmon, sardines, cod, mackerel, and tuna are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids that keep skin soft and supple. Eating three to four ounces at least twice a week gives you good amounts of these essential fatty acids.

Garlic contains sulfur, which helps your body produce collagen. Garlic also contains taurine and lipoid acid, which support damaged collagen fibers.

Tomatoes are rich in the antioxidant lycopene, which inhibits collagenases. Collagenases are enzymes that destroy collagen. While many foods have higher nutrient values when they are eaten raw, tomatoes actually contain greater amounts of lycopene when they are cooked. Enjoy liberal doses of stewed tomatoes, tomato sauce, marinara sauce, and spaghetti sauce.

Conversely, steer away from foods like simple carbohydrates and processed foods, as they have been linked to inflammation which can result in the malformation of collagen. Avoid sugar; it binds to the skin’s protein. Once these bonds are made, damaging structures are created that destroy collagen, which leads to wrinkles and formation of free radicals.

But how about eating collagen? The practice of ingesting the protein to fight the effects of aging has been going on in the homes of Japan for years; Suppon is a meal of soft-shell turtle and is regarded as somewhat of a delicacy there. Men have always eaten it in a bid to boost their sexual performance, but women are now giving it a try because it’s so rich in collagen.

Other dishes naturally loaded with collagen include chicken and fish skin, shark fin and pigs’ feet. Collagen as an additive is tasteless and clear and is used in everything from noodles to nabe. These collagen fondue pots have been popular since their release in Japan in November 2008. Collagen is also added to some sweets. A Japanese company called Eiwa makes marshmallows that pack 3,000 milligrams of collagen into each fluffy ball.

So what about the effects? Unfortunately, collagen has never been proven to have greater cosmetic benefits than other proteins. During digestion, collagen breaks down into amino acids just like every other protein, so touting collagen as a skin super food is a bit of a reach. In fact the British Skin Foundation claims that eating collagen does not benefit the skin in any way…. Trust the Brits to rain on our parade!


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