Johannesburg - Collagen stimulation is well known as the secret to younger-looking skin, but it has been grabbing more of the spotlight recently due to the increasing number of celebrities who tout it as the elixir of their youth.
Gwyneth Paltrow, for one, has claimed that a collagen heating treatment – using a combination of ultrasound and radio frequency waves to heat underlying layers of skin, which apparently breaks down worn-out collagen and stimulates the production of fresh new collagen – has taken years off her face.
Collagen supplements make similar claims to rejuvenating the skin, but from the inside out, as you take them orally.
The latest product to hit South African shores, Collagen Lift, is a daily drink that its makers claim increases your collagen densities and reduces wrinkles by up to 50 percent.
They say it has been clinically proven in trials in Germany and France and that trials in South Africa have shown the same results.
According to the manufacturers, women who participated reported that, within three weeks, their skin was brighter and faces smoother, and that after eight weeks, there was an all-around, marked improvement in the skin on the face and neck, with reduced lines, plumped-out eye area and fewer crow’s feet.
So what is collagen and why would drinking a collagen supplement work?
Collagen is a jelly-like protein found in our bones, muscles and tendons as well as skin, hair and nails. It is part of the connective tissue in the skin that keeps it looking plump and youthful, and is vital for skin elasticity, as well as driving skin cell renewal.
When we’re young, our skin is made up of 80 percent collagen, but after the age of 25, we lose it at the rate of about 1 percent a year. Also, the body’s capacity to regenerate collagen reduces. It’s a double whammy for ageing skin – during the first five years of menopause, women may lose as much as 30 percent of their collagen.
Collagen is an ingredient in many skincare brands, supposedly working to enliven your skin after you apply it, but most dermatologists say its molecules are too big to penetrate below the surface. They are a little less sceptical about collagen that you ingest, and the results of new products like Collagen Lift look promising.
Most experts agree that after the collagen is ingested, it is broken down into amino acids, then the body reuses it as it needs, as it would from natural collagen in a well-balanced diet.
Dr Graham Duncombe from Skin, Body & Health Renewal notes that oral collagen products haven’t proven scientifically that they are absorbed, even at low molecular weights.
Vincent Note, director of Prolong Life, a company marketing Collagen Lift in South Africa, says that the presence of collagen in your diet doesn’t mean your body is absorbing it. “There are more than 20 different types of collagen in your body, and Type 1 is the most important for your skin. Collagen Lift contains only Type 1 collagen together with seaweed extract and Vitamin C, to ensure maximum absorption when consumed on an empty stomach.
“Collagen in food is also poorly digested with large molecules that are difficult to absorb, whereas the collagen in Collagen Lift is ‘bioavailable’, meaning it has very small molecules that are easy to absorb,” he says.
Dr Stefanie Williams, medical director at European Dermatology London, told the London Daily Mail recently that after scrutinising the data, she found that after the molecules in collagen drinks are broken down, the fragments are absorbed into the bloodstream and distributed through the entire body, including the skin, where small fragments remain for up to 14 days.
“Then comes the interesting bit: Your body is essentially tricked into thinking that these fragments indicate collagen breakdown – as would happen with a big tissue injury, for instance – and repair is urgently needed. So it stimulates fibroblasts to produce more collagen, elastin and hyaluronic acid – the compounds that give our skin its youthful qualities,” she said.
Williams says “collagen drinks actually work by persuading our bodies to synthesise new collagen”.
Medical mysteries aside, the anecdotal evidence is persuasive, as other testimonials from the South African women in the trial agree that they love the product and that it works.
Note says Collagen Lift works best for women over 40 and especially well in women after menopause.
“The older you are, the quicker you will see the results because there is less collagen in the skin. The product benefits the entire body, not only the face. So the neck, hands and skin in general will get a boost. It also works well for dry skin and redness, which is where Botox and facelifts offer no benefits,” he says.
I tried out a few ampoules of Collagen Lift, drinking them with water, and the liquid is quite palatable, although it would be much better disguised in juice. They come in a chunky box with a month’s supply, and you have one daily. You can drink the supplement daily over the long term, assures Note, as all the ingredients are safe and well tolerated by the body.
* Collagen Lift is available online and at selected Clicks and beauty salons countrywide for R680 per box of 28 ampoules. For more information, visit www.collagenliftparis.com.
* Solal also sells a collagen supplement called Collagen Plus, in capsules. It retails online for R207. Visit www.solal.co.za.