What is collagen and why does it give us glowy skin?

The inside solution - because beauty lies within.

 

Robert Urich's quote “A healthy outside starts from the inside,'' is one of those sayings that just rings so true. It underpins the entire concept and newest trend in food and supplements targeting inside out beauty. One of the key ingredients popping up everywhere is collagen, but what is it, how does it work and how effective is it, really? 

 

The structure and function of skin

Before we get into the nitty gritty, we need to understand a bit more about the skin first. The skin is the largest organ of the body, is made up of 3 main layers; the epidermis, the dermis, and subcutaneous tissue.

The epidermis is the tough outer layer of the skin which is creates new skin cells. Within this layer, our skin pigment is created and acts as a protective layer to shield the body from the external environment. 

The epidermis is made up of five layers which continually generate new cells to replace the mature dead cells on the surface which are constantly shed. The shedding, or turnover rate declines as we age. This means it takes longer for new skin cells to reach the surface, from 20 days as young adults to greater than 30 as we become older.  

The dermis is the middle layer made up of fibroblasts, collagen and elastin fibres. This provides nutrients, physical support, strength, structure, hydration and flexibility to the skin. The dermis layer also contains hair follicles, sweat glands, sebaceous glands, apocrine glands, lymphatic vessels and blood vessels. 

Collagen and elastin in the dermis are arranged in woven dense fibres which provide the dermis with the ability to stretch and contract. Around 70% of the dermis is made up of collagen proteins. Collagen fibres exist in a constant state of flux, being degraded by proteolytic enzymes and replaced by new collagen fibres.

The subcutaneous tissue connects the skin to the underlying bone and muscle. It is a layer of connective tissue and adipose tissue (fat) which is used mainly for fat storage as well as insulation and cushioning for the dermis and epidermis.  

 

The effect of ageing on skin

As we age, the body’s ability to replenish collagen naturally decreases by about 1.5% per year. This results in stiffening and breakage of the remaining collagen fibres, along with thickening and fraying of the elastin fibres. This degradation impacts the skin’s structure, elasticity and firmness, resulting in the appearance of aged and wrinkled skin.  

 

So what is collagen, really?

Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body, found in the bones, muscles, skin, and tendons. It constitutes one-third of the total protein found within the body and makes up three-quarters by weight of dried skin. 

A collagen molecule is made of three polypeptide chains, wound together in a tight triple helix and looks like a twisted rope. These collagen molecule chains are made up of amino acids, featuring glycine in combination with any 2 other amino acids. The most common partners are proline and/or hydroxyproline. Many collagen molecules then assemble together to create a collagen fibril, and many more fibrils then assemble to form the strong collagen fibre used by the body.  

There are many different types of collagen. Around 80 to 90 percent within the human body belong to types 1, 2, and 3. Type 1 collagen is the most common type of collagen in the body and is the main structural component of hair, skin and nails. 

For this reason, type 1 collagen is best known for providing the foundation for beautiful skin, as well as strong connective tissues and sturdy bones. Collagen fibres are constantly being degraded and regenerated, but this ability naturally decreases as we age. Supporting this regenerative ability is therefore a great target to address when combating premature aging.  

Collagen supplementation replaces lost collagen and is an effective way to support the body’s innate ability to produce collagen. Supplemental collagen is derived from the bones, skin and connective tissue of animals (i.e. cows, pigs and fish). 

However, as we have discovered, collagen is a very large and complex molecule which means that the body has to work hard to break it down. There’s also no guarantee that it will break the whole collagen fibres it into the ideal amino acid patterns most beneficial for beautiful hair, skin and nails. This is where hydrolysed collagen peptides come in.

 

What are Hydrolysed Collagen peptides?

Hydrolysis is the process of using water (hydro-) to break (-lysis) substances into smaller pieces. In this case, water is used to break large collagen fibres into free amino acids and smaller chains of amino acids, called peptides. The process of hydrolysis is very important, as in this case, size does matter, the smaller the better. 

Breaking collagen into smaller chains allows for free amino acids as well as some peptides to bypass digestion completely. Hydrolysis also makes it easier for the peptide chains to be digested, absorbed and distributed throughout the body, in this case to the dermal layer of the skin. Once in the dermis, the free amino acids act as the building blocks for new collagen and elastin. The collagen peptides bind to receptors to stimulate the production of new and thicker collagen fibres, elastin and hyaluronic acid.  

Because hydrolysed collagen peptides have undergone processing to yield the ideal amino acid chains to support collagen production, they have very specific amino acid compositions with a high concentration of glycine, hydroxyproline and proline. When hydrolysed collagen is ingested, its superior bioavailability means that the hydroxyproline peptides are not completely digested and can be detected in the blood. These hydroxyproline peptides stimulate cells in the skin, joints and bones, and with vitamin C, lead to collagen synthesis. 

 

So, the next obvious question is, does supplementation with collagen work?  

 

Research shows that hydrolysed collagen peptide supplementation;

  • Decreases age related collagen degradation as well as the number of facial wrinkles, wrinkle area and wrinkle depth. After 8 weeks, participants had more taut and supple, less wrinkled, youthful skin (Inoue, Sugihara & Wang 2016); 
  • Increases the moisture content of the skin whilst decreasing sebum production after 6 weeks, resulting in decreased dryness, oiliness and acne (Matsumoto et. al. 2006);
  • Suppress UVB-induced damage to the skin and the effects of photoaging, decreasing the potential for premature aging from UV exposure (Tanaka, Koyama & Nomura 2009);
  • Protect and promote the formation of both type I and III collagens within the body (even though it is just a type I itself) (Liang et. al. 2010);
  • Enhance wound healing time and wound strength (Zhang et. al. 2011); and
  • Acts as an antioxidant against free radical damage. This means it can prevent cellular damage or help to repair damage done to cells and other tissues in our body due to oxidative stress (Halim, Yusof & Sarbon 2016).

 

But, it really comes down to the saying “the proof is in the pudding” or eating in this case, so you need to be your own judge. We believe once you give it a go, you will be pleasantly surprised by the differences you can see and feel, just like we, and many others, are.  

 

Figures adapted from Kim (et. al. 2018).

 

Bibliography

  • Halim, N, Yusof, H & Sarbon, N 2016, ‘Functional and bioactive properties of fish protein hydolysates and peptides: a comprehensive review’, Trends in Food Science & Technology, vol. 51, pp.24-33.
  • Inoue, N, Sugihara, F & Wang, X 2016, ‘Ingestion of bioactive collagen hydrolysates enhance facial skin moisture and elasticity and reduce facial ageing signs in a randomised double‐blind placebo‐controlled clinical study’, Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, vol. 96, no. 12, pp.4077-4081.
  • Jia, Q & Nash, J 2017, ‘Pathology of aging skin’, in Farage M, Miller K & Maibach H (eds.), Textbook of Aging Skin, Springer, Berlin, pp. 363-385.
  • Kim, D, Chung, H, Choi, J, Sakai, Y & Lee, B 2018, ‘Oral Intake of Low-Molecular-Weight Collagen Peptide Improves Hydration, Elasticity, and Wrinkling in Human Skin: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study’, Nutrients, vol. 10, no. 7, pp. 1-13.
  • Kolarsick, P, Kolarsick, M & Goodwin, C 2011, ‘Anatomy and physiology of the skin’, Journal of the Dermatology Nurses' Association, vol. 3, no. 4, pp. 203-213.
  • Liang, J, Pei, X, Zhang, Z, Wang, N, Wang, J & Li, Y 2010, ‘The protective effects of long‐term oral administration of marine collagen hydrolysate from chum salmon on collagen matrix homeostasis in the chronological aged skin of sprague‐dawley male rats’, Journal of food science, vol. 75, no. 8, pp.H230-H238.
  • Matsumoto, H, Ohara, H, Ito, K, Nakamura, Y & Takahashi, S 2006, ‘Clinical effects of fish type I collagen hydrolysate on skin properties’, ITE Letters on Batteries, New Technologies & Medicine, vol. 7, no. 4, pp.386-390. 
  • Tanaka, M, Koyama, Y & Nomura, Y 2009, ‘Effects of collagen peptide ingestion on UV-B-induced skin damage’, Bioscience, biotechnology, and biochemistry, vol. 73, no. 4, pp.930-932.
  • Zhang, Z, Wang, J, Ding, Y, Dai, X & Li, Y 2011, ‘Oral administration of marine collagen peptides from Chum Salmon skin enhances cutaneous wound healing and angiogenesis in rats’, Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, vol. 91, no. 12, pp.2173-2179.