September 20, 2021

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Why Applying Collagen Topically Won’t Fight Fine Lines

Do you start group chats about the best scalp treatments? Google AHA vs. BHA exfoliants until the wee hours? You’re our people. And we know you’re going to love The Science of Beauty, a series on Allure.com that goes deep into the how and why behind your favorite products. For even more nerdiness, check out The Science of Beauty podcast, produced by our editors.

Powders, teas, lattes, gummies —  ingestible collagen seems to come in every delicious form possible lately. However, the jury is still out on their efficiency, Connecticut-based board-certified dermatologist Mona Gohara tells Allure. Collagen for skin via serums, moisturizers, and eye creams have filled out shelves, too, but its topical benefits are just as dicey. Board-certified dermatologists shared with Allure why the collagen in skin-care products isn’t fighting wrinkles and plumping skin in the ways you think it is. 

What exactly is collagen? 

To fully understand why implementing collagen for skin, one must understand what collagen is. Collagen is one of the most abundant proteins in mammals as the main component of connective tissues. You can find it in almost every part of our bodies: bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons, eyes, teeth, and even blood vessels. “It is the scaffold that gives these tissues structure,” Gohara explains. 

As we age, our bodies start to produce less and less collagen, and the quality of it lowers, too, says board-certified dermatologist Corey L. Hartman, who is based in Birmingham, Alabama. In turn, wrinkles form, and skin sags. (Stress, as well as lifestyle and environmental factors also contribute to collagen’s decline, adds cosmetic chemist Ron Robinson of BeautyStat.com.) 

Topical collagen, on the other hand, is not the same as the collagen our bodies naturally produce — it’s a synthetic version that isn’t readily absorbed by skin, Gohara says. Historically, collagen featured in skin-care products has been derived from fish, but vegan collagen formulas are popping up on the market. “Newer collagen sources can be bio-engineered or from plant sources,” cosmetic chemist Ginger King tells Allure.  

What are the benefits of collagen topically? 

In theory, the goal of collagen in skin-care products is to strengthen existing collagen and smooth out wrinkles, as well as increase firmness, hydration, and elasticity. However, in practice, all topical collagen truly does is moisturize skin, King says. And even in that case, “sometimes, it may work, other times, it may not,” Gohara adds