Skip to content

Collagen in your skin vs. collagen on your skin vs. collagen in a pill. Or in chicken soup.

  • The collagen in your skin is a treasure you must take good care of.
  • Collagen on your skin? It could help. Collagen in pills? Not at all.

Let’s look at collagen and what it does for your skin.

From my book:

What is collagen?

Collagen is a protein, its very complex fibers (see figure) give the skin resistance to strain and traction. Collagen constitutes about 70% of skin mass, but total collagen decreases about 1% per year. It may look like a small decline, but as such a major component of the skin it will affect skin volume and its physical properties. Also, aging changes collagen structure. What was an organized pattern in young skin, becomes an assembly of disorganized bundles of thick fibrils in older skin. It is not only quantity, it is also quality.




Figure. Collagen structure. From:  MJ Buehler (2006) Nature designs tough collagen: Explaining the nanostructure of collagen fibrils.  PNAS August 15, 2006 103 (33) 12285-12290


We know that aging decreases skin thickness and elasticity, and it is likely that collagen is a good part of the solution. If we care about slowing down and reversing skin aging, we should care about collagen too. Because collagen is such a major constituent of the skin, the objective should be to stimulate its synthesis, and preserve the collagen protein in an active, organized structure.

Chemically, we want to prevent glycation, the attachment of sugar moieties to the protein amino acids, a modification that affects protein function. The fibroblasts are the main cells in the dermis. They specialize in producing two types of proteins, collagen and elastin, which are a major part of the extra-cellular matrix.

Collagen is synthesized by fibroblasts, initially as procollagen alpha chains on membrane-bound ribosomes. The alpha chains then interact to form a triple-helical molecule after hydroxylation of proline and lysine amino acids. Stability is further enhanced by disulfide cross-linking. The procollagen is then packaged into secretory vesicles that move to the cell surface. At the cell membrane, procollagen peptidases cleave the procollagen into collagen.

Collagen is a structural, long-lived protein. Even if synthesis decreases, the total content may not decrease much, it will depend on how much collagen was hydrolyzed by protease action. Proteolysis is not bad in itself, it is good for the skin to eliminate proteins whose structure and properties have been modified beyond usefulness.

Skin aging means, mostly, photoaging. To see the net effect of UV on skin aging, compare the outside of your arm with the underside, a skin area you don’t usually expose to the sun. UV radiation increases the synthesis of proteases, including collagenase, and this is likely to be a reason why collagen decreases after UV irradiation. Natural aging decreases collagen synthesis and increases the expression of matrix metalloproteinases, whereas photoaging results in an increase of collagen synthesis and greater matrix metalloproteinase expression in human skin in vivo. Thus, the balance between collagen synthesis and degradation leading to collagen deficiency is different in photoaged and naturally aged skin. A good part of the changes in collagen related to aging seem to be associated with decreased levels of estrogen.


Please note that when I talk about increasing collagen or protecting its structure, it’s all about what happens inside the skin, not outside. So how much does collagen applied topically work? First of all, collagen is an insoluble protein, you cann’t dissolve it in water and apply it as a cream. The way this works is that collagen (from fish, usually, only animals make collagen) is first broken into little pieces, called peptides, and then mixed into a cream. Even in this form, the skin can’t use it. First it has to be broken into amino acids by proteases in the skin, and only then it can be used to make collagen by your own skin fibroblasts.

Once you understand this, you can also see how useless it is to take collagen in pills. The amino acids in this collagen pills may never actually get to see your skin. Your GI system will first have to break this collagen into amino acids which will then be distributed all around the body, and good luck to your skin in getting anything out of it because the skin is not a priority in your body. The heart and lungs, etc. are. If you are not a vegan, have some chicken soup so that you can at least enjoy your food. Collagen pills (100 mg or 1 gm or 10 grams) will do nothing for you. Or, to be precise, for your skin. Collagen pills will provide some protein (requirement for an adult is about 60 grams per day) but you can get nicer tasting protein from proper food. Conversely, applying the amino acids directly to your skin will bypass all the other targets the body will prioritize over your skin..

Because collagen has to be broken down before it can be used by the skin, this is good news for vegans: we have a Skin Actives serum that contains the amino acids your skin needs to make collagen. These amino acids are obtained by fermentation so they are perfect for vegans.  For non vegans, just use our original collagen serum. Both serums are equivalent in effectiveness and will make your skin happy, giving it everything it  needs to make collagen and keeping it in good working order!


Skin Actives products with collagen peptides for Do It Yourself fun

Collagen peptides. This collagen has been broken down into peptides so that it will dissolve in water (natural collagen is insoluble) and added to a cream or serum. If you are using it by itself, in water, remember to add a preservative. Collagen peptides are great food for bacteria and mold.

Hyaluronic and collagen peptides gel.  A great DIY starting serum. Its old name was Dermagen, because the hyaluronic acid and collagen peptides in it help sustain the dermis.


DISCLAIMER: These claims have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, cure, treat or prevent any disease.



Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.