Collagen banking - does it work?
The closest you’ll ever get to a fountain of youth for the complexion, is collagen. Among other, slightly more critical uses, our body produces collagen to keep skin fresh, plump, and bouncy. But collagen production declines naturally with age leaving us prone to more fragile and sagging skin. And the process starts earlier than you might think, with production slowing by one per cent every year after we turn 25.
But what if that wasn’t the case? Collagen banking promises to prevent these depleting supplies in the future. Despite what the name suggests, it doesn’t involve removing and saving it for a rainy day. Instead, the idea is that we increase our collagen count while we’re still at our collagen-producing prime. Theoretically, if we have a ‘bank’ of collagen to fall back on when production is low, then the impact won’t be as visible. It sounds like the solution to all our skin woes – if it works.
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The science behind collagen
Collagen doesn’t give us healthy, glowing skin purely by magic. It’s the most abundant protein found in the entire body, and exists to give structure to our bones, muscles, organs, arteries, and, yes, skin. Basically, it’s the building block that holds everything together – and when the body is damaged, it helps repair and replenish the wounded skin.
At its peak, collagen makes up about 80 per cent of our skin. It also provides the infrastructure needed to store elastin and hyaluronic acid – both of which are responsible for keeping skin bouncy and hydrated. That’s why, as resources dwindle, the skin feels thinner and forms more wrinkles.
The reason why these resources do dwindle with age is that the body starts producing more enzymes that destroy collagen than it does collagen itself. But age isn’t the only thing depleting our reserves. Over time, sun exposure, stress, and a diet high in sugar can both damage existing collagen and inhibit the production of anymore.
Does collagen banking work?
The logic is that if you get a head start before your reserve drops, you can keep up with what’s being lost. So, if you begin a rigorous collagen banking regime in your twenties, you’ll outpace not only those collagen-busting enzymes but the environmental risks you encounter daily.
At least in theory. There’s no scientific proof that prematurely stimulating collagen supplies any benefits to our skin as we age. There’s also no proof that it won’t lead to the same pitfalls experienced by those who naturally produce too much collagen – such as thickened, hardened skin, or stubborn scar tissue.
What’s more, some of the most recommended methods of banking collagen – namely collagen supplements – are just as scientifically shaky. While some small studies argue that regular intake of these supplements can improve skin elasticity, most evidence for their effectiveness is anecdotal. What we do know is that when we consume collagen, our body breaks it down just like any other protein. It won’t recognise it as anything specific, but rather as an amino acid to use as it sees fit. That might be as collagen – but even if it is, your body’s just as likely to delegate it to your teeth as it is your skin.
And ultimately, while collagen banking may help soften the blow of the early changes in our skin, the fact remains that we experience huge drops in collagen production later in life that are tough to totally offset. For women in particular, a drop in oestrogen means that skin loses about 30 per cent of all its collagen during the first five years of menopause. Levels are thought to then drop by two per cent for every post-menopausal year.
Boosting (not banking) collagen
A more realistic way of thinking about our collagen levels is protecting and boosting rather than banking. While rigorously focusing on the latter may not always be useful or necessary, stimulating collagen production once it begins to show signs of slowing – and occasionally protecting the collagen you already have – can make a huge difference to your skin.
Plenty of skincare products promise to restore collagen, but the truth is that its molecules are too big to penetrate the skin so can’t reach the layer – the dermis – where collagen is stored and produced.
Instead, the best thing you can do for your collagen levels skincare-wise is to protect your skin barrier – and protect yourself from sun damage. UV radiation can cause collagen to break down at a much faster rate than aging alone, so be sure to layer up on SPF all year round.
While the evidence is again hypothetical, niacinamide potentially can increase collagen production. Also known as vitamin B3, this is normally found in serums and can easily be layered with your other skincare. And, if it doesn’t boost collagen, at least the worst-case scenario is just better moisture retention and minimised pores.
It might seem like repeatedly injuring the skin with fine needles is destructive rather than productive, but bear with us. When the needles create micro-injuries, the skin automatically kicks into repair mode – which in turn maximises collagen production. This is especially effective paired with radiofrequency (also known as RF microneedling), as the waves are released into the skin, they heat up the tissue and amplify that production even further. After three to four sessions, this should lead to clearer, fresher, rejuvenated skin.
First and foremost, monthly microdermabrasion aims to slough off the top layer of dead skin cells to unearth the fresh new ones underneath. Boosting your collagen is just a happy coincidence. The process can increase the number of collagen fibres, leaving them thicker and positioned closer together, which helps give skin its youthful elasticity. Some studies also suggest that it can increase the number of fibroblasts, the cells that make collagen.
Of all the colours available, amber, and red LED light therapy are thought to be most effective for collagen. Over the course of six to eight sessions, your skin is exposed to fluorescent or LED lights. The light waves penetrate deep into the skin, triggering reactions that include the strengthening of collagen and elastin.
Platelet-rich plasma therapy – or PRP – is named for the platelets it uses from your own blood (hence the nickname ‘vampire facial’). It’s much less messy than it sounds. Your practitioner extracts some of your blood before separating the plasma and reinjecting it back into your skin. There it stimulates a stem cell response that, again, encourages collagen production. While you may need up to five sessions, results can last up to a year.
As a popular non-surgical alternative to a facelift, Thermage is all about tightening and smoothing skin by way of collagen. Like most collagen-boosting treatments, it aims to do this by tricking the skin into repairing itself – heating it up with radiofrequency energy. It takes some time to see the full impact, but you usually need just one session to strengthen and produce more collagen.
In conclusion, even at your collagen producing peak, there is only so much of the protein your body can hold and it will always use what it has. We have no reserves locked away for sparser times. However, the skincare and treatments that may boast collagen banking properties are great for your skin anyway and you will see the benefits. Just not from any bank.
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