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Can collagen treat crow’s feet?

Animal and test tube research suggests that collagen supplementation could stimulate processes that can help skin keep looking young. Does this hold up in practice?

Study under review: Oral Intake of Low-Molecular-Weight Collagen Peptide Improves Hydration, Elasticity, and Wrinkling in Human Skin: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study

Introduction

It’s common knowledge that, as we age, our skin wrinkles. Why it wrinkles is not, although we know some things about it.

As you can see in Figure 1, skin has three primary layers: the epidermis, the dermis, and the hypodermis. The epidermis is the outermost layer that sheds frequently and provides protection from the environment. The hypodermis is the innermost layer of skin mingled with body fat. The space connecting these two is the dermis, rich in connective tissue, hair follicles, and sweat glands.

It’s been known for some time[1] that the dermis thins with age, driven in part by loss of collagen. Not only is collagen lost, but collagen fibers also become[2] less organized and partially degraded by enzymes called matrix metalloproteinases, whose expression increases[3] with aging. Collagen loss wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if the degraded, disorganized fibers could be easily replaced. But in aged skin, fibroblasts that rejuvenate connective tissue don’t act quickly enough to offset losses[4].

In skin that’s aged with light, or photoaged skin, the process is is slightly different; in that case, collagen expression is increased, but so is metalloproteinase expression. The later still overwhelms the former. Whether the mechanism involves intrinsic aging or photoaging, the result is similar: collagen loss, combined with some other processes like decreased hyaluronic acid[5] that leads to drier skin[6], ultimately adds up to loss in skin elasticity, sagging, and, ultimately, wrinkling[7].

However, there may be a way to slow down this process. When hairless mice are exposed to UV-B radiation, they normally show an uptick in metalloproteinase production, which leads to wrinkles, as described above. However, if the mice are given low-molecular weight collagen protein (LMWCP; small-size fragments of collagen only a few peptides long), collagen breakdown is slowed[8] alongside metalloproteinase expression, and wrinkle formation rate is reduced.

The study under review aimed to find out whether LMWCP supplementation can yield similar results in humans.

Collagen degradation and loss in the dermal layer of the skin contributes to wrinkles as people age. Animal research has found that supplementing with low-molecular weight collagen protein (LMWCP) can help stave off collagen loss during photoaging. The study under review aimed to see if it could do the same in humans.

Who and what was studied?

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Other Articles in Issue #49 (November 2018)