What is Nature Identical Collagen?
I have blogged before about collagen, and how it is one of the keys to understanding skin ageing. I’ve also pointed out that this hasn’t so far translated into effective skin care products. Basically collagen, and its cousin elastin, are the proteins that give your skin its lithe springy behaviour. The collagen content is the biggest determinant of how old your skin looks and feels.
Why Collagen Doesn’t Usually Work
Sadly, we can’t simply add collagen directly to the skin. Collagen molecules are too big to get into the skin in the first place. But even if we could get it in, we still wouldn’t have achieved much because it is the structure that matters. Adding collagen to the skin doesn’t get it into the place it needs to be or the shape it needs to be in. Throwing bricks at a damaged building isn’t going to repair it.
Even if it did there would still be issues. Collagen by definition is an animal protein. So the only source is living organisms, which doesn’t appeal to vegetarians or vegans. There have been so called marine collagens, but these are generally simply a similar protein from algae. It isn’t really collagen. And even then not all marine collagens are from plants. Collagens from shark fins are also marine collagens.
Nature Identical Collagen
But the situation for collagen as an active ingredient in skincare is about to change significantly. Scientists in San Francisco have succeeded in creating a nature identical synthetic collagen. This is a remarkable achievement in itself. Proteins are extremely large and complicated molecules, and producing them to order would have been considered to be science fiction only a few years ago.
But now this has been solved, many possibilities open up. For a start it is possible to make it from sustainable and ethical sources. So collagen is available to vegans and vegetarians. It can also, and indeed is, be made with a low carbon footprint and without requiring farmland to be sacrificed to raising livestock. There aren’t any going to be any cultural or religious issue. So it’s all good whether your priority is saving the planet, protecting fellow creatures or keeping on the right side of God.
But these advantages, while not negligible, are secondary ones in the sense that they are just taking away problems with the existing technology. The real news is that this material can be tailored to give optimum benefits. In the past collagen’s potential to combat has been limited because we’ve been stuck with what natural sources provide. They can be modified to some extent but you can’t get exactly what you want. But this is now possible.
The new technology allows the best form of collagen to be reliably created. I think this is going to allow it to finally be used to reduce the effects of ageing in the skin. Despite all the marketing hype in the beauty world, there are really only a handful of active ingredients that have any benefits at all. So any addition to that short list is pretty big news for formulators. One that looks like it could be good for wrinkles, that’s a real eye opener.
The big question is how well it will work. It’s pretty new and it always takes a while to get a feel for just what something has to offer. There’s going to be a bit of a learning curve while we work out how to use it. But the early indications in the form of the work done by the inventors is looking pretty promising. It has been run through some in vitro assays that can give an indication. In these it comfortably beats other collagens, vitamin C and even retinol. It stimulates collagen production in human fibroblasts in vitro – exactly the way retinol seems to work.
In vitro testing is fine in as far as it goes, but the real test is how it behaves in real life when applied to live skin. A study in 14 people with an average age of 58 revealed some very impressive increases in collagen and elastin levels, and reductions in redness and wrinkles. This isn’t a huge amount of data, but it is a good start.
The material is going to be available later this year, and we’ve got samples on order to try out in our lab already. My thought is that the best starting point is probably going to be to see how well it works in a face serum. Its cost is probably going to limit usage to premium skincare, at least initially. It will be interesting to see how it turns out.