We all know that collagen keeps our skin plump and youthful, but science tells us collagen in skincare can’t directly improve collagen production. Here’s why it still deserves a place in your routine

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The desire to keep our skin as young-looking as possible has created a bounty of collagen products in recent years, with collagen drinks and  powders , as well as collagen creams, booming. According to the Boots Beauty Trend Report 2021, the retailer has seen a 1,570 per cent increase in searches for collagen on their website in the last six months.

Collagen is one of the most abundant proteins in the body. It's in everything from our skin to our nails and our gut lining and when it comes to skin, collagen, along with elastin, is our padding. However, from the age of 20, we produce about 1 per cent less collagen per year and by the time we turn 50, most people will have lost about 50 per cent of the collagen in their skin, however the rate of depletion depends on factors such as sun exposure, diet, sleep and stress levels.

Taking it as a daily supplement of 10g a has been shown to help our bodies create new collagen (although we can’t dictate where the body puts it, it goes to areas of greatest need, which isn’t necessarily our skin). Could a collagen cream hold a more targeted answer for our skin?

Sadly not. The collagen we naturally produce is made in the fibroblasts, cells which live in the dermis, so any collagen-stimulating ingredients would need to signal to a deep dermal level to have a rebuilding effect. As a skincare ingredient, collagen is too large a molecule to penetrate the skin and even if it were nano-sized, it couldn’t conveniently fuse with your own collagen to make fresh bouncy skin.

So why put it in a cream as many brands do, such as Boots new Collagen range of  Boots Collagen Night Cream ,  Boots Collagen Day Cream ,  Boots Collagen Serum  and  Boots Collagen Eye Serum , all £12, which launched recently or German doctor-founded skincare brands QMS, whose Collagen System has won many awards?

Collagen definitely has its place in skincare, but perhaps not in the way you might think. It’s certainly worth going under the skin of this buzzy ingredient before you add it to your basket, to make sure you know what you are getting.

The thing to be aware of is that there are two different aspects of collagen as an ingredient in skincare, whose effects are very different, as Dr Eleanor Bradley, scientific skincare credentialing manager at Boots UK explains. “Some products contain collagen as a lead ingredient, which is sometimes called ‘soluble collagen’,” she says. This type of collagen is large in size so sits at the surface of the skin where it helps hydrate the skin, locking in moisture.

“Other products contain collagen  peptides  (peptides being tiny fragments of proteins), which are much smaller in size and work deeper in the skin, boosting its natural collagen production,” Eleanor continues. “Examples of [collagen] peptides are  Matrixyl  and Matrixyl 3000+.”

Boots'  new Collagen range  contains marine soluble collagen, which might also be seen as soluble collagen or hydrolyzed collagen in the ingredients list, making it good for helping skin retain moisture, but it won’t impact your own collagen. However, there's no doubt that well-moisturised skin can look superficially plumper.

If you want actively to affect your own collagen, you need to seek out collagen  peptides ( although there are other peptides too such as palmitoyl pentapeptide which do the same thing). It’s not just peptides that stimulate collagen production,  vitamin A  and  vitamin C  are powerhouses here too.

“Collagen peptides support natural collagen synthesis, and are great at targeting age-related concerns such as wrinkles and firmness for a more youthful-looking complexion over time,” says Dr Bradley. You’ll find the collagen peptide Matrixyl 3000+ in the  No7 Advanced Retinol 1.5% Complex Night Concentrate , £34, and many other smart ageing creams including the new  Olay Collagen Peptide 24 Day Cream,  £17.49, which also uses palmitoyl pentapeptide to target deep into the skin layers to boost hydration and collagen, and was a sellout when it launched in January. Look out for Bliss Vitamin C Tripeptide Collagen Protecting and Brightening Serum coming to the UK at Boots on 10 March. It’s so popular in the US that one sells every two minutes.

Keeping all of this in mind, it’s likely that if you are buying a 'collagen cream', you’re getting a moisturiser plain and simple, unless there are other active ingredients in the formula too.

As a moisturising ingredient, anyone can benefit from collagen. Be wary though of collagen creams that claim to firm and tighten the skin. If the main ingredient is soluble collagen, remember that you’re getting a moisture-retaining cream. Any actual collagen-stimulating or boosting effects will need to come from other proven ingredients.

Collagen creams for every budget

Spree:  QMS MediCosmetics Collagen Recovery Day and Night Cream, £130

Designed for perimenopausal and  menopausal skin  and those with a compromised  skin barrier , this ultra-moisturising cream helps to stimulate the regeneration of the skin and is a staple in GTG editorial director Victoria's daily skincare regime. It's pricey but has the ingredients to back it up, including barrier-supporting  niacinamide , and QMS' longwindedly named Neotec A15® Collagen-Hyaluronic Acid complex which is combined with biomimetic placenta to improve elasticity, reduce wrinkle appearance and boost moisture. If budget allows, this is definitely one to add to your basket.

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This intensive cream says it works to reduce the breakdown of collagen and stimulate its production too. It has marine collagen in the ingredients but the claims of firing and tightening the skin will be down to retinol and ascorbic acid, which stimulate the collagen-producing cells.

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Spree: Sisley Night Cream with Collagen and Woodmallow, £119.85

Designed to make tired skin look more youthful, this contains soluble collagen to moisturise as well as a host of softening ingredients woodmallow and polyacyladipate.

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Spend: Skin Labo Collagen Active Cream, £29

Italian skincare brand Skin Labo has several collagen creams in its collection, with this one claiming to tighten and firm the skin thanks to hydrolysed collagen. Other ingredients include shea butter, which will provide a nourishing, smoothing effect on the skin, which could make it look plumper.

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Spend: Mario Badescu Elasto Collagen Night Cream, £18

This fuses collagen with peanut, vegetable and carnation oils for the hydrating effect, while vitamin A in the form of retinyl palmitate (the least irritating form of retinol) is likely to be responsible for any firming.

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Spend: Intraceuticals Booster Collagen, £39.95

This booster, designed to be mixed with your serum to supercharge it, is a cocktail of soluble collagen and collagen-stimulating peptide palmitoyl tetrapeptide, so can be relied upon to superficially create skin that looks bouncy and stimulate collagen production at the same time.

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Save:  Boots Collagen Day Cream SPF30, £12

This softening cream includes soluble collagen so falls into the category of collagen creams that hydrate the skin and lock in moisture. Pair with the night cream  and serum  from the collection to complete the regime. spf bc nothing degrades collagen faster

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MORE GLOSS: How to boost your collagen levels from food to facials