The skin reveals a lot about us: our approximate age, our lifestyle or whether we are sick. For example, if a person looks older than their age because of many wrinkles, this could indicate a metabolic disease – or cancer.
Flawless skin is increasingly equated with beauty, fueled by social media, influencers and beauty filters that create the illusion of a perfectly wrinkle-free face.
The philosopher Lisa Schmalzried sees this as a discrepancy from our everyday reality, which causes dissatisfaction and pressure, “because you can’t put a filter on in front of the mirror in the morning, like in the Instagram photos.” Beauty, we are told, is possible.
The psychosocial pressure for flawless skin is bearing fruit: wrinkle treatment with so-called “fillers” or a firmer face through injections with hyaluronic acid have long been part of daily business in aesthetic dermatology.
Magic cure collagen?
However, if you don’t want to get wrinkle-free injections right away, you can take the easy route and buy anti-aging products. The range mainly consists of skin creams and nutritional supplements that are intended to strengthen human collagen.
Collagen is a protein found in the body. It functions as a kind of “glue” for cells and tissue and is found, among other things, in tendons, ligaments, bones, cartilage and skin. As collagen breaks down as we get older, the skin loses its support and wrinkles appear. Unless human collagen stores are replenished.
Skin creams therefore prefer to advertise with active ingredients that supposedly get the human body’s own collagen production going again.
The promises of certain nutritional supplements such as collagen powder, capsules or drinks are completely different. It is suggested that by eating or drinking these products, the all-important collagen enters the skin and ensures fewer wrinkles.
The fact that the collagen is mostly of animal origin – obtained from slaughterhouse waste – is ignored. As is the fact that the effects of collagen supplements are controversial.
The nutritionist Dr. However, Vanessa Craig is convinced of the power of collagen and has developed a powder herself. In order to achieve the desired effect – fewer and, above all, fewer deep wrinkles and better skin moisture – she recommends products that contain at least 10 grams of high-quality collagen peptides. Ingredients such as electrolytes and antioxidants are also important, as these support collagen synthesis in the body. It is essential to avoid sugar in dietary supplements, as this reduces the effect.
How quickly the effects appear also depends on your lifestyle, as smoking, sugar, alcohol and lack of sleep have an immense influence on the effect of collagen supplements. But “no collagen product in the world can stop time and make wrinkles disappear.”
How does collagen get into the skin as a dietary supplement?
Dr. Laurence Imhof dampens expectations. There are simply not enough studies yet on the effectiveness of collagen supplements on the skin, says the senior doctor in the dermatology team at Zurich University Hospital. Above all, she wonders how the collagen is supposed to find its way into the skin via the stomach without ending up in other tissue parts and organs of the body.
Even though there have been isolated experiments with animals: “Animal model experiments cannot be transferred one-to-one to humans,” so she does not want to recommend collagen supplements to her patients for the time being.
She prefers to refer to products such as skin creams, “because these primarily work on the skin, and the effect is exactly where you want it.”
Skin creams – better than their reputation?
Research into skin creams that are intended to strengthen the body’s own collagen is progressing. In 2020, Laurence Imhof published an overview of the most commonly used ingredients in skin creams and their effectiveness.
The result: Promising ingredients in over-the-counter products are vitamins that penetrate the skin barrier due to their low molecular weight: vitamins A, B3, C and E, as well as their derivatives, but also hyaluronic acids and phenols.
So it’s worth paying attention to the ingredients when buying anti-aging creams. Nevertheless, Laurence Imhof points out that smaller wrinkles would be reduced with the active ingredients mentioned, but would not disappear: “I see the focus on prevention, i.e. trying to slow down or delay the aging process.”
And this requires application over a period of at least six to eight months. In fact, it’s a lifelong affair.
But it’s not just about the right ingredients, but also about the right concentrations. According to the dermatologist, it would be desirable if these were on the packaging: “Just like the sun protection factor in sun protection products. It’s mandatory there.”
The crux of the matter is the protection against deception
Manufacturers usually do not provide any information about the concentration of their ingredients on the packaging of skin creams. They advertise this with promises such as “first measurable results after seven days” or “developed by dermatologists”.
Such statements cannot really be verified, says Sara Stalder, managing director of the Foundation for Consumer Protection. Stalder criticizes the fact that the promises clashed with the legally enshrined “protection against deception”. This obliges the cosmetics industry to provide correct information: advertising claims must be true and can be verified by the manufacturer.
Unfortunately, there is the problem of a lack of controls. The cantonal laboratories would be responsible for this, but they are overloaded with other tasks.
Dr. Bernard Cloëtta, director of the Swiss Cosmetics and Detergents Association SKW, objects: “Exact concentrations and dosages are important manufacturing secrets and therefore do not need to be stated. And because the protection against deception is very strict, the SKW assumes that its members know and comply with the legal regulations.”
In the end, the conclusion remains: collagen supplements do no harm, but whether they work is unclear. And as long as you don’t expect to become wrinkle-free overnight, you can safely give skin creams a chance if they contain ingredients that strengthen the body’s own collagen. However, the simplest and, above all, cheapest anti-aging measure against wrinkles is and remains the right sun protection – and not just in summer.
Year-round sun protection slows down skin aging
Year-round sun protection not only protects against skin cancer, but also prevents premature aging of the skin.
Important: The sun emits UV rays all year round – not just in summer. Clouds do not protect because they allow 80 percent of UV rays to pass through. Any tanning of the skin is therefore damage.
The higher the sun protection factor, the weaker the tanning effect and the better the protection of the skin. Snow, sand and water actually increase the need for sunscreen because they reflect the sun’s rays. In the mountains, UV radiation is even more intense.
In autumn, winter and spring, a day cream with sun protection factor is sufficient. In summer you need a proper sunscreen. Only this contains enough substances that act as UV filters.
For full protection, you need two milligrams of sunscreen per square centimeter of skin surface. For example, if you are 180 cm tall, this is forty grams – or two tablespoons.
“Pulse check” on the subject of sun protection