Sure, it’s great for your skin. But where does collagen in beauty products come from, really?
By Melanie Di Salvo
Wrinkles, once a symbol of wisdom and respect, have have created a 200 billion dollar industry dedicated to their eradication. In today’s youth obsessed culture, some women will try anything to slow the ageing process – we have taken to rolling needles across our faces, shooting toxins into our foreheads, and purchasing $13,000 creams infused with diamonds, all in the name of beauty.
And recently, collagen treatments, supplements and drinks, marketed to be more natural alternatives to synthetic anti-ageing chemicals, have become all the rage. But, where does collagen in beauty products come from? The truth may shock you.
What is collagen?
Collagen is the main protein in all connective tissue. It is insoluble, meaning it’s not broken down by water, and fibrous in shape like strands of thread. We humans have so much collagen that it accounts for roughly one-third of a healthy body, and it makes up 70% of the protein in our skin.
However, as we age, collagen production decreases. That can mean deeper creases and enlarged pores. As your skin becomes less elastic, pores expand because the collagen fibers in the walls around them are atrophying. Naturally occurring enzymes erode collagen as we age, and eventually, the power of these enzymes slows down collagen production. Peptides, vitamin C, ferulic and retinol may revitalise cells and boost that productivity, and we do find these in beauty creams to stimulate our own collagen. But some beauty products contain collagen itself, in a bid to replace the collagen we have lost.
We smear these collagen creams all over our faces and bodies, and even drink collagen ‘beauty elixirs’ in an attempt to turn back time. But where does that collagen come from?
There are several sources of collagen in beauty products – and more often than not, they are not at all vegetarian. In fact, most are bovine, fish or porcine sources, meaning they’re clearly not vegan friendly, kosher or halal. But there are more sinister sources, too.
For example, there are human foreskins. Yes, that’s right! In the medical beauty business, the foreskin ingredients are not labelled as such, but are generically referred to as neonatal fibroblasts. This apparent youth dew was made popular by celebrity aesthetician Georgia Louise after word got out that clients Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett were fans of her “penis facial”.
Dubbed The Hollywood EGF Facial, it goes for $650 a pop and is made powerful thanks to Epidermal Growth Factor, or EGF. This was originally invented to speed up the healing process of burn and wound recovery by stimulating skin growth at the cellular level. Anti-ageing researchers soon realised the technology could be used to aid in the reduction of wrinkles, and the foreskin-based serum may actually increase the production of collagen which naturally decreases as we age.
Although it’s appalling when you think about it, even Oprah has jumped onto the foreskin facial bandwagon, recently promoting SkinMedica’s TNS Recovery Complex ($220). The cream gained national attention when The Canadian Foreskin Awareness Project (yes that is a real group), asked: “How would Oprah respond if a skin cream for men hit the market that was made using cells from the genitalia of little girls?” Glen Callender, CFAP’s founder, told the Star. “I think she would be absolutely disgusted and appalled, and rightly so. So it’s crazy that she’s doing the opposite.” In response, SkinMedica stated that the cream is made from cells derived from a single foreskin obtained twenty years ago. But…does that make it any better?
It gets even darker
For a skin cream to be effective, growth factors are extracted from stem cells, and in the case of the treatment above, the stem cells are derived from foreskins. But, why baby foreskins? Compared to other stem cell sources, foreskins are generally easier to obtain and utilize. When we are babies, our skin is at its best and the growth factors are at their most efficient (they decline in number and slow down as we age).
With this in mind, Neocutis Inc. is a Swiss medical company developed a beauty cream that uses another ‘young’ form of the human body: namely, donated foetuses, a.k.a abortions. Their website explains the history of medical foetus use, dating back to the 1930’s polio vaccine development, to justify the use of foetus cells in their beauty products.
Going further than skin creams, AlloDerm has created an injectable lip plumper that boosts the collagen in your lips for up to three years – that is, if you can stand the fact that the product is derived from human corpses. And this is not the only corporation using human cadavers to make skin care: RTI Biologics also does so, and there are more and more such companies popping up around the world every year. Obviously, monetising abortions and human death has deep and serious implications that I won’t go into here.
No thanks! But then what?
Not keen to use products that contain dead cows, pigs or fish, not to mention foreskin cells, cadavers or abortions? No worries – there are less disgusting ways to get your collagen fix.
1. The ‘vampire facial’
Try using your own EGF with the celebrity approved Vampire Facial (averaging a whopping $1500, mind you). Growth factors are isolated from your own blood, made into a platelet rich plasma serum, and then microneedle onto your face. The microneedling tricks the skin into thinking it has been injured, and the growth factors get to work generating new, younger, skin. And the best part is, you know where it’s coming from; you.
2. Vegan collagen products
Plants have collagen, too! The main difference is that plant based collagen helps boost the body’s collagen receptors – especially as we age and we underproduce it – with its intricate alkaloidal and nutrient composition. Algenist Genius Liquid Collagen is a great plant based formula to maintain skin’s youthful vitality.
3. A pro-collagen diet
As mentioned, you can eat your way to a daily collagen boost – but instead of indulging in collagen drinks or supplements, eat the following fresh foods instead:
- dark green, orange and red veggies
- fruits rich in vitamin C, like citrus, mongosteen, hibiscus, camu camu, rosehips, goji berries
Some herbs can assist in the production of collagen, namely herbs that are “demulcents” are often well known as being wound-healers, since they contain flavonoids, alkaloids and have a mucilaginous chemistry. This chemistry stimulates cell proliferation and supports wound healing, internally and externally. For example both horsetail and comfrey are impressive wound-healing herbs, because they contain a good deal of demulcent mucilage, which helps build collagen.
Collagen beauty products can indeed produce wondrous results. But for ethical reasons, you may want to be sure that what you buy or the measures you take are more plant than animal – or even human – based.